Henri IV à Fontainebleau. Un temps de splendeur

Henri IV and Fontainebleau. A time of splendor
Fontainebleau, Château from 7 November 2010 to 28 February 2011

Not much respect was shown for Henri IV three years ago during the restoration of the Cour des Offices carried out by the Monuments Historiques under the supervision of the chief architect Jacques Moulin (see our article). Although the damage is still very much apparent, the context has fortunately changed radically since then. Jacques Moulin was replaced and, on this the five-hundredth anniversary of his death, the first of the Bourbon kings is finally being honored as he deserves by a château which he dearly loved and where he left many traces of his presence.

1. The Porte du Baptistère
Château de Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. The Gallery des Assiettes
Château de Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner

Besides the Cour des Offices (also known as the Quartier Henri IV), he commissioned the Porte du Baptistère (ill. 1) which closes the Cour Ovale and also undertook many other projects with results still visible today in some cases, although many like the Jardin de l’Etang, the galerie des Chevreuils or the Volière building did not survive the passage of time. The painted decors have partially deteriorated as well, but the château at Fontainebleau remains the best place today to discover monumental painting under Henri IV, since the other great decors (at the Louvre, the Tuileries or in Saint Germain) were destroyed as pointed out in the catalogue by Vincent Droguet, the curator for the exhibition.

Before entering the exhibition, visitors are led through the Gallery des Assiettes (ill. 2) where part of the painted décor from the Galerie de Diane, by Ambroise Dubois and Jean Dhoey, destroyed under the Premier Empire, was reassembled by Louis-Philippe. Now transferred on canvas, these elements have been poorly preserved but nonetheless, they give an idea of this enormous project which is also known thanks to Charles Percier’s watercolours.

3. Attributed to Ambroise Dubois (1543-1614)
Gabrielle d’Estrée as Diana, c. 1595
Oil on canvas - 139 x 100 cm
Between two reliefs bearing the initials of
Henri IV
and Gabrielle d’Estrée
from Mathieu Jacquet’s workshop (c. 1545 - c.1611), c. 1595
Marble - 27 x 91.5 cm chaque
Fontainebleau, Musée national du château
Photo : Didier Rykner

4. Ambroise Dubois (1543-1614)
Allegory of the Dolphin, c. 1601-1606
Oil on canvas - 110 x 175 cm
Fontainebleau, Musée national du château
Photo : RMN

5. Salon Louis XIII
before called the cabinet of Theagenus and Chariclea
Château de Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner

The staging of the exhibition itself has been remarkably achieved. It is understated and focuses on enhancing above all the works on display, notably by replacing them at eye level and by regrouping ensembles which are normally scattered here and there. Thus, a painting by Ambroise Dubois, acquired in 2000, Gabrielle d’Estrée as Diana, hangs between two marble reliefs from Mathieu Jacquet’s workshop, bearing the initials of Henri IV and his favorite, which probably surrounded the canvas (ill. 3).
A bit further on, two major painted decors by Ambroise Dubois are evoked. The first, the cabinet room of Tancred and Clorinda, was made up of eight paintings which hung above the wood paneling and a ceiling full of painted scenes. Of the eight compositions, two are now lost, two have been reassembled in the first Salle Saint-Louis and four are on display in the exhibition. Only the painting originally at the center of the ceiling (ill. 4) has also been preserved and is presented here in the same fashion.
The second décor, that from the cabinet room of Theagenus and Chariclea, later known also as the Salon Louis XIII, is still partly preserved in situ (ill. 5), that is eleven out of fifteen paintings, three others now hang in the first Salle Saint-Louis and one, lost, was found and acquired in 1980 (ill. 6). Several preparatory drawings are shown here.

6. Ambroise Dubois (1543-1614)
Battle Between Tancred and Clorinda, c. 1601-1606
Oil on canvas - 171 x 349 cm
Fontainebleau, Musée national du château
Photo : RMN

7. Sculpted elements of the Fireplace
Photo : Didier Rykner

Dismantled under Louis XV, the Great Fireplace is one of Henri IV’s major artistic achievements at Fontainebleau. It is depicted in the exhibition by an enlargement (almost life size) of an 18th century drawing by the architect François d’Orbay done shortly before it was destroyed along with several remaining sculpted elements held at the Louvre today (ill. 7). A Study for a Horsemen’s Battle (ill. 8), now attributed without any doubt to Antoine Caron (ill. 9), can be associated to one of Mathieu Jacquet’s reliefs with great certainty, thus proving Caron’s involvement in designing the ensemble. Several other fragments, including a very beautiful helmet found seen under the hoofs of the king’s horse are still at Fontainebleau.

8. Mathieu Jacquet (c. 1545-c. 1611)
The Battle of Ivry, 1597-1600
Marble - 46.6 x 66.7 x 5.3 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Didier Rykner

9. Antoine Caron (1521-1599)
The Battle of Ivry
Beige wash, black chalk - 24 x 43.1 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN

Another fundamental décor is the one by Martin Fréminet in the Trinité chapel. The modelli from the Louvre (ill. 10), in camaieu, preparatory for paintings which were replaced in the 18th century, are also presented, along with a recently identified drawing from a private collection. We would like to point out here that the catalogue which includes both excellent essays and entries which do a fine job of placing the works within the context of the exhibition, systematically omits any mention of a historical background, a regrettable choice.

10. Martin Fréminet (1567-1619)
Marriage at Cana
Oil on canvas on cardboard - 41.3 x 25.7 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN

11. Richard Toutain
Ewer, c. 1560
Rock cristal - H. 41 cm
Madrid, Musée du Prado
Photo : Musée du Prado

The exhibition ends with several remarkable art objects from Henri IV’s curios cabinet, notably a rock crystal ewer which today belongs to the Prado (ill. 11). However, visitors should continue their discovery through the château itself in order to enjoy the many remaining elements of the decors, either those still in place such as the paintings by Ambroise Dubois for the study, now the Salle Louis XIII, or those which were reinstalled later in other rooms, for instance the three main sculptures of the Grande Chéminée, Henri IV on horseback reassembled in 1834 in the second Salle Saint-Louis and the figures of Clemence and Peace inserted the same year in the fireplace located in the Salle des Gardes. By appropriating some of Henri IV’s artistic achievements, Louis-Philippe wanted to illustrate the continuity of their respective dynasties, the Bourbons and the Orléans.

Curator : Vincent Droguet

Collective work , Henri IV à Fontainebleau, un temps de Splendeur, RMN, 2010, 207 p., 35€, ISBN : 9782711857548

Visitor information : Fontainebleau, Château, 77300 Fontainebleau. Tel : +33 (0)1 60 71 50 70. Open every day except Tuesday from 9.30 am to 5 pm (from October to March) and from 9.30 am to 6 pm (from April to September). Tickets : 10€ (full price), 8€ (reduced rate).

Didier Rykner, jeudi 6 janvier 2011

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