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François Clouet

(School of) Tours circa 1516 – Paris 1572

François Clouet trained in the studio of his father Jean Clouet, a painter and artist (ca. 1485-1540) who had left Brussels to become the King of France’s first valet, initially in Tours circa 1516, then in Paris in 1529. Very much in vogue at the Valois’ Court, it was Jean Clouet who created the ‘autonomous’ portrait – either painted or drawn – combining meticulous detail and a delicate technique, typical of Flemish painting, with the precise rendering of reality and a refined line, in accordance with French taste. He developed the genre in a style which asserted itself as the most significant expression of the French Renaissance or of the budding mannerist style.

François Clouet, who succeeded him in 1540, was painter to four kings, Francis I, Henry II, Francis II and Charles IX. He probably travelled to Italy between 1549 and 1550, where he would have seen Bronzino’s portraits. Just like his father, whose style he continued, he executed numerous portraits in paint or using the three-chalk technique, which made him the court’s most valued painter. Revealing a great respect for the models, the portraits extol the desire for truth and realism, while insisting on the precise definition of the contours and hieratical head-and-shoulder portraits, characterised by the detail of the clothes and the severity of the faces. François Clouet also created the new type of full-length portrait. The Clouets had numerous collaborators – pupils and followers – whose names are gradually being revealed through the study of archives and collections of drawings belonging to the royal family and its entourage, such as J. de Court, Dumontier, Caron, Deval and Quesnel, not to mention several anonymous artists most often known by chance patronyms. The tradition initiated by the Clouets, who, together with their emulators, ‘portrayed’ all the important people of their time, continued until the middle of the 17th century, until the decorative portrait, enjoyed by the court of Louis XIV, became popular.