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Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Painter and illuminator, renowned portraitist, Jean Fouquet is today recognized as one of the greatest creators of his time. At the confluence of Flemish and Tuscan influences that dominated European painting at the time, his art profoundly renewed 15th century French painting.

Little is known about the biography and career of Jean Fouquet, who is thought to have been born around 1420 and to have died before 1480. His early years and the artistic environment in which he received his training are the subject of debate. He may have started out in the Parisian workshops. At least we know that he made the trip to Italy. This apparently prolonged stay in the peninsula brought him into contact with the most innovative artists of Medici's Florence and had a profound effect on his pictorial style, in which Flemish realism and Latin rationality are fused in a harmonious synthesis. Returning to France around 1450, he settled in Tours, putting his expertise as a director at the service of the city and working for the local high clergy as well as for the most eminent representatives of the monarchical state. His relationship with Charles VII was less clear and it was only later, in 1475, under Louis XI, that he became painter to the king. Celebrated during his lifetime (a few writers, including the rhetorician Jean Lemaire de Belges, still speak of him with praise in the early years of the 16th century), Fouquet then underwent a long eclipse until his rehabilitation in the 19th century with the renewed interest of the Romantics in the art of the Middle Ages. The importance of his work as a painter and illuminator was then rediscovered in France and Germany. The exhibition of the "French Primitives" organized in Paris in 1904 consecrated this recognition.

A versatile and inventive artist

The "good painter of King Louis the Eleventh, Jehan Fouquet, a native of Tours" was a versatile and experimental artist who mastered a wide range of techniques: mainly a painter and illustrator of manuscripts, he practised painted enamel, which he learned in Italy, stained glass and probably tapestry. An expert in heraldry, he was also a director and organiser of shows linked to royal entries. Fouquet, who was very much appreciated in court circles, produced admirable portraits of Charles VII, the French treasurer Étienne Chevalier and the chancellor Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins. Exceptional for its time, the enamel self-portrait in gold monochrome preserved in the Louvre reveals an already humanist consciousness.

Rooted in the French monumental tradition, but attentive to the pictorial innovations that were emerging in Flanders and Italy at the time of his training (a prolonged stay in the peninsula contributed to broadening his vision as a northern painter), he also revealed a pronounced taste for pure forms and problems of perspective such as those of Uccello and Piero della Francesca. He knew how to handle the "art of geometry" and put it to use in the service of clever spatial arrangements. While Fouquet was familiar with the geometric perspective defined by Alberti, he owed it to the great Flemish precursors, led by Jan Van Eyck, for his astonishing mastery of aerial perspective, atmospheric effects, reflections and the diversity of materials. Fouquet is today one of the major figures of European painting of his time.

Source : Exposition BNF

Photo : Rebecca Loulou


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