COUSIN, Jean the Elder
(b. ca. 1495, Soucy, d. ca. 1560, Paris)


Painter and designer, part of a French family of painters, draughtsmen and designers. From the 17th century until the 20th century, historians had fused two artists, father and son, into one personality that had become almost entirely mythical, with a career that spanned virtually the entire 16th century. Archival researches demonstrated that there had been an elder Jean Cousin, born probably no earlier than 1490 and surely not much after 1505, who died in 1560 or possibly 1561, and a younger Jean Cousin, his son, also an artist, who was a student at the University of Paris in 1542 and died around 1595. A seemingly unrelated sculptor of the same name was active in Paris in the 1540s but was dead by 1549. No work by him has been identified, but he was commissioned in 1541 to execute six statues for the cloisters of the convent of the Célestins in Paris.

Although few paintings can be securely attributed to Jean Cousin the Elder, he was a major figure in the classicizing trend of French art in the 1540s and 1550s. Jean Cousin the Younger is a more shadowy figure, who carried on his father's workshop and style into the second half of the 16th century.

Jean Cousin the Elder was from the region of Sens and started his career in that city. He is first documented in 1526 doing a land survey and again in 1530 designing fortifications for a village, fixing a clock and repairing and painting a statue for Sens Cathedral. By the later 1530s he must have been well established and affluent, since he was buying property. Working in Sens he designed the stained-glass window of St Eutropius (1536) for the cathedral and painted (probably) there the first great French nude, Eva prima Pandora. He designed the tapestries of the life of St Mammés (begun 1543) for Langres cathedral.

Before 1540 he moved to Paris, where he was employed at the end of 1539 on the decorations for the visit of Charles V. He was active there until his death but retained close ties with Sens, where he owned property and where he still worked periodically, as would his son.