The French Renaissance was the cultural and artistic movement in France between the 15th and early 17th centuries. The period is associated with the pan-European Renaissance, a word first used by the French historian Jules Michelet to define the artistic and cultural "rebirth" of Europe.

Notable developments during the French Renaissance include the spread of humanism, early exploration of the "New World" (as New France by Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier); the development of new techniques and artistic forms in the fields of printing, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, the sciences and literature; and the elaboration of new codes of sociability, etiquette and discourse.

The French Renaissance traditionally extends from (roughly) the French invasion of Italy in 1494 during the reign of Charles VIII until the death of Henry IV in 1610. This chronology notwithstanding, certain artistic, technological or literary developments associated with the Renaissance arrived in France earlier (for example, by way of the Burgundy court or the Papal court in Avignon); however, the Black Death of the 14th century and the Hundred Years' War kept France economically and politically weak until the late 15th century.

The reigns of Francis I of France (from 1515 to 1547) and his son Henry II (from 1547 to 1559) are generally considered the apex of the French Renaissance.

The word "Renaissance"

The word Renaissance is a French word, whose literal translation into English is "Rebirth". The term was first used and defined[1] by French historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874) in his 1855 work Histoire de France (History of France).[2] Jules Michelet defined the 16th-century Renaissance in France as a period in Europe's cultural history that represented a break from the Middle Ages, creating a modern understanding of humanity and its place in the world.[3] As a French citizen and historian, Michelet also claimed the Renaissance as a French movement.[4] His work is at the origin of the use of the French word "Renaissance" in other languages.


For a chronological list of French Renaissance artists, see List of French Renaissance artists.

In the late 15th century, the French invasion of Italy and the proximity of the vibrant Burgundy court (with its Flemish connections) brought the French into contact with the goods, paintings, and the creative spirit of the Northern and Italian Renaissance, and the initial artistic changes in France were often carried out by Italian and Flemish artists, such as Jean Clouet and his son François Clouet and the Italians Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate of the first School of Fontainebleau (from 1531).

In 1516, Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to the Château d'Amboise and provided him with the Château du Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work.[5] Leonardo, a famous painter and inventor, arrived with three of his paintings, namely the Mona Lisa, Sainte Anne, and Saint Jean Baptiste, today owned by the Louvre museum of Paris.

The art of the period from Francis I through Henry IV is often inspired by late Italian pictorial and sculptural developments commonly referred to as Mannerism (associated with Michelangelo and Parmigianino, among others), characterized by figures which are elongated and graceful and a reliance on visual rhetoric, including the elaborate use of allegory and mythology.

There are a number of French artists in this period including the painter Jean Fouquet of Tours (who achieved realistic portraits and remarkable illuminated manuscripts) and the sculptors Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon.

Late Mannerism and early Baroque

Henry IV invited the artists Toussaint Dubreuil, Martin Fréminet and Ambroise Dubois to work on the château of Fontainebleau and they are typically called the second School of Fontainebleau.

Marie de' Medici, Henry IV's queen, invited the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens to France, and the artist painted a number of large-scale works for the queen's Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Another Flemish artist working for the court was Frans Pourbus the younger.

Outside France, working for the dukes of Lorraine, one finds a very different late mannerist style in the artists Jacques Bellange, Claude Deruet and Jacques Callot. Having little contact with the French artists of the period, they developed a heightened, extreme, and often erotic mannerism (including night scenes and nightmare images), and excellent skill in etching.

  • Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels,

    Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, Melun Diptych by Jean Fouquet, c.1450

  • Architecture

    One of the greatest accomplishments of the French Renaissance was the construction of the Châteaux of the Loire Valley: no longer conceived of as fortresses, these pleasure palaces took advantage of the richness of the rivers and lands of the Loire region and they show remarkable architectural skill.

    The old Louvre castle in Paris was also rebuilt under the direction of Pierre Lescot and would become the core of a brand new Renaissance château. To the west of the Louvre, Catherine de' Medici had built for her the Tuil

    The old Louvre castle in Paris was also rebuilt under the direction of Pierre Lescot and would become the core of a brand new Renaissance château. To the west of the Louvre, Catherine de' Medici had built for her the Tuileries palace with extensive gardens and a grotte.

    The ascension of Henry IV of France to the throne brought a period of massive urban development in Paris, including construction on the Pont Neuf, the Place des Vosges (called the "Place Royale"), the Place Dauphine, and parts of the Louvre (amongst which the Great Gallery).

    The Parlement de Rouen, an alliance of earlier French Gothic art and French Renaissance style (1499-1508)

  • Château de Chenonceau (1515-1521), designed by Philibert de l'Orme

  • Château de Chenonceau (1515-1521), designed by Philibert de l'Orme

  • Château de Chambord (1519–1547)

  • Château d'Écouen (1538-1550)

  • The Pierre Lescot wing of the The Pierre Lescot wing of the Louvre (1546-1556)

  • Place des Vosges (1605-1612)

  • Place des Vosges (1605-1612)

  • Château du Clos Lucé, the official residence of Leonardo da Vinci until his death in 1519

  • Garden

    French Renaissance gardens were characterized by symmetrical and geometric planting beds or parterres; plants in pots; paths of gravel and sand; terraces; stairways and ramps; moving water in the form of canals, cascades and monumental fountains, and extensive use of artificial grottes, labyrinths and statues of mythological figures. They became an extension of the chateaux that they surrounded, and were designed to illustrate the Renaissance ideals of measure and proportion.