Middle French Literature 1494-1600Edit

French Renaissance literature is, for the purpose of this article, literature written in French (Middle French) from the French invasion of Italy in 1494 to 1600, or roughly the period from the reign of Charles VIII of France to the ascension of Henri IV of France to the throne. The reigns of François I (from 1515 to 1547) and his son Henri II (from 1547 to 1559) are generally considered the apex of the French Renaissance. After Henri II's unfortunate death in a joust, the country was ruled by his widow Catherine de Medici and her sons François II, Charles IX and Henri III, and although the Renaissance continued to flourish, the French Wars of Religion between Huguenots and Catholics ravaged the country.

Renaissance French Literature 1600-1650Edit

In Renaissance France, literature (in the broadest sense of the term) was largely the product of encyclopedic humanism, and included works produced by an educated class of writers from religious and legal backgrounds. A new conception of nobility, modeled on the Italian Renaissance courts and their concept of the perfect courtier, was also beginning to form and evolve through French literature. This new image would, throughout the century, transform the image of a rude noble into the ideal of "honnête homme" ("the upright man") or the "bel esprit" {"beautiful spirit"), whose chief virtues included eloquent speech, skill at dance, refined manners, appreciation of the arts, intellectual curiosity, wit, a spiritual or platonic attitude in love, and the ability to write poetry.

Central to this transformation of literature and writers were the salons and literary academies that began to flourish in the first decades of the century. The expanded role of noble patronage was also significant. Production of literary works such as poems, plays, works of criticism or moral reflection was increasingly considered a necessary practice by nobles, and the creation or patronage of the arts served as a means of social advancement for both non-nobles and marginalized nobles. In the mid-seventeenth century, there were an estimated number of authors in France 2,200 (half of whom were one half were clergy and one fourth, noble) writing for a reading public of just a few tens of thousands. [1]

Beginning under Cardinal Richelieu, both patronage of the arts and literary academies increasingly came under the control of the monarchy.

Visual ArtEdit

Luis XIIIEdit

In the early part of the 17th century, late mannerist and early Baroque tendencies continued to flourish in the court of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII. Art from this period shows influences from both the north of Europe (Dutch and Flemish schools) and from Roman painters of the Counter-Reformation. Artists in France frequently debated the merits between Peter Paul Rubens (the Flemish baroque, voluptuous lines and colors) and Nicolas Poussin (rational control, proportion, Roman classicism). There was also a strong Caravaggio school represented in the period by the amazing candle-lit paintings of Georges de La Tour. The wretched and the poor were featured in an almost Dutch manner in the paintings by the three Le Nain brothers. In the paintings of Philippe de Champaigne there are both propagandistic portraits of Louis XIII' s minister Cardinal Richelieu and other more contemplative portraits of people in the Catholic Jansenist sect.

Luis XIVEdit

In this period, Louis' minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert established royal control over artisanal production in France; henceforth France would no longer purchase luxury goods from abroad, but would herself set the standard for quality. This control was also seen in the creation of an Academy of painting and sculpture which maintained a hierarchy of the genres of painting (the noblest being history painting), a strong use of pictorial rhetoric and a strict sense of decorum.

The furnishings and interiors from this period are referred to as Louis XIV style; they are characterized by thick brocades of red and gold, heavy gilt work on plaster moldings, large sculpted sideboards, and heavy marbles.

Eventually, Versailles was transformed into the official residence of the king (1682); the Hall of Mirrors was built; other smaller châteaux like the Grand Trianon were built on the grounds; a huge canal featuring gondolas and gondoliers from Venice was created.

In his youth, Louis XIV had suffered during the civil and parliamentary insurrection known as the Fronde. By relocating to Versailles, he could avoid the dangers of the capital; he could also keep his eye very closely on the affairs of the nobles and could play them off against each other and against the newer "noblesse de robe". Versailles became a gilded cage: to leave spelled disaster for a noble, for all official charges and appointments were made there. A strict etiquette was imposed. A word or glance from the king could make or destroy a career. The king himself followed a strict daily program, and there was little privacy.

Through his wars and the glory of Versailles, Louis became, to a certain degree, the arbiter of taste and power in Europe and both his château and the etiquette in Versailles were copied by the other European courts. Yet the difficult wars at the end of his long reign and the religious problems created by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes made the last years dark ones.

Performing ArtEdit

Commedia dell'Arte 1575-1650Edit

Commedia dell'Arte troupes performed lively improvisational playlets across Europe for centuries. It originated in Italy in the 1560s, and differed from conventional theatre in that it was neither professional nor open to the public. Most actors were paid by taking a share of the play's profits roughly equivalent to the size of their role. Commedia was in its peak from 1575-1650, but even after that time new scenarios were written and performed. Improvisation today is very close to the Commedia.


The poet Ottavio Rinuccini and the composer Jacopo Peri collaborated on what has come to be regarded as the first ever opera, Dafne. It was first given a semi-private performance in 1598. The music of Dafne is now lost. The first opera for which music has survived was performed in 1600 at the wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici at the Pitti Palace in Florence. The opera, Euridice, with a libretto by Rinuccini, set to music by Peri and Giulio Caccini, recounted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Opera did not remain confined to court audiences for long; in 1637 the idea of a "season" (Carnival) of publicly-attended operas supported by ticket sales emerged in Venice. In these early Baroque operas, broad comedy was blended with tragic elements in a mix that jarred some educated sensibilities, sparking the first of opera's many reform movements Opera seria. In late 17th-century Italy, light-hearted musical plays began to be offered as an alternative to weightier opera seria (17th-century Italian opera based on classical mythology). Opera seria is an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and "serious" style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe (except France) from the 1720s to ca 1770.

French OperaEdit

In rivalry with imported Italian opera productions, a separate French tradition was founded by the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully at the court of King Louis XIV. Despite his foreign origin, Lully established an Academy of Music and monopolised French opera from 1672. Starting with Cadmus et Hermione, Lully and his librettist Quinault created tragédie en musique,a form in which dance music and choral writing were particularly prominent. Lully's operas also show a concern for expressive recitative which matched the contours of the French language.

Shakespeare 1589-1613+Edit

Particularly important for an English setting, but Shakespeare's plays were from the normal game period.


French BaroqueEdit

French Baroque is a form of Baroque architecture that evolved in France during the reigns of Louis XIII (1610-43), Louis XIV (1643-1714) and Louis XV (1714-74). French Baroque profoundly influenced 18th-century secular architecture throughout Europe.

Although the open three wing layout of the palace was established in France as the canonical solution as early as the 16th century, it was the Palais du Luxembourg (1615-20) by Salomon de Brosse that determined the sober and classicizing direction that French Baroque architecture was to take. For the first time, the corps de logis was emphasized as the representative main part of the building, while the side wings were treated as hierarchically inferior and appropriately scaled down. The medieval tower has been completely replaced by the central projection in the shape of a monumental three-storey gateway.

Maisons-Laffitte illustrates the ongoing transition from the post-medieval chateaux of the sixteenth century to the villa-like country houses of the eighteenth. The structure is strictly symmetrical, with an order applied to each story, mostly in pilaster form. The frontispiece, crowned with a separate aggrandized roof, is infused with remarkable plasticity and the whole ensemble reads like a three-dimensional whole. Mansart's structures are stripped of overblown decorative effects, so typical of contemporary Rome. Italian Baroque influence is muted and relegated to the field of decorative ornamentation.

The next step in the development of European residential architecture involved the integration of the gardens in the composition of the palace, as is exemplified by Vaux-le-Vicomte (1656-61), where the architect Louis Le Vau, the designer Charles Le Brun and the gardener André Le Nôtre complemented each other. From the main cornice to a low plinth, the miniature palace is clothed in the so-called "colossal order", which makes the structure look more impressive. The creative collaboration of Le Vau and Le Nôtre marked the arrival of the "Magnificent Manner" which allowed to extend Baroque architecture outside the palace walls and transform the surrounding landscape into an immaculate mosaic of expansive vistas.

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