Renaissance art (1450-1600)
The rebirth of classical ideal, its artists using naturalism and linear perspective to achieve new heights of realism
"Renaissance" means a "rebirth" of Classical ideals.
Humanist thinkers rediscovered the wisdom of the ancients, and artists strove for greater naturalism, using newly developed techniques such as linear perspective to achieve new heights of realism. (The late 16th century Mannerist branch of the High Renaissance took Michelangelo's bright color palate and twisting figures to extremes and exhausted the movement.)
Truth be told, aside from lending us English-speakers the French version of the era's name, the French didn't have much to do with the Renaissance. It started in Italy, and was quickly picked up by France's Flemish, Dutch, and German neighbors.
France owes many of its early Renaissance treasures to François I, who imported the art of Raphael and Titian—and artists, bringing the likes of Leonardo da Vinci to his court. Henry II's Florentine wife, Catherine de' Medici, continued the steady trade northward of 16th century Italian masterpieces. But while the French were great Renaissance collectors, few native artists amounted to much. Not until the Baroque did a few French masters emerge.
Artists & examples of Renaissance art in France
The Renaissance began in Italy, and many of Italy's finest are represented in Paris's Louvre, including paintings by Giotto, Fra' Angelico, and Veronese, sculptures by Michelangelo, and, of course, a handful of precious works by Leonardo da Vinci, who moved to a Loire Valley château (you can visit it in Amboise) for the last three years of his life and whose Mona Lisa, perhaps the world's most famous painting, hangs here.
Dürer's contemporary and countryman Mathias Grünewald adopted a few Renaissance techniques in otherwise firmly Gothic works such as the famous Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) in Colmar.
The School of Fontainebleau (working 1530–60) were actually imported Italian Mannerists who combined painting, stucco, sculpture, and woodwork to decorate the château's Galerie Francois I. They included Niccoló dell'Abbate, Primaticcio, and Rosso Fiorentino. (If you don't make it out to Fontainebleau, check out their Diana the Huntress in the Louvre.) Their influence echoed through native painters including Jean Cousin the Elder, who did the tapestries in Langres Cathedral and France's first major female nude, the Louvre's Eva Prima Pandora.