(b. 1485/90, Bruxelles, d. 1541, Paris)

Portrait of François I, King of France

Wood, 96 x 74 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Francis I (1494-1547) became king of France in 1515 while still a young man, and like the German emperor Charles V (emperor 1519-1556) and Henry VIII of England (king 1509-1547) he was always eager to present himself in a setting of great splendour. Clouet's portrait of Francis had an important role in this. In the unusually large Louvre portrait, Clouet shows Francis I in opulent Renaissance apparel; the traditional insignia of royal majesty were dispensed with, but crowns are woven in to the costly red damask behind the figure of the king.

The painting is one of the masterpieces of Renaissance portraiture. The half length figure of the king is painted in front of a scarlet brocade background. His cap, studded with pearls, is encircled with white feathers. His magnificent black and white striped satin doublet is lavishly embroidered in gold. A medal of St Michael is suspended on a gold chain around his neck. His right hand, holding gloves, rests on a table with a green velvet cover; his left on a magnificently worked sword hilt. His narrowed blue eyes, his shrewd glance, his dark moustache and beard lend his face a singular attraction. The whole is a telling portrait of a sovereign who was an outstanding personality and a generous Renaissance patron of art.