A French Renaissance jewel
François I, a royal patron of the arts
François I, King of France, by Jean Clouet
If ever there was one genuine patron of the arts among the sovereigns of France, then without a doubt it was François I (1494–1547). He became King of France at the age of twenty: since his predecessor and cousin Louis XII died without a male heir, he acceded to a throne he had never been promised. He was a well-educated humanist and, whereas Louis XII’s military policy in Italy ended in failure, François reaped the benefits in the field of arts.
He sought to attract the greatest Italian artists to his court—Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci, whom he called “my father.” Some of the most important works now in France’s public collections became part of French national heritage during his reign. These include paintings by Raphael and Titian purchased in Italy and masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, namely The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the celebrated Mona Lisa. Fascinated by art and architecture, François I was also renowned for commissioning great buildings, from the chateaux of the Loire to the Musée du Louvre. But he also initiated long-term projects that had lesser visibility: in 1530, he founded the “Crown Jewels” and decided to create a “cabinet of books,” the ancestor of the National Library, for which he imagined a sort of registration of copyright far ahead of his time. François I was not only a great patron of the arts but also the first modern builder of national heritage.
A pioneer of the Renaissance
Protector of the arts and letters, François I played a fundamental role by supporting emergent new artists, from the Netherlands to Italy. He brought the Renaissance to France, a period marked by artistic and intellectual effervescence. The infancy of printing, the birth of Humanism and advances in science attested to the arrival of a new world expressed through a renewed vision of mankind and the universe. The Renaissance appears as a rich, prolific era, marked by multidisciplinarity and modernity. Because it is an unprecedented object, a piece of jewelry, precious metalwork and illumination all in one, the book of hours is, in this respect, representative of the artistic ferment that characterizes this period.
Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, by Leonardo da Vinci
If ever there was one genuine patron of the arts among the sovereigns of France, then without a doubt it was François I (1494–1547).