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François Clouet

(School of)Portrait of Henry II

Panel: 18,5 x 14 cm

introduction

The taste for individual portraits, painted from life or copied, appeared in the middle of the 14th century in Europe and continued to increase during the following centuries. In France, this trend was justly represented by the Fouquets. Jean Fouquet, responsible for the Portrait of Charles VII kept at the Louvre, was also the first artist to provide a model for royal portraiture.

Henri II (1519-1559) reigned from 1547 to 1559. He was the son of Francis I and Claude of France, and married Catherine de Medici in 1533. He pursued his father’s policies and joined forces with the German protestant princes to weaken the power of his Spanish rival, Charles V. Under his reign, the Guises played a leading role. To fight against the advance of Calvinism, he signed the Edict of Ecouen (1559), whereby heretics faced the death penalty. At court, he favoured the literary and artistic Renaissance. His mistress, Diane de Poitiers, for whom he built the Château d’Anet, had a strong influence over him. He died from an injury he suffered during a tournament.

When Francis I ascended to the throne, the tradition of the court portrait was still in its infancy. Sovereigns now felt the urgent need to finally establish a royal iconography, which was defined by Jean Clouet. The father of François, he established codes and models for royal portraits. From this point onwards, this new genre became a speciality in France; our Portrait of Henry II is indeed a fine example of this genre. Under his reign, the notion of individualism introduced through humanism and Protestantism, significantly developed the fashion of portrait painting. The clothing is more sober in order to better define the face and the expression. Here, and just like the life-size version in the Uffizi in Florence, the king is dressed in a black and gold doublet. He is wearing the chain of the Order of Saint Michael and is wearing a hat with feathers. The broad white collar embroidered with gold emphasises his beard and enhances his face’s complexion.

Here, François Clouet uses the precepts acquired in his father’s studio, while cultivating his own style. He combines the elegance of his stroke, the refinement of the rendering, the sense of hieratic deportment, tempered by the face’s curves, with the intensity of the expression. The most singular aspect of his manner of painting is the distance he manages to maintain between the universe of his characters and that of the viewer. These pictorial characteristics are indubitably present in our portrait.

Provenance :
Comte de Beaupré collection, Nancy;
Private collection.