Francis I of France
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Charles V. and Francis I. both pensioned him at the same time, each hoping that Aretino would do some mischief to the other. Aretino flattered both, but naturally attached himself more closely to Charles, because he remained master in Italy."-- The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1855) by Jacob Burckhardt
Francis I (French: François Premier and François d'Angoulême) (12 September 1494 – 31 March 1547), was crowned King of France in 1515 in the cathedral at Reims and reigned until 1547. Francis I is considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch. His reign saw France make immense cultural advances. He financed the School of Fontainebleau and played a decisive role in the careers of Pietro Aretino and Francois Rabelais. Francis's older sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, was also an accomplished writer, producing the classic, Heptameron.
Francis I imported Italian art, commissioned Italian artists (including Leonardo da Vinci), and built grand palaces at great expense, beginning the French Renaissance. Writers such as Rabelais and Pierre de Ronsard also borrowed from the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. From France, the spirit of the age spread to the Low Countries and to the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia in the German Renaissance, and finally to Britain by the late 16th century.
Patron of the Arts
By the time Francis I ascended the throne in 1515, the Renaissance had clearly arrived in France, and Francis was an important supporter of the change. He became a major patron of the arts and lent his support to many of the greatest artists of his time and encouraged them to come to France. Some did work for him, including such greats as Andrea del Sarto, and Leonardo da Vinci, whom Francis convinced to leave Italy in the last part of his life. While Leonardo did little painting in his years in France, he brought with him many of his great works, such as the Mona Lisa, known in France as La Joconde, and these stayed in France upon his death.
Other major artists whom Francis employed include the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, and the painters Rosso, Romano and Primaticcio, all of whom were heavily employed in decorating Francis' various palaces and exceedingly loyal. Francis employed a number of agents in Italy who endeavoured to procure artworks by Italian masters such as Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael and ship them to France. These agents had some notable successes, even if plans to try to move Leonardo's Last Supper to France proved impractical. When Francis ascended the throne, the royal palaces were decorated with only a scattering of great paintings, and not a single piece of sculpture either ancient or modern. It is during Francis' reign that the magnificent art collection of the French kings that can still be seen in the Louvre was truly begun.
Man of Letters
Francis was also renowned as a man of letters. When Francis comes up in a conversation among characters in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, it is as the great hope to bring culture to the war-obsessed French nation. Not only did Francis support a number of major writers of the period, he was a poet himself, if not one of immense quality. Francis worked hard at improving the royal library. He appointed the great French humanist Guillaume Budé as chief librarian, and began to expand the collection. Francis employed agents in Italy looking for rare books and manuscripts, just as he had looking for art works. During his reign, the size of the library increased greatly. Not only did Francis expand the library, there is also, according to Knecht, evidence that he read the books he bought for it, a much rarer feat in the royal annals. Francis set an important precedent by opening his library to scholars from around the world in order to facilitate the diffusion of knowledge.
In 1537, Francis signed the Ordonnance de Montpellier, decreeing that his library be given a copy of every book to be sold in France.
Francis poured vast amounts of money into new structures. He continued the work of his predecessors on the Château d'Amboise and also started renovations on the Château de Blois. Early in his reign, he also began construction of the magnificent Château de Chambord, inspired by the styles of the Italian renaissance, and perhaps even designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Francis rebuilt the Louvre, transforming it from a medieval fortress into a building of Renaissance splendour. He financed the building of a new City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) for Paris in order to have control over the building's design. He constructed the Château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne, and rebuilt the Château de St-Germain-en-Laye. The largest of Francis' building projects was the reconstruction and expansion of the royal château of Fontainebleau, which quickly became his favourite place of residence, as well as the residence of his official mistress - Anne, duchess of Étampes. Each of Francis' projects was luxuriously decorated both inside and outside. Fontainebleau, for instance, had a gushing fountain in its courtyard where quantities of wine were mixed with the water.
Francis' legacy is generally considered a mixed one. He achieved great cultural feats, but they came at the expense of France's economic well-being.
Contemporaries and rivals