French Baroque

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There is a marked difference between the French Baroque and the Baroque in other countries such as Spain or the Netherlands. The closest to the French Baroque is the classical side of the Italian Baroque, cultivated by the Carracci and Luca Giordano. The immediate forerunner of the Baroque in France was the Mannerist style that triumphed in the refined French courts, especially in the court at Fontainebleau. This influenced two of the style's main features. The first was its courtly origin, which meant it was tied to palace tastes, especially during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. The second were its classical roots, which were never abandoned during Mannerism and constantly refer to two Italian models: Raphael and Michelangelo. The tenebrist facet of the Italian Baroque had limited repercussions in France, influencing only a small group of painters who were not closely connected to the Court. Even this tenebrist group used a more paler palette and more balanced compositions; in other words there was still a certain classicism that softened the violent drama present in Caravaggio or Gentileschi's paintings. This peripheral French group was much closer to other groups that were influenced by Caravaggio's tenebrist style such as the Dutch group known as the caravaggisti of Utrecht. However, there were still notable artists among the French caravaggisti such as Valentin de Boulogne, Georges de la Tour and the Le Nain brothers. Nevertheless, the predominant trend in France was classicism, which was very closely related to Italian Idealism. Many French artists felt that a journey to Rome was essential for their artistic training, where they could study the Classics first hand. This led to the establishment of a colony of French artists in Rome with prominent members such as Simon Vouet, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. The latter two never actually returned to France and are directly connected to the height of the Italian Baroque. Their greatest contribution lay in their innovative way of understanding and valuing landscape so that it hardly depended on biblical or mythological themes which were now reduced to their minimum form of expression. However, the most striking centre of French classicism was undoubtedly the Parisian Court, especially during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV. Many artists moved there such as the sculptor Bernini who made a triumphant entrance into Paris which was not matched by the work he did there (live up to). The Parisian Court and later the Court of Versailles centralised a grandiloquent but still classical production, within the canons of the Italian Renaissance and Idealism, which favoured a state machine known as Absolutism, Cardinal Richelieu's favourite and of whom Champaigne painted a fascinating image, Sebastien Bourdon, the most Italianised of them all and Charles Le Brun, who worked on the decoration of the King's new palace at Versailles.


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