- Born: 1416, Tours, France
- Marriage: Unknown
- Died: 1480 at age 64
French painter and miniaturist, b. at Tours, c. 1415; d. about 1480. He was perhaps the son of Huguet Fouquet, who about 1400 worked for the Dukes of Orleans at Paris. At the end of the fourteenth century French painting had reached a period of incomparable brilliancy. Everything heralded the Renaissance , and little was wanting to make it a distinctively French movement, which, however, the disasters of the monarchy prevented. Paris ceased to be the centre of the new intellectual life. Art, driven from its centre, retreated to the outlying provinces in the North, the East, and the South-East, to the Duchy of Burgundy. The principal centre was Bruges, while secondary centres were established at Dijon in Provence. Each of these had its masters and its school. The only remnant of truly French life found refuge in the valley of the Loire, in the neighborhood of Tours, since the time of St. Martin the true heart of the nation in every crisis of French history. Here grew up the first of our painters who possesses not only a definite personality but a French physiognomy. Fouquet was the contemporary of Joan of Arc, and his character is as national as that of the heroine herself. For the basis of his style we must look to the School of Burgundy, itself simply a variant of that of Bruges. Tours is not far from Bruges and Dijon, and in Fouquet's work there is always something reminiscent of Claux Sluter and of the Van Eycks . To this must be added some Italian mannerisms. It is not known on what occasion Fouquet went to Italy, but it was certainly about 1445, for while there he painted the portrait of Pope Eugene IV between two secretaries. This famous work, long preserved at the Minerva gallery, is now known only from a sixteenth century engraving. Filarete and Vasari speak admiringly of it, while Raphael paid it the honour of recalling it in his Leo X of the Pitti Palace.
Fouquet remained under the charm of the early Italian Renaissance . The influence of the bas-reliefs of Ghiberti and Della Robbia, the paintings of Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, and Gentile da Fabriano which he saw at Florence and at Rome may always be traced in his work. He appears to have been in France in 1450. Some critics are inclined to believe that he made a second journey, for they find it hard to believe that Fouquet never saw the Lives of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen by Fra Angelico in the chapel of Nicholas V. It is these Italian works which most closely resemble his own. The harmonizing of the two Renaissance movements (North and South), the intimate and natural fusion of the genius of both in the creative soul of one French artist, without any effort or shadow of pedantry, narrowness, or system, constitutes Fouquet's charm and originality. If French character consists in a certain effacement of all racial characteristics, in the power of assimilation (cf. Michelet, Introduction a la philosophie del'histoire), no artist has ever been more "French" than Fouquet. Withal he does not lack the savour of his country. Without poetry or depth of thought, his style has at least two striking characteristics. In depicting the human countenance, he possessed to a rare degree the gift of taking life, as it were, by surprise, and not even Benozzo could tell a story as he could.
We know through a contemporary that Fouquet painted pictures in the church of Notre-Dame la Riche at Tours, but it is not known whether they were mural or altar-pieces. He is known to have been charged with the preparations for Louis XI's entry into the city in 1461. Of all his works, however, there remain to-day a half dozen portraits and about a hundred miniatures. The oldest of these portraits appears to be the Charles VII in the Louvre, a portrait striking for its sadness, its fretful expression, and the force of its ugliness and veracity. At the Louvre also is the portrait of Guillaume Juvenal des Ursins, magnificently obese and bloated, radiant with gold. Another portrait has a curious history. It is that of Etienne Chevalier, the great patron of the painter, and was formerly to be seen in the church of Melun. The work is charming in breadth of style. The figure of St. Stephen presenting his client recalls Giorgione by its vigour and delicacy. In 1896 this piece found its way to the Berlin Museum. It formed part of a diptych, the other wing of which shows the Virgin, surrounded by angels, nursing the Infant Jesus. The Virgin is also a portrait, that of the beautiful Agnes Sorel of whom Chevalier was a favourite. This second wing is at Antwerp. The two parts, having been separated, were never reunited except for a short time at Paris during the Exposition of the French "Primitives" in 1904. Still another of Fouquet's portraits must be mentioned: the bust of a young man (Lichtenstein collection), dated 1456, which is admirable in the intensity of touch displayed in the colour scheme, with its greyish tone and deliberate reserve. This would be the master's best portrait, were it not for the precious little enamel at the Louvre, in which he himself is depicted in golden lines on a black background.
His work as a miniaturist at present comprises three series: (1) the fragments of the Livre d'heures d'Etienne Chevalier (1450-60), forty of which are at Chantilly, two at the Louvre, one at the Bibliotheque Nationale, and one at the British Museum; (2) twenty feuillets of the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus at the BibliothÃ¨que Nationale. The second volume, discovered by Mr. Yates Thomson, was presented to the French Republic by King Edward VII in 1908 (Durrieu, op. cit. infra); (3) part of the illustrations of the Chroniques de France (Fr. 6465, Bibl. Nat.). To these must be added: (4) the frontispiece and miniatures for a French translation of the works of Boccaccio at the Royal Library of Munich (c. 1459), and the frontispiece of the statutes of the Order of St. Michael (c. 1462) at the Bibliotheque Nationale. The most important of these works, as well as the most famous and the most beautiful, is unquestionably Etienne Chevalier's Book of Hours, the Quarante Fouquet, which is one of the treasures of Chantilly. Of the forty-four pages of the Book of Hours hitherto recovered, twenty-five (following the order of the Breviary) tell the story of the Gospel and of the life of the Blessed Virgin, fourteen are scenes from the lives of the saints; one, dealing with the story of Job, is an Old-Testament scene; and one, The Last Judgment, is from the Apocalypse. The frontispiece, two pages reproducing the diptych of Melun, and the page of the Office for the Dead, are consecrated to the memory of Etienne Chevalier. We are impressed immediately with the exquisite clearness, animation and life. Italian mannerisms abound in the details; the artist speaks with a more flowery tongue than in his portraits. This work is one of joy in which the imagination delights in lovely caprices. Here are chubby-faced little angels, flowing draperies and garments, Burgundian luxuriance with the large folds of its draperies; to one side are the playing children (putti), musicians of Prato and Pistoia, pilastered niches, classic cornices, the Corinthian acanthus, and architectural foliage like the Florentine cypress and yew. His style is extremely composite. Nowhere else are its elements so deftly combined. There is gold everywhere, golden skies and golden hatching, an enveloping tissue delicately gilt. Since his time, no one has been able to master the process, which is in fact only the radiant atmosphere of the artist's ideas and the colour of his spirit.
The fundamental note is wonderfully sustained despite the appearance of playful improvisation. Although the artist delights in allowing free play to pleasant reminiscences, and has made use of his sketches of travel as adornments for his ideas, the basis of all is an ardent love of reality, and he glances at them only to refresh his memory. As a story-teller and dramatist he has the regard for the letter and the text which was to become the predominant trait of the great French historical painters, Poussin and Delacroix . But above all he feels the craving for truth, which underneath the embellishments of his style constitutes the real merit of his miniatures and his portraits. Fouquet is a naturalist from conviction. This he is after his own fashion, but as truly as Van Eyck or Filippo Lippi. He resembles them in being of their time, but he differs from them inasmuch as with him imitation never prevails over his passionate worship of nature.
This naturalism was so strong that Fouquet lacked the power to conceive what he had not seen. He did not dispense with models and all his works were not only observed but posed. He fails completely in ideal scenes and those of intense expression (e.g. Calvary) for which he could have no model. If his Last Judgment is a thrilling picture, it is because the memory of the glass-worker came to the aid of the painter, for the artist beheld heaven as the rose window of a cathedral (Dante , Parad., xxxi). In The Martyrdom of St. Apollonia he depicts quite clearly a scene from a popular mystery; it is, indeed, the most exact document we possess as to the scenic effects in the mysteries of the Middle Ages (Emil Male, Le renouvellement de l'art par les mysteres in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1904, I, 89). This influence of the theatre is seen throughout the Book of Hours, in the costumes, the decoration, and local colour, the capricious and grotesque appearance of which proceeds directly from the store of dramatic accessories and the tinsel adornments of the actors. It was thus that the age of Fouquet conceived historical painting. Finally another custom of Fouquet was to give as background to the scenes taken from the Bible or the Gospel, instead of Palestine of which he knew nothing, France or Touraine which he knew so well. Thus the representation of Job has as a decorative background the castle keep of Vincennes. The Paschal Supper takes place in an inn, and through the open door is seen the roof of Notre-dame de Paris. Calvary is placed on the hill of Montrouge. The excess of naÃ¯vete must not lead us to think that Fouquet knew not what he did. The anachronism of the Primitives is a conscious and voluntary system. Fouquet was not at all naif, as has been too frequently asserted, when in the scene of the Epiphany he substituted for one of the Magi of history the portrait of King Charles VII, in a mantle ornamented with fleurs-de-lis, surrounded by his guards and rendering homage to the Blessed Virgin. Perhaps this was a way of bringing home the teaching of the Gospel and of expressing its eternal truths and undying realities rather than the historical incident. Above all it was the parti pris of an age which, weary of abstractions and symbols, underwent a passionate reaction towards the youthful, and towards life. No contemporary expressed life better than Fouquet. He loved it in all its forms, in art, whether Italian, Flemish, Gothic, or Renaissance , in the theatre as well as in nature. He loved beautiful horses, beautiful arms, rich costumes, gay colours, beautiful music (his works are full of concerts). He loved the elegance of the new architecture, and he loved also the tapering spires, the cathedral windows, and the pointed towers on the pepper-box roofs. A thousand details of the life of his times would have been lost except for him, e.g., a row of quays on the banks of the Seine at the extremity of the city, a view of Paris from Montmartre or the Preaux Clercs, the performance of a mystery, a funeral scene, the interior of the ancient basilica of St. Peter. He is the best witness of his time; he is in turn good-natured, bantering, tender, and emotional. Neither a dreamer nor a mystic, he is full of faith and purity. Nothing could be more chaste than his work, which appeals at once to the learned and to the masses. The mind of this humble miniaturist was one of the best informed and most well-ordered of his time. Above all he had also a creative side, for he is one of the great landscape painters of the world. No one has depicted as well as he the charming countrysides of France. Nothing could be more sweetly rustic than his Sainte Marguerite. In this Fouquet immediately foreshadows Corot . His Mount of Olives and his Nativity are two of the most beautiful nocturnal scenes ever painted. The Alps in his Grandes Chroniques are perhaps the earliest example of mountain landscape.
Fouquet's influence has been considerable. He had numerous pupils, the best-known of whom are his two sons (one of them has a Calvary in the church of Loches) and Jean Colombe, the brother of the sculptor, while the greatest was Jehan Bourdichon, who in 1507 painted the famous Hours of Anne of Brittany. But none of these artists comes near to the master in merit. Fouquet remains the sole type of a French Renaissance which died out with his pupils. After 1500 Italy took a decided lead over the rest of Europe, and France was unable to contest her prestige. For more than two centuries she lost even the memory of her first original master. It is only in modern times that he has been drawn from obscurity and restored to his rank among the most charming men of genius of the early Renaissance . [ Adapted from Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) ]
Noted events in his life were:
• Note:. Jean Fouquet (1415-1480), the dates of his birth and death are approximate, was trained as an illuminator by Flemish-Bergundian masters, possibly the Limbourg brothers, the most famous of all late Gothic illuminators, who illuminated Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry.
Among the volumes illuminated by Fouquet are Antiquités Judaïques (about 1470) in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Histoire Ancienne (after 1470), in the Louvre; and Book of Hours of Etienne Cevalier (1453-1460), in the Mussé Condé at Chantilly.