15th-century French Art

Painting Sculpture
Historical background


The political situation and the installation of the Duke of Burgundy in his northern provinces brought about a shift in the, centres of art. Production grew after 1450. The workshops of Amiens and Valenciennes, whose principal representative was Simon Marmion (St Bertin Altarpiece, c. 1455), and those of Dijon and Bourges, were connected with the Flemish school whose influence had spread as far as Provence. The Master of the Aix Annunciation, who according to the most recent hypothesis may be Guillaume Dombet, Enguerrand Charonton (Coronation of the Virgin, 1453, Villeneuve lès Avignon), the master who painted the Pietà of Villeneuve lès Avignon (before 1457, recently identified as Charonton) and later Nicolas Froment (active. c. 1450-1490) who was painter to René of Anjou, the Master of St Sebastian and Ludovico Brea of Nice assured a privileged place to the school of Provence, which encompassed both northern and Mediterranean traditions.

In the region of the Loire two great miniaturists, the Master of King René in Angers (miniatures in the Coeur d'Amour Epris, 1460-1465, Vienna Library) and Jean Fouquet in Tours, gave a poetic note to French realism. Jean Fouquet (c. 1420-c. 1481) made a journey to Rome early in his career. About 1445 he was working for Charles VII and his circle. In 1475 he was court painter to the king. He was both a portraitist and a painter of religious subjects; his masterpieces are: before 1445, his portrait of Charles VII (Louvre); c.1450, Virgin and Child (Antwerp) and St Stephen with Estienne Chevalier (two halves of the Melun Diptych); c. 1460, Juvénal des Ursins; miniatures of the Hours of Étienne Chevalier; c. 1470, Les Antiquités Judaiques.

Jean Bourdichon, illuminator and painter (c. 1457-1521), was affiliated with the school of Tours; together with Bourdichon, the Master of Moulins, active in the Bourbonnais (Moulins Triptych in Moulins cathedral, 1498-1499), and the Flemish trained Master of St Giles (active c. 1500; two scenes from the life of St Giles, National Gallery, London) settled in Paris, where they were representatives of the court art which flourished anew under Charles VIII and Louis XII. At Douai the work of Jean Bellegambe (d. 1534), a follower of Marmion, was influenced by Antwerp (Anchin Altarpiece, 1511-1520, Douai).

See the list of 15th-century French painters and browse their paintings.


Sculpture developed in the provincial centres after the decline of the Paris workshops, which were ruined by the Hundred Years' War. The influence of Sluter, which was very widespread, was felt first in Dijon and Burgundy in funerary sculpture (tomb of John the Fearless, by Juan de la Huerta of Aragon and Antoine Le Moiturier of Avignon, at Dijon, 1440-1470; tomb of Philippe Pot, c. 1480, Louvre) and in statuary (Madonnas at St Jean de Losne and at Auxonne; Virgin, Musée Rolin, Autun; St James of Semur, Louvre). Sluter's influence was also seen in productions of a more discreet realism (tomb of John, Duke of Berry, carved in Bourges under the direction of Jean de Cambrai) and in statues of the Virgin and Child and of saints, works of tender expression and worldly grace (Virgin of the Marthuret, c. 1450, Riom; Virgin and Saints, 1464-1468, Chateaudun; Virgin of the Celestines, Avignon). The cult of saints inspired many works commissioned by brotherhoods and corporations. The feeling for pathos was expressed in monumental groups of the Entombment.

The school of Troyes left some moving examples of the Virgin of Sorrows (Bayel and Mussy sur Seine), another favourite theme. The Gothic tradition persisted up to about 1530 in Troyes, a centre of middle class art (St Martha, church of La Madeleine; Visitation, church of St Jean du Marché).

The decorative exuberance of Flamboyant Gothic showed itself as much in the stone sculpture of the south (choir screen, Albi cathedral, 1473-1502) as in the wood-carving of the north (stalls at Amiens, 1508-1522). However, the Italian influence reached France about 1470-1500 with the sculptors summoned by René of Anjou (Francesco Laurana; Pietro da Milano) and by Charles VIII (Guido Mazzoni). The Italian influence was also seen in the work of the masters of the Loire school in the adaptation of forms and the adoption of Italian motifs in decoration; the Solesmes sepulchre (1496) and the marble sculpture of Michel Colombe (c. 1430-1512) on the tomb of Francis II of Brittany, in Nantes (1502-1517), are examples of this. But in the first quarter of the 16th century the sculptor of the statues commissioned by Anne of Beaujeu for the château of Chantelle (Louvre) still remained faithful to the medieval spirit.