French Art – Architecture And Sculpture Before The Renaissance

” THAT which distinguishes French from all other European ” Architecture, is, that during more than ten centuries it has ” been cultivated in various original schools which came into ” being spontaneously in different provinces, working in emulation of each other on different principles and with different ” methods, each imprinting on its works its special character ” and yet a national stamp. From the 11th century each of ” our provinces had its artists, its traditions, its system ; and ” this astonishing variety in art has produced chefs-d’oeuvres “in almost every case. For all over France the genius of our ” artists has left the strong impress of its grandeur and its “originality.”

Until the end of the 13th century, Architecture is almost exclusively in the hands of the Church, and is the aesthetic expression of the religious spirit. The castles and palaces were to a great extent mere strongholds or fortresses—Chateaux-forts—as their name denotes. Protection from danger, not beauty of living, was their use. It is therefore to the Churches and Abbeys that we must look for the earliest dawnings of architectural and sculptural art.

From the time that Charlemagne introduced the civilizing influences of arts and letters from Rome and Spain, to his barbarous populations, French Architecture has steadily developed on perfectly national lines. Fifty years after his death, those germs of the feudal system which already existed among the Franks, reasserted themselves. The kingdom he had so laboriously welded together, broke up into separate provinces ; and as M. Viollet-le-Duc points out, the particular genius of each province is reflected in the architectural monuments of the 9th and 10th centuries. ” During the 11th and 12th centuries this diversity is ” yet more marked. Each province forms a school. The “feudal system reacts on architecture ; and as each noble ” shuts himself up in his domain, as each diocese isolates “itself from the neighbouring diocese, so, step by step, the ” art of building follows this new political organization. ” The builders no longer seek their precious materials afar ” off, they no longer use the same receipts ; they work on ” their own ground, employ the materials within their reach, ” modify their usages by reason of the climate in which they ” live, and yield to purely local influences.”

Hitherto art had been wholly confined to the limits of the cloister. The Abbey of Cluny (A.D. 909) enfranchised by the Pope from all dependence on King, bishop, or noble, was not only the type of all Abbeys of the Order of Cluny, but ” simple parishes, rural buildings, public monuments in ” the cities, took these centres of richness and light as their ” models.”

At the beginning of the 11th century the feudal system was fully organized ; and Bishops and Abbots exercised the same feudal rights as the lay lords : the Church thus losing its purely spiritual character, and becoming a secular power, opposed to that of the nobles. But now the people, jealous of the oppressive wealth and power of the Abbeys and of the feudal lords, used the opportunities offered by the struggle between the Church and the laity, and the series of civil wars which the feudal system engendered, to enfranchise themselves. And the Communes, destined to play so remark-able a part in French Architecture, were organized. From the 8th century each great monastery had had its ateliers of builders, carpenters, goldsmiths, sculptors, painters, etc. The lay corporations for these various trades which soon sprang up within the Communes, followed the system of the monastic organization. And until the end of the 12th century, Architecture, even in the hands of lay architects, preserved much of its theocratic origin.

One voice alone was raised against the growing artistic splendour of Monasteries and Churches. All the Monasteries built under the inspiration of Saint Bernard, ” marked ” by a severity of style very uncommon at that moment, ” contrast with the richness of the Abbeys under the order ” of Cluny “. But Saint Bernard’s reformation was personal not national. It was contrary to the genius of the Gallo-Roman population. His establishments, at the end of the 12th century, were left, the isolated protest of a single man, against the taste of a whole nation. While Architecture, whether religious or civil, made use of every resource that sculpture or painting could afford for its embellishment.

French Architecture before the Renaissance is of two styles. Romanesque, and that which grew by a logical evolution from Romanesque—Gothic.

In these two styles many diversities and subdivisions are to be found, dependent mainly on those racial and climatic influences of which I have already spoken. But they are distinguished by two absolute principles. In Romanesque, the principle of inert stability. In Gothic, that of a perfectly scientific principle of exquisitely – balanced equilibrium. Strength distinguishes the Romanesque style. Logical and symmetrical beauty and grace the Gothic.

The early Romanesque Church, built on the lines of the Latin Basilica, is marked by massive walls, small apertures, horizontal lines, absence of vaultings, thick round pillars, round-headed arches—simplicity and inert strength. In the later Romanesque buildings, signs of the coming change are found in the general use of vaultings and the consequent necessity for buttresses. To this I will refer later. Romanesque in France is of two styles—that of Southern Gaul, the part of France in closest contact with Roman and Byzantine influence. And that of Normandy, and consequently of England. Let us, following the lines laid down by Viollet-le-Duc, first glance at that of Southern Gaul.

In the 11th century many antique buildings remained almost intact, in the valleys of the Rhone and Saône, from Marseilles to Chalons. And the Roman remains, found so abundantly in Provence, are reproduced in the details—even where the whole has been modified to suit fresh conditions—of the churches of Thor, Venasques, Pernes, the porches of Notre Dame des Dons at Avignon, Saint Trophyme at Arles, and Saint Gilles. The constant intercourse of the coast towns with the East, is manifested in the Byzantine type of ornament as well as in the general idea. Higher up the Rhone this type changes, as it comes in contact with a second Oriental influence from the east of the Rhine. For while in the 12th century the Mediterranean Coasts were in direct communication with the East, the Byzantine art of the Trans-Rhenan provinces had existed from the time of Charlemagne, modified of course by local causes. A singular admixture of these two architectural influences is to be found in the Haute-Saône, Burgundy and Champagne. And yet the result is harmonious, in the hands of men who probably worked in complete ignorance of the origin of the ideas they used, as seen in the church of Tournus, the Abbeys of Vézelay, Charlieu and Cluny.

But there were other channels, as Viollet-le-Duc points out, by which the Oriental influence penetrated the Gallo-Roman provinces. The Abbey Church of Saint Front, Péri-gueux, founded in A.D. 984, was built exactly on the plan of Saint Mark’s, Venice, either under the direction of a French-man who had studied Saint Mark’s (built a few years before), or of a Venetian. But in either case by Gallo-Roman work-men. For if the architecture—a Church with cupolas upon pendentives—is Venetian, ” the construction and details of ” the ornamentation belong to the Roman decadence, and do ” not in any way recall the sculpture or method of building ” employed at Saint Mark’s “. Without any wish to plunge rashly into the controversy which rages round Saint Front in the architectural world at the present moment, it is certain that the influence of this church on the buildings of Acquitaine in the 11th and 12th centuries was considerable. And the Cathedrals of Poitiers, Angers, and even Le Mans show ” in the method of constructing the vaultings of the ” great naves a last trace of the cupola “. But the extent and significance of this influence has been greatly exaggerated. Nothing certainly is more natural than the presence of oriental influence in the South-west of France. For numerous Venetian colonies existed at Limoges and on the West coast, carrying the whole commerce between the Levant and the North of France and Britain across from Marseilles or Narbonne to La Rochelle or Nantes, in order to avoid the perils of pirates in the Straits of Gibraltar.

In the North of France no monuments exist prior to the coming of the Normans. The Danish incursions swept everything away. And though some traces of Merovingian buildings were probably existent, it is to the Normans alone the North owes its architecture. For once established they became bold and active builders. They began, as was natural with conquerors, by castles as fortresses. But with their shrewd sense, they soon recognized the importance of the clergy ; and it only took them a century and a half to cover the land with buildings, religious, monastic, and civil, of a richness and magnitude very unusual at that time, bringing to bear upon architecture their national genius, positive, grand, somewhat barbaric, and yet singularly detached and fearless. The Normans also, had constant intercourse with the East. But with them the Eastern influence was not manifested in construction, as in Acquitaine, but in decoration. To the first Crusades and the Norman conquests in Sicily and Spain, those gorgeous stuffs are due which appear in all tombs and paintings of the 12th century. And while in Normandy the architectural forms follow the Gallo-Roman or the Romanesque traditions, the decoration of the 11th and 12th centuries is Levantine. The noblest examples of Northern Romanesque, are the Abbey Churches of la Trinité and Saint-Etienne, Caen, commonly called l’Abbaye aux Dames, and l’Abbaye aux Hommes.

The Romanesque Church, as I have said, is built on the plan of the Latin Basilica, modified to suit the requirements of Christian worship. In the 10th century the apse was the only portion in which vaultings were found. The nave and aisles were covered with timber-work. But this presented constant dangers from decay and from fire. And gradually stone vaults were adopted. The system of vaulting the basilica differed greatly in different parts of France. In Acquitaine the cupolas of Saint Front affected the roofs of many churches. In Auvergne, and following the Loire as far north as Nevers, the barrel roof was adopted, with demi-vaults resting upon the walls of the clerestory and supporting the central vault. Notre Dame du Port at Clermont-Ferrand, and Saint Etienne at Nevers are perfect specimens of this type. ” In these buildings all the thrusts of the ” vaults are thoroughly maintained ; and it is thus they are ” preserved intact to our day “. In Poitou, and part of the West and South, another system obtained. The side aisles were raised to the height of the nave, and the small ribbed or barrel vaults of these aisles supported the central vault. The Abbey Church of Saint-Savin near Poitiers is constructed on this plan.

Yet another difference should be remarked between the Northern and the Southern styles. In the Churches of Auvergne and the South the vaults entirely supersede the use of timber-work—the roof of tiles or stone resting upon them. While in the North, in Normandy, Ile de France, Picardy, Champagne, and Burgundy, both systems are used. Where the basilica is vaulted, the timber-work remains, bearing the roof of tiles, slates or lead. For in the cold and damp northern climate, roofs resting directly on the vaulting were quickly destroyed. And the space between, not only preserved the vaultings, but allowed of frequent inspection.

When the Romanesque builders began to vault their naves, the necessity for buttresses was immediately felt. The pilaster strip, which hitherto had been little more than ornamental, or at most served to stiffen the wall, was not enough to bear the increased pressure put on the walls by the vaultings. It gradually grew into a true buttress. And the expedients used to augment the power of resistance of this clerestory buttress eventually developed the idea of the flying-buttress. ” In the Abbaye aux Hommes at Caen the ” forms of the vaults—which date from the early part of the ” 12th century and are among the earliest that were con-” structed over a nave—were such as to exert powerful ” thrusts. That is to say, the arches of their groins were ” curves of low sweep, such as the Romanesque builders had ” derived from Roman intersecting vaults, and consequently ” of enormous push. To stay these vaults, the expedient ” was adopted of constructing demi-barrel vaults, springing ” from the top of the aisle walls, and abutting against the ” wall of the nave under the aisle roofs. These demi-vaults ” were in reality concealed continuous flying-buttresses.”

With this development of the buttress—with the use, which soon followed, of independent arches or ribs along the groins, serving in some degree to support the vaults—and with the introduction of a separate ” support for each ” rib or arch to be carried, which constitutes the functional ” grouping of supports—we complete the list of those ” structural improvements devised by Romanesque builders “. In them we find some of the rudiments of Gothic Architecture, which was to develop with such amazing rapidity into a system of triumphant and unsurpassed beauty, because it was the expression of a purely national Art, and responded to the genius and the needs of the race who produced it.

As with the national political development, so the national art emanates from the heart of France—the Royal Domain —l’Ile de France. At the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th centuries, it was in the Domaine Royal, with portions of the neighbouring provinces, Champagne, Burgundy, Picardy, Orléanais, and Berry, that Gothic Architecture took its birth ; and its earliest perfect example is the glorious church of Saint Denis. The principles of Gothic construction are to some extent to be found in the Abbey Church of Morienval. For as I have endeavoured to show, it was suggested long before it came into being. It is not only derived from Romanesque, by a logical evolution ; it ” is Romanesque re-created. Every constructive member of ” a Gothic building exists, in rudimentary form, in a vaulted ” Norman building.” But the flying-buttress and the pointed arch in the ribs of the vault render the Gothic system possible —that highly organized skeleton, which, when its guiding constructive principle is once recognized and adhered to, may be varied in details of arrangement and decoration, internal and external, to a bewildering extent.

I cannot do better than quote Professor C. H. Moore’s masterly summing up of Viollet-le-Duc upon Gothic Architecture, which he says ” came into being as the result of the ” development of a new constructive system of building. A

system which was a gradual evolution out of the Roman-” esque ; and one whose distinctive characteristic is that ” the whole character of the building is determined by, and ” its whole strength made to reside in, a finely organized, ” and frankly confessed, framework, rather than in walls. ” This framework, made up of piers, arches, and buttresses, ” is freed from every unnecessary encumbrance of wall, and ” is rendered as light in all its parts as is compatible with ” strength in a system whose stability depends not upon any ” inert massiveness, but upon a logical adjustment of active ” parts whose opposing forces produce a perfect equilibrium. ” It is thus a system of balanced thrusts, as opposed to the ” former system of inert stability. Gothic Architecture is ” indeed much more than such a constructive system, but it ” is this primarily and always.”

For it must be remembered—a fact which has too often been ignored or misunderstood—that the difference between Gothic and Romanesque Architecture is far more fundamental than between the use of pointed as against round arches, or of one system of decoration as against another; though both these differences exist, and are of extreme interest and importance. Gothic Architecture is a living being. In its constructive system, in its decorative system, it is instinct with life. It is to nature that it goes for its decorative system.

It is to the profoundest principles of mechanical science that it goes for its constructive system. And thus the pure Gothic building rises from the earth like the tree in the forest —its living beauty co-existent with absolute obedience to architectural laws.

The three-quarters of a century from 1150 to 1225, was a period unequalled in history for the number ‘and extraordinary beauty of Ecclesiastical edifices which were built in the Ile de France. The charming legend at Laon which tells how the oxen harnessed themselves to the carts to transport stone for the Cathedral up the precipitous rock on which it stands, is but typical of the fervent religious enthusiasm which possessed the whole population, and the zeal with which they voluntarily gave themselves over to the building of innumerable Churches and Cathedrals. It is impossible in a limited space to enter fully into the Gothic renaissance. A mere list of Churches and Cathedrals would fill many chapters. For besides the great Cathedrals, Abbey Churches such as St. Germain des Près, St. Leu d’Esserant, St. Rémi de Reims, sprang up all over the face of the land. It is however to Saint Denis that we must turn for the earliest example of the pure Gothic system of construction. Senlis and Noyon follow Saint Denis about the middle of the 12th century. And the last years of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries witness the building of Notre Dame de Paris, Notre Dame de Chartres, and the Cathedrals of Bourges, Laon, Soissons, Meaux, Rouen, Cambrai, Arras, Tours, Bayeux, Coutances, Amiens, Rheims, Chalons, Troyes, Auxerre, Nevers and Lyons.


Sculpture first serves merely to enhance the beauty of architectural lines. And as it is used chiefly for religious purposes so we find it Byzantine in its ideal, until the accession of Louis le Gros, 1108.

” The Art of Sculpture,” says Viollet-le-Duc, ” among ” all the peoples who have attained a high degree of civilization, divides itself into three periods :—

” 1. Imitation of nature following a more or less delicate ” and intelligent interpretation.

” 2. The Archaic epoch, during which the endeavour is ” made to fix the types.

” 3. The epoch of emancipation and search for truth in ” the detail, and the perfecting of means of observation and ” execution.”

All nations do not carry out this whole programme. While some work through the three periods, others only accomplish the two first and never get beyond the hieratic period. This has been the case with most Oriental peoples —the ancient Egyptians and the Byzantines. But in high civilizations—with sculptural instincts—a curious analogy is seen between the productions of these three periods. ” Thus the archaic epoch of the Greeks shows the most ” intimate relation to the archaic epoch of the 12th century ” in France. Certain statues in the Royal doorway of ” Chartres placed beside certain figures of the archaic period ” in Greece, reveal remarkable affinities in their manner of “interpreting nature, in their conception of types, and in ” their execution.” And the same analogies might be found in sculptures of the period of emancipation, between Greek Art after Phidias, and French Art after the 13th and 14th centuries.

French Sculpture, I have said, is at first Byzantine in its ideal. But at the beginning of the 12th century we get the first suggestion of the period of emancipation—of the evolution of natural as against hieratic Art—a suggestion very faint as yet, but of deep significance ; and strangely enough an indication already of the national character of French Art. For it is the leaf of a French plant—the French Arum of the marshes, that appears in the ornamentation of capitals, as we may see at Morienval, Saint-Etienne de Beauvais, Bellefontaine, Cambronne. Other plants are then added by degrees —all within the limits of the school of l’Ile de France.

In 1150, we perceive the same evolution beginning in the treatment of figures. Again natural begins to take the place of hieratic Art, as we may see in the figures at Bourges and Chartres. Indeed, it is with the Doorway of Chartres that Modern French Sculpture may be said to begin.

With the reign of Philippe-Auguste and the 13th century comes the great expansion of sculptural Art. King and Church, as I have shown, now turn to the laity for the erection of the great Cathedrals. And they find that Gothic sculpture, in the hands of four great provincial schools—Champagne—Picardy—Burgundy—Ile de France—is fully equipped for the enormous programme, and the astounding demands made upon it. The sculptors of the 13th century no longer go for their inspiration to an effete Byzantine ideal, which has ceased to express the genius of the nation, but to nature and truth ; creating a living and truly national art which is one of the glories of the Middle Ages. And Sculpture, like Architecture begins to express the climate—the habits—the social conditions—and the race itself. We now find a period of idealization of nature-an expression of moral sentiments. The figures are human beings such as the sculptors have seen and known—but withal superhuman, the embodiment of moral and religious sentiments. As for instance the noble warrior in coat-of-mail, reverently receiving the sacrament from the priest—at Rheims. Or the wonderful woman’s head — also at Rheims—which brings to one’s mind Leonardo’s Monna Lisa.

With the 14th century, Sculpture changes its character. Religious enthusiasm has lost its fire. Architecture, no longer tentative, is becoming an exact science, not an expression of feeling or sentiment. Sculpture, like painting, is turning by degrees towards a closer expression of reality. Art as a whole is tending to Naturalism. Of this we see signs in the Apostles of the Sainte Chapelle, Paris ; The Last Judgment, façade of Bourges ; South Transept, Notre Dame, Paris ; The two transepts, Cathedral of Rouen. Detail is taking the place of synthetic breadth in the modelling of the flesh. ” Folds of drapery begin to break. Attitudes lose ” their noble simplicity and become angular. But on ” the other hand, a more intense truth emphasises the ” faces—the general type has given place to the individual.”

It is on funeral monuments that this Naturalist evolution is chiefly shown ; and these become of supreme interest. Hitherto, on the tombs of the Romanesque and pure Gothic periods, the effigies have been absolutely impersonal, except as to the costume and the attributes of their social rank. The type of woman, especially, is charming. But the type of Madonnas, and of Constance d’Arles at St. Denis, or Sainte Ozanne in the Crypt of Jouarre are all one. Now, however, we begin to perceive ” l’inquiétude du portrait “. Accessories become portraits too. And towards the middle of the 14th century, even such figures as those of Christ and the Virgin—hitherto purely ideal—are subjected to what has by this time become a universal law—that of Naturalism.

We must now turn to the actual schools of Sculpture in France, and the best examples from which they can be studied.

Sculpture must not be looked upon as uniform in its endeavour throughout the whole of France. As I have shown in the Introductory Chapter, each province of France has its own racial and geographic characteristics. And the Architecture and Sculpture of each province displays a character of its own, corresponding in many particulars with the local spirit. In the 11th and 12th centuries no less than eleven different schools of Sculpture can be distinctly traced, namely :

Ile de France. Burgundy. Languedoc. Poitou and Saintonge. Provence. Normandy. Picardy. Champagne. Auvergne. Périgord.

The school of Provence, we find—as was to be expected from its long occupation by the Romans—strongly affected by Gallo-Roman influence. The ornament is composed of crowds of iconic figures, deeply cut ; of conventional leaves and flowers or monsters like those of Norse sculpture, which in turn are of Byzantine origin. Of this Gallo-Roman influence, the best examples are at Saint-Trophyme, Arles ; The Abbey of Montmajour ; Saint Gilles, Gard ; Sainte-Marthe, Tarascon ; Cathedral, Nimes ; Maison Romaine, Nimes ; Sainte-Marie, Bouches du Rhone ; Saint-Paul-trois-Chateaux, Drôme ; Saint-Pierre de Maguelonne ; Saint-Sauveur, Aix, Bouches du Rhone ; Église de Cavaillon, Vaucluse.

The school of Languedoc had its centre at Toulouse. But its influence extended north to Mendes and Rodez, east to the banks of the Hérault, south as far as Arragon, west to Bayonne. From the 11th century this powerful school showed original tendencies. In the 11th century it was distinctly under Byzantine influence. But ” it utilized without servility all that came to it from the Levant “. Examples of this period are Saint-Servin, Toulouse ; Saint-Nazaire, Carcassonne ; where the vigorous composition of the capitals should be noted. But in the 12th century, it produced ” original ” works in which the sentiment of nature appears, and ” created compositions of a grandeur of style and arrange-” ment among which the porch of the Church of Moissac ” must be mentioned in the front rank.”

The Schools of Saintonge and Poitou, though unlike architecturally, must be treated together, as in sculpture they closely resemble each other. In both the Gallo-Roman and Byzantine influences are felt. But a new note is struck—the influence of Saxon Art from the North. The school of Saintonge passes to the north of the Charente—from La Rochelle to Civray, Rochechouart, Angouleme, Montmoreau, crossing the rivière de l’Isle, the Dordogne, the Garonne, and taking in Médoc. The school of Poitou extends—West and North to Nantes, Cholet, Tours, Salins. East to Nevers, St. Menoux, and Montluçon. South to Ussel, Tulle, and Brives.

The Cathedral at Angouldme and Notre Dame la Grande, Poitiers, are good examples of these schools—the former of Saintonge, the latter of Poitou.

The School of Auvergne extends North to Nevers, East to the Rhone, South to Toulouse, West to Agen, Ussel, Neris and Bourbon l’Archambault. ” In this province Architecture as-” sumes a truly monumental character. But its sculpture, ” in spite of a certain originality and great imagination, ” especially in the composition of the Capitals, has no special ” value from the plastic point of view.” The best examples are the churches of Notre Dame du Port, at Clermont-Ferrand ; of Brioude, Issoire, Saint-Nectaire, Saint-Etienne de Nevers, Châtel-Montagne, Cathédral du Puy, apse of Saint Martin de Brives, and certain churches in the Corrèze.

The School of Burgundy extended its influence North to Sens, East to Epinal, Besançon, Lausanne, Geneva and Chambéry, and from Joigny West and South to Cosne, Nevers, Roanne, Belley, and Lyons. In the forceful Burgundian school as in that of Languedoc, we see that the sculptors endeavoured to free themselves from a mere imitation of the past by turning to Nature ; thus giving Sculpture a new impulse and direction. The composition of the capitals at Autun show how superior already this young, healthy art was to that of Provence. And it was destined to progress steadily, and to do much towards the development of the splendid epoque of the 13th century in the Eastern provinces. The best examples of Burgundian Sculpture of the 11th and 12th centuries are to be found in the Churches of Vézelay and Avallon ; Saint Philibert, Dijon ; Sens and Lausanne.

The School of l’Ile de France at the end of the 12th century was the most powerful of all the schools of France—not only by reason of the great number of its edifices—but because it was, as became the Royal Domain, the most advanced centre in Art. It follows the course of the Eure from Chartres to Pont de l’Arche. Thence to Dieppe, Beauvais, Saint Quentin, Laon, Chateau Thierry, Provins, Nogent-sur-Seine, Sens, Montargis, Orleans, and makes its influence felt as far as Bourges, Troyes, and Nogent-le-Rotrou. The best examples of this earlier period are—Saint-Germain des Près, Paris. Saint-Martin des Champs, Paris. Saint-Julien le Pauvre, Paris. Saint-Loup de Naud. Saint-Denis. The church of Poissy. Saint-Quinace de Provins. Church of Moret. Saint Leu d’Esserant.

The School of Normandy, during the Romanesque period of which I have spoken from the architectural stand-point, has little to show in Sculpture. Before the 13th century its ornament is mostly in geometric forms–which cannot be considered of importance in sculpture. The finest examples of this period are—L’Abbaye aux Dames, Caen. L’Abbaye aux Hommes (part), Caen. Saint-Gilles, Caen. Lower part of the Cathedral, Bayeux. Sainte-Marie aux Anglais (nave). Mont St. Michel. Part of the Cathedral, Séez. Saint Georges de Bocherville. Ruins of the Abbey of Jumièges.

The Schools of Picardy and Champagne have also no very special characteristics before the 13th century.

With the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century, during the reign of Philippe-Auguste, the vigorous for-ward movement :I have already indicated takes place. And four great Schools of Sculpture detach themselves.

1. Champagne, which is distinguished by force of expression, richness of idea, originality of style. Examples : Warrior and priest, interior of Portal ; Birds, flowers, fruit, on Capitals ; Woman’s head, central Doorway ; Man’s head—Cathedral, Rheims.

2. Picardy, less brilliant, less expressive than Champagne, is more architectural, understanding better the composition of masses. Examples : Cathedral of Amiens. Frieze of principal doorway, Notre Dame de Noyon. Virgin over the door of the South Transept, Amiens.

3. Burgundy, powerful and energetic in character, with a generous chisel, is enamoured of life and truth, and superior to the other two schools in execution of detail. Examples: Ornaments on façade of Notre Dame de Dijon. Church of Semur.

4. L’Ile de France, unites the qualities of the other three schools, while it surpasses them in purity of form and elevation of taste, in elegance and delicacy of execution. Its sculptors show the fullest spirit of observation and invention, as well as the greatest experience.

” In their works we find methodical composition—a keen ” sentiment of scale, a skilful comprehension of the distribution of motives, and above all an astonishing purity of ” line and form ; one is amazed at the novelty, the fertility ” which is evidenced in conception, as well as the flexibility ” and certainty of execution.” 1 Examples : Saints on Sainte-Chapelle. Idealized and beautiful portraits.

France happily still possesses five perfect cycles, spared from the destruction wrought by human folly and vandalism, in which the sculpture of this period may be studied as a whole. The Façade of Notre Dame, Paris. The Façade of Cathedral, Rheims. The Façade of Cathedral, Bourges. The lateral doorways, Chartres. The façade and Porte dorée, Amiens. The latter is the best preserved of all.

This, it should be remembered, was what France was doing nearly 200 years before Donatello lived. Therefore in Sculpture, as well as in Architecture, France may fairly claim to have led the way for all Europe.

The sculptures in ivory of the late 13th and early 14th centuries are far in advance of those of any other country. For though only a few inches high, such a statuette as the Vierge de la Sainte Chapelle, in the Louvre, is as absolutely perfect in proportion and beauty as the marble statues of 150 years later in Italy. The Louvre and the South Kensington Museum contain many exquisite examples of French ivories of this period.

The four great schools of sculpture hold their own through the 13th and 14th centuries. The beginning of the 14th century however, not only brings a change, such as I have indicated above, in the spirit of sculpture, but Art is no longer anonymous. ” L’inquiétude du portrait,” is accompanied by the appearance of the individual artist. Works are signed. The name of each sculptor of note, and his influence on his school of disciples, becomes known. For a while Art would seem to depend more on the man than on territorial impulse. The evolution of this 14th century art, this realistic portraiture, shows itself simultaneously in the North and in the South—in the Cathedral of Bordeaux, and in the Portail des Libraires at Rouen, which both belong to the first years of the 14th century. In the latter we find a surprising example of the new sculpture. In the lovely statues of Saints there is not a trace of hieratic art. They are young and graceful French women, of a purely French type of beauty.

The principal examples of 14th century sculpture are :

Champagne. Church of St. Urbain, Troyes.

Normandy. Transepts, Cathedral and church of Saint Ouen, Rouen. Parts of the Cathedral, Evreux. Church of St. Jacques, Dieppe.

Limousin. Parts of Cathedral, Limoges.

Languedoc. Apse of Saint Nazaire, Carcassonne. Saint André, Bordeaux.

Dauphiné. Saint Maurice, Vienne (doorway).

Lyonnais. Cathedral, Lyons (doorway and chapel). Anjou. Church of Evron, choir and transepts.

Auvergne. Parts of Cathedral, Clermont-Ferrand.

At the end of the 14th century the autonomy of the schools of Sculpture is for awhile effaçed. From the beginning of the 15th century to the close of the Gothic period, we find but two schools in France. The Burgundian —now permeated by Flemish influences. And the vast school of the North of France—the actual French Royal school, with but slight provincial nuances. For communication grows easier ; and we see a constant movement of artists, and consequent interchange of ideas, between Toulouse, Lyons, Tours, Dijon, Nantes, Paris, Rouen and Flanders. And another factor comes into line. Domestic and state architecture begins to occupy princes and nobles alike. The Chateau is no longer merely a fortress, a stronghold—but a dwelling-place to be beautified as well. Much of the art that hitherto has been lavished exclusively on ecclesiastical buildings—on Churches and Abbeys—is now brought to bear on the royal and noble castles. And among the principal examples of the 15th century, it is necessary for the first time to mention a number of the Chateaux and Palaces, which, under the Renaissance, were to form the chief glory of Architecture in France.

Ile de France. In Paris, remains of Chateau Gaillon, at the École des Beaux Arts. Remains of Hotel de la Trémouille. Parts of the Sainte Chapelle du Palais. Remains of Hotel de Sens. Hotel de Cluny. Chateau de la Ferté-Milon. Chateau de Chateaudun.

Berry. Hotel Jacques Coeur, Bourges.

Poitou. Palais des Comtes, Poitiers.

Picardy. Tower of Choir, and Stalls, Cathedral of Amiens. Saint Riquier (Somme). Saint Wulfran, Abbeville.

Languedoc. Stalls, Cathedral of Auch. Stalls, Cathedral of Albi.

Champagne. Church of Notre Dame de l’ Epine.

Burgundy. Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, Dijon. Parts of the Cathedral, Nevers.

Normandy. Parts of Church of St. Pierre, Caen. Churches of Saint-Lo and Vitré. Parts of the Church of Saint Ouen, Palais de Justice, Church of Saint Maclou, Rouen.

In the 16th century, which belongs to our next chapter, three distinct schools again declare themselves. Ile de France—Burgundy—and Languedoc, ” which have each ” produced works of true originality and incontestable ” value “. This then was the condition of French Sculpture and Architecture at the beginning of the French Renaissance.


Until the end of the 13th century, French Sculpture, as I have said, is anonymous. The first sculptor of any note whose name we know is

Jean d’Arras. To him we owe the first Royal statue in marble—that of Philippe le Hardi at St. Denis, begun in 1298 or 1299, finished in 1307. This statue is of consider-able importance, as it begins the series of authentic effigies of the Kings of France. It is simple and vigorous in style.

Pepin de Huy—a ” bourgeois de Paris,” and ” tombier à la comtesse Mahaut “—was one of the most popular and prosperous artists of the first part of the 14th century. His most important works are the effigies of

Marguerite d’Artois, 1311, St. Denis.

Robert d’Artois, 1317, St. Denis.

Comte d’Etampes, 1336, St. Denis.

Comte Haymon, Saint Spire, Corbeil.

The so-called Blanche de Bretagne, 1341, Louvre.

And the so-called Marie d’Avesnes, Louvre.

The English invasion caused a break for a quarter of a century in the steady development of sculpture. But we find it flourishing with increasing vigour and life with André Beauneveu, of Valenciennes, 1360. He was sculptor, painter, miniaturist and decorator. And his name is one of the most illustrious among the early sculptors who moulded the tendencies of French Art. The first mention of Beauneveu’s name is by Froissart, who speaks with admiration of his work at the Castle of Mehun-sur-Yèvre. Summoned to Paris from the northern provinces by Charles V. in 1364, he was made “Imagier en titre,” and commissioned to erect the king’s tomb, (during his lifetime after the fashion of the day), and those of his predecessors, Jean II. and Philippe de Valois. His realism shows a certain thick set, solid, Flemish heaviness, but also a frankness and authority which give it singular importance. And his influence, together with that of his great contemporary Claux Sluter, was decisive in shaping the course of Franco-Flemish art. His authentic works are

Charles V., St. Denis.

Jean II., St. Denis.

Philippe VI., St. Denis.

Philippe VI., Louvre.

Charles VI., Chimney-piece in the Palace, Poitiers. Ste. Catherine, Notre Dame, Courtrai.

Three other works, in all probability his, are

Marie d’Espagne, St. Denis.

Jean de Dormans, Louvre.

Three Statues of Prophets, Musée de Bourges.

Jean de Liège, who had died before 1382, and Jean de Saint-Romain are both described as “Imagiers de Paris,” but no authentic works of theirs are known.

To Gui de Dammartin, Premier Architecte-Imagier to Jean duc ‘de Berry, the three great iconic statues of the chimneypiece in the Palace of Poitiers are attributed.

Robert Loisel, a pupil of Pepin de Huy, is known by the Bertrand du Guesclin, St. Denis, executed between 1389 and 1397.

Jean ‘de Cambrai was the favourite pupil of Beau-neveu ; and after his ‘master’s death he succeeded to his place in the favour of that great patron of art, Jean duc de Berry. He was a magnificent artist, and one of the strongest individualities in early French Sculpture. His most important works are all to be found at Bourges. M. de Champeaux attributes to him the famous group in painted stone—now in the Cathedral, of Jean duc de Berry and Jeanne de Boulogne his wife. Also the statue known as Notre Dame la Blanche, from the altar of the Sainte Chapelle, now in the Musée Cujas; and the funeral statues at Souvigny. His Virgin of the Célestins de Marcoussis, now in the Parish Church of that Commune, is extremely interesting as a realistic portrait of a Berrichonne. But his greatest work is the celebrated Mausoleum of Jean duc de Berry, in the crypt of the Cathedral. This the duke planned during his lifetime in imitation of the cenotaph his brother, Philippe le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy, was erecting to himself in the Chartreuse of Dijon.’ Jean de Cambrai was charged with the work, which was not finished till 1457, after the Duke’s death. The ” pleurants,” or mourning figures round the tomb, are exceedingly fine. But the interest culminates in the magnificent recumbent figure of the Duke, with a sleepy, muzzled bear at his feet. ” L’ourson est délicieux d’esprit ” et d’intimité ” says Gonse.

Claux Sluter, though a Fleming or Hollander by birth, must be regarded as a Burgundian sculptor, for all his work centres at Dijon. The date of this great artist’s birth is unknown. He died 1404. Here at Dijon, Philippe le Hardi (1342-1404), the first duke of the second line of dukes of Burgundy, gathered about him a group of great artists, wishing to rival what his brothers of Anjou and Berry were doing in Paris and at Bourges. Among these the painter Broederlam of Ypres, and the architect André de Dammartin, were charged with the construction and decoration of the great cenotaph of the Duke of Burgundy in the Chartreuse of Champmol at Dijon ; while to Claux Sluter was entrusted the sculpture. The Tomb is now in the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy. Besides this, Claux Sluter was charged with the sculpture of the Calvary in the Chartreuse, now known as the Puits de Moïse, and the doorway of the Chapel. Of the Calvary only the great hexagonal pedestal or cistern remains, with the noble statues of Moses, David, Jeremiah, Zachariah, Daniel and Isaiah—the first three sculptured by Claux Sluter, the others by his nephew, Claux de Werwe. But fine as all these are, Claux Sluter’s work reaches its highest excellence in the kneeling figures in the doorway of the Chartreuse—duke Philippe—his duchess Marguerite de Flandre—St. John and Ste. Catherine. The superb kneeling figure of the duke can only be compared, it is said, to the Colleone of Verrocchio, the Birague of Germain Pilon, the. Voltaire of Houdon, the Monge of Rude.

It is interesting to remember that Claux Sluter produced, these great works of art when Donatello was but just born, and a hundred years before Michael Angelo. ” The study ” of the Classic Antique could not add anything to this force ” and strength, which from the point of view of the portrait ” —the rendering of the inner life as well as the physical ” structure—had attained a level which could not be surpassed.”

Claux Sluter died in 1404. But in 1398, he had summoned to aid him in his great work at Dijon, his nephew, Claux de Werwe, of Hattem. The ” pleurants” on the tomb of the Duke of Burgundy are all by de Werwe, with the exception of two by Claux Sluter. Claux de Werwe also appears to have been the sculptor of the Zacharias, Daniel, and Isaiah, on the, Puits de Moïse. He was the author of the tomb of Jean Sans Peur (1371-1419), son and successor of Duke Philippe le Hardi. He also worked at Semur, Poligny, Saint Bénigne de Dijon, Baume les Messieurs. These four sculptors — Beauneveu, Jean de Cambrai, Claux Sluter, Claux de Werwe—were, it should be remembered, all northern men. And they mark a great turning-point in French Art.

Jacques Morel of Lyons, died 1459. He worked first on the tomb, destroyed in 1562, of Cardinal de Saluces, Lyons. Then at Toulouse, Rodez, Beziers, Avignon, Montpellier. He was called to Souvigny to erect the tombs of Charles I. and his wife Agnes de Bourgogne. The statues in white Salins alabaster still exist ; as do two other statues of his in the Chapelle Vieille de Souvigny. It is also thought that he was the author of the memorial Statue of Agnes Sorel, Loches. This was made during her lifetime, between 1440 and 1450.

Antoine le Moiturier of Avignon was a pupil of Jacques Morel. In 1469 he completed the tomb of Jean Sans Peur, Dijon, begun by Claux de Werwe. And it is suggested that he was the sculptor of the retable of the Tarasque, Saint-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence.