2201 - 20160828 - U.S.A - NEW HAVEN - CONNECTICUT - Le Goût du Prince: Art and Prestige in Sixteenth-Century France - 20.05.2016-28.08.2016


Antoine Caron, The Triumph of Mars, ca. 1570. Oil on panel, 28 5/8 × 46 5/8 in. (72.7 × 118.4 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Edwin J. Beinecke, Class of 1907, Archer M. Huntington, Class of 1897, and Mrs. Gile Whiting Funds. Through a selection of prints, enamels, medals, sculptures, and paintings, Le Goût du Prince: Art and Prestige in Sixteenth-Century France explores the relationship between art and power during the French Renaissance, a time when patronage of the arts increasingly became a means for members of the aristocracy to assert their wealth and status. From architecture to tableware, everything at châteaux throughout France was meant to display the sophistication— and thus, the power and prestige—of the patron. The diversity of artworks on view in this studentcurated exhibition reflects the “goût du prince” (“taste of the prince”), a phrase that refers not to a particular individual but to a symbolic princely figure, recasting the patron as a cultured and aristocratic force that influenced artistic production. As more recent objects in the exhibition illustrate, this taste had an enduring impact on French art and culture in subsequent centuries.

Though the French nobility had long used art patronage and collecting as evidence of wealth and good taste, these practices reached new heights following the Italian Wars of the early 16th century. Members of the aristocracy who took part in those wars were exposed to the artistic accomplishments of the High Renaissance. Inspired by the magnificence of Italian palaces, King Francis I (r. 1515–47) brought celebrated Italian artists to decorate his château at Fontainebleau, about forty miles southeast of Paris. The masters Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio collaborated with French artists to create the elegant, erotic, classically inspired, and highly ornamental style now known as the Fontainebleau School. Francis I’s efforts transformed the château into the epicenter of the French Renaissance and earned him the title of “prince of arts and letters.”

The ornamental vocabulary of the elaborate fresco and stucco decoration at Fontainebleau circulated widely through prints during the second half of the 16th century. The novel aesthetic seen at the château was enthusiastically embraced by wealthy patrons eager to emulate the king’s taste. More direct references to the monarchy proliferated in the form of portrait medals and bronze busts replicating the king’s image, part of Francis I’s efforts to unify the kingdom which, at the beginning of the 16th century, consisted of powerful duchies that retained substantial independence from the crown. These portraits were displayed in the homes of noblemen as signs of their social rank and allegiance to the king. The nobility’s efforts to showcase wealth and taste even extended to small objects of daily use, such as tableware. Enamelists, ceramists, and metalworkers developed an array of luxury objects using innovative, elaborate techniques, some of which remained a mystery for centuries.

During the 19th century, artists rediscovered the ornamental style and practices of the 16th century and used them as inspiration for their own work, creating enamels in the grisaille style typical of the French Renaissance, bronze busts and medals of political figures, and ceramic figurines or candlesticks that replicate types from the period. Today, art historians and museum curators can find it difficult to distinguish between 16th-century objects and works that emulate or simply copy the vocabulary of the Fontainebleau School. The exhibition includes some 19th-century objects representative of this revival, as well as objects of uncertain date, which serve to illustrate the popularity of the Fontainebleau style, its distinctive qualities, and the longevity of its appeal.

“The extraordinary place held by 16th-century France in the history of art is illuminated in this exhibition of close to 120 works, most of them generously lent by a private collector,” explains Suzanne Boorsch, the Robert L. Solley Curator of Prints and Drawings. “The Italian artists Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio, invited by King Francis I to decorate his château at Fontainebleau, created an audacious, innovative, extravagant—perhaps best described as ‘truly overthe-top’—style that spread throughout France and, by the end of the century, to the rest of Europe. The Yale University Art Gallery’s program of student-curated exhibitions provided an unparalleled opportunity, and also a steep challenge, to the three student curators of Le Goût du Prince who worked with great dedication, but also verve and imagination, to do research on the period, select the works, devise and oversee the installation, write the labels, and plan and participate in programming for the public.”

In the summer of 2015, the three student curators—Cordelia de Brosses, CC ’16, Hélène Cesbron-Lavau, MC ’16, and Stephanie Wisowaty, TD ’16—visited the Château de Fontainebleau. “We wandered around the Château’s galleries, courtyard, and beautiful gardens,” states de Brosses. “The Château has changed since the 16th century and it was interesting to see various styles existing side by side, reflecting the taste of each royal patron who had lived there since the time of King Francis I. Looking at the majestic frescoes in the Gallery of Francis I and in the vestibule of the main entrance, called the Porte Dorée, we became more familiar with the elaborate and ornamental style that distinguished the School of Fontainebleau. This helped us to construct both the narrative and the layout of our own exhibition, in which we tried to recreate a similar sense of grandeur. The time we spent at Fontainebleau and the research we did last summer in libraries in London and Paris also helped us gain a better understanding of the objects in the exhibition and their original context.” 

Laurence Kanter, Chief Curator and the Lionel Goldfrank III Curator of European Art, concludes, “Le Goût du Prince: Art and Prestige in Sixteenth-Century France is a special case of three talented undergraduates mastering the complexities of a remote historical culture through self-directed private study; being given free rein of material from our own holdings and on loan from a distinguished private collection; and organizing a wonderfully coherent, informative, and beautiful display of works of art in many different media.”
Yale University Art Gallery - Le Goût du Prince: Art and Prestige in Sixteenth-Century France 20.05.2016-28.08.2016