Renaissance art (1450-1600)

The Eva Prima Pandora (c 1550) by French Renaissance painter Jean Cousin, in the Louvre Museum (Photo Public Domain)
The Eva Prima Pandora (c 1550) by French Renaissance painter Jean Cousin, in the Louvre Museum

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.

Neighboring Flemish masters were also a great influence, including Van Eyck, Bosch, Rembrandt, Lucas Cranach, Hans Holbein, Rubens, and the great German rer (all well represented at the Louvre).

rer'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.

Where to find Renaissance art in France

The Mona Lisa (1503–16)—called La Joconde in French—by Leonardo da Vinci (Photo Public Domain)
The Louvre
Paris: Louvre

So much more than just the Mona Lisa, Paris's Musée du Louvre is one of the greatest museums in the world

 (Photo by Shadowgate)
Musée Carnavalet
Paris: Marais

The Musée Carnavalet is the (admission-free) Museum of the History of Paris CLOSED THOUGH 2019


Renaissance artists with works in France

A mosaic portrait of Pietro Torrigiano (Photo by Unknown)

Italian Renaissance sculptor to the Kings and Queens of England

Self Portrait of Hans Holbein the Younger (1542/43) at the Uffizi Galleries, Florence (Photo courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery)

German portraitist who painted some of the seminal figures of the British Renaissance

Self Portrait by Anthony Van Dyck (after 1633) in a private collection (Photo courtesy of Sotheby

The Belgian artist who set the tone for British portraiture

Unfinished Portrait of Michelangelo (ca. 1544) by his student, Daniele da Volterra, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Arguably the greatest artist who ever lived, part of the Holy Trinity of Italian Renaissance masters

Probable Self Portrait hidden in a detail from La Camera degli Sposi (1467–74) by Andrea Mantegna, in the Palazzo Ducale, Mantova, Italy (Photo by unknown)

Italian Renaissance master of perspective

 (Photo courtesy of the Uffizi)

One of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance was nothing if not a man of his times

Portrait of Donatello by an unknown 16C artist, in the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo by sailko)

This unassuming man was the greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance

Self-portrait (c. 1512) by Leonardo Da Vinci—or at least it is believed to be a self portrait—in the Biblioteca Reale, Turin (Photo courtesy of the Biblioteca Reale)

The ultimate Renaissance Man—Artist, engineer, architect, scientist, inventor...

Self portrait (c. 1506) of Raphael, aged about 23, in the Uffizi Galleries of Florence (Photo courtesy of the Uffizi Galleries)

One of the Holy Trinity of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance

Self-portrait (1669) by Rembrandt van Rinj (1606–69) (Photo courtesy of the National Gallery)

The greatest painter in Dutch history, master of the incisive, psychologically penetrating oil portrait

Portrait of Paolo Uccello (16C), by an unknown Florentine artist, from a fresco now at the Louvre, Paris (Photo by sailko)

An early Renaissance master of perspective who played with it as a Cubist might

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