French Art – Sculptors Of The Renaissance

IN studying the Sculptures of the Renaissance in France, it is well at once to accept the fact that a large proportion of these works of art are anonymous. Or, if they are not absolutely anonymous, that their authorship is often extremely doubtful. It is necessary to bear in mind that the artist working for his Art, working to express the thought within him, and imposing that thought upon the public, was non-existent at the beginning of the 16th century. The artist, as such, is indeed a quite modern development. The sculptor or the painter of the Renaissance was still a workman. He regarded himself, and was regarded by his employers, as one who worked for wages, and who was therefore to be ready to turn his hand to anything that his patron needed. There was no thought as yet of his putting a signature to his work—chef-d’oeuvre though it might be. Jean Goujon’s masterpieces are only known by his con-tracts with this or that architect or patron. His absolutely authentic works are few and unsigned. Others are proved to be his by conclusive evidence. Others we think may well be his by their general resemblance to his work.

But what is of real importance, after all, is not the name of the artist, but the quality of the work. It is, of course, deeply interesting to know the name of the creator of a famous work. To trace the development of his style and power. To observe the effect of outside influences on his genius. Or the tendencies of the school in which he has been trained. But this interest in the artist—this demand, which is growing more and more imperative in these latter days, for personal details—is too apt to take the first place. The worth and beauty of his production is put second. And many people, if they see ” Artist unknown ” below a superb work of Art, will pass it by with hardly a glance, to become enthusiastic over some quite second-rate production, because it is attributed to some one whose name they know.

If the Diane Chasseresse was one of these many anonymous sculptures, would it be less beautiful—would it be less the most perfect and exquisite expression of a great artist’s genius ? Do we, or rather should we, think less of the noble statue of Chabot, because we are now almost certain that it is not the work of Jean Cousin ; while we are quite certain that it is not, as has been suggested, the work of Goujon, with whose method it has no relation at all ? Or is the frieze on the tomb of Louis de Brézé less exquisite because we cannot be sure, though there are strong probabilities in its favour, that it, again, is from the hand of Goujon ? Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon have become names to conjure with. There-fore in the past, the most unlikely and impossible productions have been attributed to their chisel ; productions which, thanks to a more enlightened and scientific method of Art criticism, we now know they could never have touched. This intense desire on the part of the public for a name, is at the bottom of many frauds. To satisfy this craze for authenticity,” thousands of pictures and statues are furnished with the names of artists, who in some cases were either dead, or not yet born, at the time the work was produced.

As I have already pointed out,Sculpture during the earlier part of the Renaissance, save for tombs and portrait busts, is chiefly ornamental. This is natural, and easily explained, when we see how France at that moment became covered with dwelling-places of extreme beauty and luxury ; either new creations, or old Chateaux-forts entirely reconstructed to meet the wants of the day. These Chateaux and palaces—loaded with carvings on columns, gateways, dormers, chimneys, balustrades, lines of pilasters with rich capitals, exquisite arcades, cartouches and trophies without ; and elaborate chimney-pieces, staircases, and ceilings within made enormous demands on the talent of the most accomplished sculptors of the day. For much of the work is so perfect, of so high an order, that it could only have come from a master’s hand. A hundred instances might be quoted. I will only give a few.

1. The little amours who crest the dormers and chimneys of the Aile François I. at Chambord, and some of the capitals of pilasters.

2. Cartouches and pendants on the staircase, Azay le Rideau.

3. Details of the outside staircase, Blois.

4. Cartouches of Labours of Hercules outside north wing, Chateau de Blois.

5. Chimney-piece, dit de Jean Goujon, Chenonceaux.

In life these Humanists now desired to be surrounded by beautiful details. In death they desired their memories might be perpetuated by magnificent tombs. These were often arranged, and sometimes executed, during their lifetime. And with a proud humility, not content with being represented in the vigour and splendour of life, they were frequently portrayed on the same tomb in death. This is a singular characteristic of many of the finest monuments of the period. In the splendid tombs of St. Denis, Louis XII. and Anne de Bretagne, Henri II. and Catherine de Medicis, lie as gisants, half naked in all the pathetic abandonment and humiliation of the death that is common to all; while above the superb canopies, the priants kneel in regal magnificence of life and power. A more extraordinary contrast it is impossible to find than that between the terrible and tragic figure of Louis XII. lying nearly naked beside Anne, whose head is thrown back with hair flying wild, and his kneeling statue above with hands pressed together, upon the prie-dieu. For serious beauty this is unsurpassed. The turn of the head is enchanting in its calm reverence and tenderness. This arrangement with slight variations we find in many other cases. In Germain Pilon’s monument of Valentine Balbiani (Louvre), below the portrait statue of the ” grande dame ” with high-bred hands, leaning on her elbow, with her little dog and book of Hours, a bas-relief shows us the almost skeleton old woman dead—horrible and pathetic.

Sculpture now, however, goes a step further. It was not until the later period of the Renaissance movement that statues and groups of sculpture became common. The taste was doubtless encouraged by the influence of Italy, the presence at Court of Primaticcio, Benvenuto Cellini and others. Cellini’s graphic account of the scene in the long Gallery at Fontainebleau, when he displays his Mars, and Primaticcio uncovers his bronze casts from the antique, shows that the demand for statues to ornament the gardens and courtyards of the new palaces, had begun under François I. With the reign of Henri II. it grows rapidly. The ” Diane Chasseresse,” and that lost figure of a nymph that formed a pendant to it at Anet, were erected soon after 1550. Ten years later Germain Pilon is carving wooden figures of Mars, Minerva, Juno, Venus, for Queen Catherine’s garden : and a year or two after, his famous ” Three Graces,” and the wooden group of Cardinal Virtues. While under Henri IV., sculpture has regained the position it occupied in Greece and Rome.

Before enumerating the known artists of the later Renaissance, it may be well to mention some of the most important anonymous works, or those of doubtful authenticity.

Several of these are in the Salle Michel Colombe, Louvre, among them —-

Two recumbent figures from the Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.

1. Pierre Poncher, Secretaire du roi, d. 1521.

2. His wife, Roberte Legendre, 1522.

The authorship of these tombs has long been doubtful. Within the last few months, however, it has been discovered that they are the work of Guillaume Regnant (1450-1533) and Guillaume Chaleveau, both of the School of Touraine. In both the hands are remarkable and characteristic. Roberte Legendre’s is a live and noble figure. The folds of her soft, heavy cloak are full of stately repose.

3. Statue of Admiral Chabot, formerly attributed to Jean Cousin. A fine cast of this is in the South Kensington Museum. Below the statue is a lovely despairing little figure of Fortune, flung at full length on the ground with a broken wheel. This bears, both in touch and general treatment, a strong resemblance to the work of Goujon. It is certainly not by the same hand as the Admiral.

4. Statue of Magny, Salle Michel Colombe.

5. Vierge d’Olivet, attributed to Michel Colombe, Salle Michel Colombe.

6. Virgin and child, anonymous, Salle Michel Colombe.

7. Statue of Saint-Eloi from Dijon, Salle Michel Colombe.

8. Tomb of Cardinal Briçonnet, Cathedral of Narbonne.

9. Tomb of Guillaume du Bellay, Cathedral of Le Mans.

10. Tomb of Artus Gouffier, Oiron.

11. Tomb of Hugues des Hazards, Blénod-lez-Toul.

12. Statue of Marie de Bourbon, Saint-Denis.

13. The celebrated tomb of the two Cardinals, Georges d’Amboise and his nephew, Cathedral of Rouen. This is said to be the work of Roland Leroux, architect, and the sculptors Pierre Desobaulx, Regnaud Therouyn, and André le Flament, 1520-25.

14. Tomb of Louis de Brézé, Cathedral of Rouen.

15. French Shepherd, Musée de Cluny.


FRANÇOIS MARCHAND (b. Orleans, 1500(?) ; d. 1553(?)),-maître d’oeuvre and sculptor. François Marchand worked first at Chateau Gaillon, where he sculptured nine bas-reliefs for the facade. He then returned to Orleans and decorated several houses, notably No. 22 Rue Neuve, and one facing No. 4 Rue Pierre Percée, which is now destroyed—only the chimney-piece remaining in the Musée. With Bernardeau he constructed the Jubé in the Church of St. Pierre, Chartres, in 1540-43. Of this four bas-reliefs are preserved in the Louvre. And in 1542 a contract shows that he was carrying on the work of the magnificent Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Chartres, begun by Jean de Beauce.’ In this he agrees to execute two ” histoires de la Purification Nostre Dame et des Innocens ” ; and the ” revestement d’un pilier “. François Marchand also assisted Pierre Bontemps in some of his work on the bas-reliefs and the recumbent figures of the Tomb of Francois I. in Saint-Denis.

JEAN GOUJON (b, about 1510 ; d. 1564-8).-The first mentions of this great artist’s name are in the Chapter accounts of the Cathedral of Rouen and of Saint-Maclou. In 1540 he had already been employed to make ” les portraiz ” or designs for the porch and fountain. And the small panels in the doors of St. Maclou show his work. Though injured by whitewash, which has been carefully scraped off by the intelligent Suisse of the Church, these panels are of great interest. A good cast of the door is in the South Kensington Museum.

It was about 1540-42 that Goujon left Rouen for Paris, to work under Pierre Lescot on the restorations of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. The bas-reliefs of the Jubé were his work. Of these, a superb déposition, and the four evangelists, are preserved in the Louvre. The draperies already show Goujon’s grace. The touch is firm, strong, and graceful. Bullant was now building Ecouen for the Constable Anne de Montmorency ; and Goujon passed two years in his service, working at Ecouen, where he was associated with Palissy. Fragments of work of this sojourn, collected by the excellent Lenoir at the Revolution, are to be seen in the Louvre. The Victory, the Chimney-piece of the Salle des Gardes, and the Altar from the Chapel, are at Chantilly. At Écouen, Goujon also did the illustrations to Jean Martin’s Vitruvius “.

In 1544 – 46, Lescot was building a Hotel for the president de Ligneris, now known as the Hotel Carnavalet. Here Goujon, who seems to have been on terms of intimate friend-ship with the great architect, was associated with him again in the well-known and beautiful ornamentation ; and a few years later began work, also with Lescot, for Henri II.

In 1547, finally Goujon left the Constable’s service for that of the King, and began his work for Henri II. at the Louvre. Here the carvings on the southwest angle of Lescot’s court are without doubt from his hand. So also are the figures in the Salle des Cariatides. Whether the sculptures of the Escalier Henri II. are his, or those of one of his school, is a moot point.

In 1550 he finished the exquisite Fontaine des Innocents, for which Lescot furnished the architecture. Originally it occupied an angle formed by the Rue aux Fers and the Rue Saint-Denis, and consisted of three instead of four arcades. When it was reconstructed in the middle of the square, the fourth side with arch and panels were added, completely altering the original conception.

Later in the year 1550 Goujon went to Anet, where he carved the gateway of the Chateau, now in the Court of the Beaux Arts ; and the smaller gates, removed to Beauvais. But his crowning triumph was the famous statue, raised high above the great fountain in one of the garden Courts —the Diane Chasseresse, now in the Louvre. ” The wide ” circle of the basin brimmed with sparkling waters, out ” of which rose in successive tiers, round upon round of ” decoration, ever increasing in complicated movement, till ” the final wheel was crowned by the graceful figure of ” Diana and her dogs.”

This is probably the only remaining example of Goujon’s work in the round. It was saved from destruction by the good Lenoir. But not until the poodle, who stands behind his fair mistress showing his teeth, had been broken to pieces for the sake of the metal pipe through which water ran from his mouth. The group is too well known to need description. But it marks a point of such importance in French Art, that it should not only be admired, but most care-fully studied. There is an air of courtly good-breeding about it, which is typical of the time and the personage. The proud stag, with his golden antlers, is as high-bred as Diane herself. The chisel is so free and lifelike on the hairy locks of the fierce guardian poodle. So firm on the delicious fur of the stag. So sharp and spirited on the muscular, hard-trained greyhound. So soft and caressing on the exquisite flesh of Diane.

If his chisel had neither the breadth of Greek handling, nor the loose and yielding softness of the Florentine, ” the ” touch has a spirit and sharpness of accent which is ” eminently French, swift and ready, with a directness in ” attack which is specially serviceable for works of orna-” ment.”‘ In the work on the Louvre it is easy to distinguish between what is from his hand and what is of his invention. This is still more evident in the Fontaine des Innocents. Except in the Vitruvius, Goujon is hardly mentioned by his contemporaries. A curious mystery surrounds his life. He lives in his glorious works. Goujon has always been claimed as a Huguenot. He lived much with Jean Martin and Bernard Palissy. And various theories have been put for-ward to explain his sudden disappearance after 1562. Some supposed he was killed in one of the massacres ; others that he died from a fall off the scaffolding. But a document found at Modéna, and published by M. de Montaiglon,’ has set the question at rest ; for it proves beyond doubt that he escaped to Bologna, where he died between 1564 and 1568.

Examples—Louvre :

Carvings of Jubé of St. Germain l’Auxerrois. Fragments from Écouen.

Diane Chasseresse.

Bust of Henry II. (?).

Four Nymphs, Nymph, Satyr, and Cupids.

Carvings of S.W. Angle of Court of Louvre.

Tribune des Cariatides, Louvre.

Escalier Henri II. (?), Louvre.

Panels from Fontaine des Innocents, Louvre. Fontaine des Innocents, Marché des Innocents. Porte de Nazareth, Hotel Carnavalet.

Lions, Trophies, Fame, façade Hotel Carnavalet.

Four Seasons, interior Court, Hotel Carnavalet. Gateway of Anet, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Court. Wooden panels from Anet, École des Beaux Arts,


Smaller gates from Anet, Beauvais.

Stone Virgin from Chapel of Anet, Ch. of Pacy-sur-Eure.

Fragments incorporated in restored Chateau, Anet. Victory, from Écouen, Chantilly.

Chimney-piece Salle des Gardes, from Écouen, Chantilly.

Altar of Chapel, from couen, Chantilly.

Wooden doors, Church of Saint Maclou, Rouen. Marble Venus from Hotel de la Reine (?), Musée de Cluny.

Illustrations to Jean Martin’s Vitruvius.

GERMAIN PILON (1535-1598).–Germain Pilon’s father was a sculptor of Loué, near Le Mans. But the more famous son was born, it is now ascertained, in Paris in 1535. His first known work is the voute or canopy of the Tomb of François I., on which he worked with Bontemps, Francois Marchand, etc., under the direction of Philibert de l’Orme. In the ” Compte du roi,” 1558, he is mentioned as the author of eight allegorical bronze figures in low relief, ” jolies figures de Fortunes “. These were melted down at the Revolution. And only the low reliefs on the ceiling of the canopy, and four little winged figures in the spandrels, remain of his work.

From 1560 Pilon was employed almost exclusively by the Court. His next work was on the famous Tour des Valois, and the Monument of Henri II. in it, designed by Lescot for Queen Catherine. On this he worked for twenty years. His part of the tomb consists in the two kneeling bronze figures above, and the two gisants in marble beneath. The kneeling bronze of Henri II. is as fine as anything of the period. The outspread hands are most appealing. To Pilon are also due the magnificent marble recumbent statues of Henri II. and Catherine—now in the Chapel of St. Eustache at St. Denis. They lie on bronze mattresses, covered with a monogram of H. C. and Fleurs de Lys entwined in a beautiful design of olives. The extreme magnificence of the two figures, lying with open eyes in calm repose, can hardly be surpassed. The heavy folds of the Royal robes sober the usual exuberance of Pilon’s draperies ; and leave on the mind a sense of stately dignity which he seldom attains.

In 1560 Pilon also made carved wooden figures of Mars, Minerva, Juno, Venus, for Queen Catherine’s garden.

Two years later he produced the famous group of Catherine and two of her ladies, as the Three Graces, to bear the bronze vase containing Henri IL’s heart. This group of ” des Graces décentes ” was placed in the Chapel of the ducs d’Orléans in the Church of the Célestins, Paris. It stood beside the statue of Chabot, and the Italian tomb of Louis d’Orléans (now at St. Denis). The Three Graces show that the decadence has begun. They are of the earth earthy. The whole thing, though charming, partakes of the pretty, rather than of the great. The draperies are too tortured, and lack beauty of line. The other group of four figures in oak (Louvre) for the Chasse de Sainte-Geneviève, which Pilon produced about this time, are to my mind superior. They are very beautiful, though also extremely earthly ; and more free than his work in marble.

With the reign of Henri III. Pilon gained a new and powerful patron in the Chancellor René de Birague. He entrusted him with the erection of a magnificent monument in Sainte-Catherine du Val des Écoliers (Louvre), to his wife Valentine Balbiani, whose opportune death enabled the Chancellor to take orders and become a Cardinal. Twelve years later, Pilon erected the Cardinal’s own tomb. This is also in the Louvre—a kneeling figure in bronze. The lines are superb ; and although, as it is Pilon’s work, the drapery is exuberant, the folds exaggerated, it is here in keeping with the character. The Cardinal’s robes were originally painted red, as may be still seen by careful examination. But we owe the preservation of this magnificent work of art to Lenoir, who saved it from destruction in ’93 by daubing it with whitewash and assuring the destroyers that it was plaster and not bronze.

In this year (1586) the Queen-Mother ordered a statue of the Virgin for one of the altars in the Chapelle des Valois ; and for this purpose appropriated a block of marble at St. Denis—writing to the Grand Prior by Pilon to give it up. On the back of the letter we find in Pilon’s writing : ” Ce jour ” d’hui III. jour d’avril 1586 moy Germain Pilon confesse ” avoir pris . . . pour faire le dit ouvrage “. This statue, known as the Vierge de Pitié, is now in the Church St. Paul et St. Louis, Rue St. Antoine. The maquette for it in painted terra cotta is in the Louvre. Though the hands and the face are really exquisite, the drapery is quite distracting in its broken and tormented lines, and extreme fulness.

The contrast between Goujon’s and Pilon’s treatment of drapery is most marked. In the Cheminée du Chateau de Villeroy (Louvre), the two lively nymphs on either side, in spite of abundant drapery, are more undressed than Goujon’s nude. Goujon’s draperies are always full of grace. Pilon’s nearly always wanting in dignity. While Goujon’s instincts were truly Greek, Pilon shows a want of simplicity, and a strong sympathy with the artificial aspects of life. What he saw, he mastered and reproduced with consummate skill. His work possesses great charm. But it coincides with the tone and taste of the Court of Catherine de Medicis. And, as Lady Dilke points out, from her favourite sculptor it would be impossible to expect an expression of the loftier virtues.

Pilon’s portraits, however, are of extreme value. The bust of Henri III. (Louvre) is a most painful and remarkable human document — the close-shaved, conical head, feeble mouth and retreating chin. So is the bust of Charles IX., with its weak, cruel boy’s face.

Examples The Three Graces (cast S. K. Mus.), Louvre.

The Cardinal Virtues (oak), Louvre.

Cheminée de Villeroy (cast S. K. Mis), Louvre.

Valentine Balbiani, Louvre.

Cardinal de Birague, Louvre.

Vierge de Pitié (terre cuite), Louvre.

Bas-reliefs from Chaire des Grands Augustins, Louvre. La Force et la Foi (bas-reliefs), Louvre.

Buste d’enfant, dit Henri IV., Louvre.

Maquette of figure of Henri II., St. Denis, Louvre. Christ from Altar of Chap. des Valois ; and Vierge de Pitie, Ch. St. Paul et St. Louis.

Statues of Henri II. and Catherine de Medicis, Chapelle de St. Eustache, St. Denis.

Bronze kneeling figures and marble gisants, Tomb of Henri II. and Catherine, St. Denis.

PIERRE BONTEMPS.—Nothing certain is known of the history of this great artist, save that he was living and at the height of his fame in 1556. His name appears in the accounts for the Tomb of François I. at St. Denis, and the Funeral urn containing the King’s heart. ” This is ” all ; it is sufficient, however, to secure immortality for his ” name.” 1

In the tomb it is certain that he had the general direction of the Sculpture—the whole monument being designed by Philibert de l’Orme. The recumbent figures, and the five kneeling ones on the canopy above, are pretty certainly his work, helped at the outset by Francois Marchand, who probably sculptured some of them from Bontemps maquettes. Bontemps is further the undoubted author of the forty-two superb bas-reliefs of the stylobate. These represent the campaigns of François I. On the west side the battle of Cérisolles occupies the chief panel, and is of astounding force and beauty. The figure of the King, riding alone; is most noble. And a remarkable artistic effect is obtained by a cannon drawn by two horses on rising ground, standing out against the sky. On the east side the campaign ending with the battle of Marignan and the triumphal entry into Milan, is portrayed. The forest of spears above the cannons of the Swiss should be specially noted. They are used with admirable effect, re-minding one of the lances in the Burne-Jones windows at St. James Church, Birmingham.

The Urn containing the heart of Francois I. is wholly from the hand of Bontemps. It is a work of art of the highest order. A plinth, sculptured with funereal emblems, skulls and bones, runs round the base of the pedestal. Higher, on each of the four faces, supported by female heads crowned with laurel, is a round medallion in low relief. The subjects are Astronomy, Music, Song, Poetry—this last being of especial beauty. Four tablets beneath the cornice bear Latin inscriptions in verse and prose. The Urn above, carved from a single block of marble, and of considerable width and size, is supported on four lions’ feet. The arms of France, salamanders in flames, crowned initials, lions’ heads, masks and draperies, cover its surface, round four exquisite bas-reliefs worked with almost the delicacy of a cameo. These represent Sculpture, Drawing, Architecture and Geometry—a charming and ingenious compliment, intended to unite the Arts and Sciences round the heart of the King who gloried in giving them encouragement. On the cover of the Urn two delicious little genii with reversed torches lean against classic masks.

Lenoir, to whom we owe so much, saved this precious work of art—the Urn and its pedestal—from the hands of the Revolutionists in 1793, by giving a load of wood in exchange for it.

LIGIER RICHER (1500-6 ; 1567).—Before leaving the sculptors of the Renaissance, mention must be made of Ligier Richer, a provincial master, the chief of the school of Lorraine. For his works exhibit an interesting example of indigenous art, untouched in great measure by the schools of Tours and Paris. He was the most illustrious of a family of sculptors. His father, his son, his two brothers and several of their descendants, were all sculptors. And many of their works have been attributed to Ligier.

Ligier Richer’s works are like an echo of the successive influences which had reigned in the north of Europe. His first tendencies belong to the Middle Ages. His last style to the Renaissance.

His first work is the retable or ” Calvary ” of Hatton-Chatel, near Saint-Mihiel. It is something in the style of the St. Sépulcre of Solesmes—the naturalistic spirit of the Middle Ages, in an Italian setting. The three compartments are divided and bordered with delicate arabesques on pilasters and friezes. In his Pieta of Clermont en Argonne, dramatic sentiment is dominant. Later on this increases, as in the effigy of Philippe de Gueldre. And his funeral statue of René de Chalons, known as ” La Mort,” is repulsive in its extreme realism. What mars his otherwise very remarkable talent is an absence of simplicity and refinement.

The ” Enfant a la Crêche ” of the Louvre—an exquisite baby, plump and seriously content, is thought by M. Cournault to be by one of his descendants. So he thinks, is a small and finely carved bas-relief in the Louvre of the Jugement de Suzanne. In any case the proportions are admirable, and the two babies and their dogs below the judgment seat are delightful. Numbers of authentic works by Ligier Richer are to be found round his home.

Like many other esprits libres at that time, he became a Protestant, and escaped for safety to Geneva, where he died in 1567.

Examples :

Retable, Hatton-Chatel, près St. Mihiel.

Fainting of the Virgin, Ch. of St. Michel, St. Mihiel. Mise au tombeau, Ch. St. Etienne, St. Mihiel. Pieta, or ” Bon Dieu de la Pitié,” Ch. of tain. Pieta, terre cuite, Clermont en Argonne.

Sainte Madeleine, fragment, Chapel Ste. Anne, Clermont en Argonne.

Effigy of Duchesse Philippe de Gueldre, Nancy. Funeral Statue of René de Chalons, called ” La Mort,” Ch. of St. Pierre, Bar le Duc.

Enfant a la Crêche, Louvre.

Jugement de Suzanne, Louvre.