The Valois branch of the Capetian dynasty acceded to the French throne in 1328 with Philip VI (r. 1328–50) and ruled until the death of Henry III in 1589. The period covered here, however, ends with the death of Charles VII in 1461, and roughly corresponds with the Hundred Years’ War with England (1337–1453): Philip VI’s claim to the crown, contested by Edward III of England, sparked the conflict; the two countries remained in intermittent warfare until 1453, when Charles VII regained Guyenne and Normandy, and definitively drove the English out of France.
In artistic terms, the period represents the last flowering of Gothic art in France: until Jean Fouquet’s introduction of Renaissance motifs from Italy in the 1450s, most of the art was solidly anchored in centuries-old pictorial and sculptural traditions. Despite, or perhaps because of, the troubled times in which they lived, the early Valois monarchs, their relatives, and members of their courts commissioned sumptuous works in all media, from architecture to illuminated manuscripts, as a means to assert their station in a highly codified society. Their taste was governed by an appreciation for virtuoso craftsmanship, precious materials, and artistic ingenuity. Objects preserved at the Metropolitan Museum illustrate the range of their commissions and provide exceptional insight into the diversity and richness of their world.
Philip VI and Jean II le Bon (r. 1350–64), whose features were recorded in marble portraits (17.190.387,388,392), were often engaged in warfare and their artistic patronage was limited. Their wives, however, were dedicated bibliophiles who fostered book production. Jean le Bon’s wife, Bonne de Luxembourg, who died months before his accession to the throne, commissioned the foremost painter of the time, Jean Le Noir, to illuminate her book of hours (69.86).
Charles V and His Brothers
John the Good’s four sons proved exceptional patrons of the arts: Charles V (r. 1364–80), Louis, duke of Anjou, Jean, duke of Berry, and Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, rivaled each other in magnificence at their courts in Paris, Angers, Bourges, and Dijon. Aware of one another’s accomplishments, the four brothers sometimes employed the same artists, such as the sculptor Jean de Liège (Bust of Marie de France, 41.100.132), the sculptor, illuminator, and glass designer André Beauneveu (Prophet, 1995.301), and the illuminators Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Belles Heures, 54.1.1).
Charles’s patronage was first directed at the refurbishment of several residences, in Paris and outside, the most important being the château of Vincennes, for which he employed 500 masons between 1362 and 1369. To promote Valois interests, he commissioned effigies of Philip VI, John II the Good, and himself for the abbey church of Saint-Denis from André Beauneveu. Charles V’s greatest cultural achievement was the creation of the royal library, housed in the Louvre, which by 1380 contained 900 volumes. His acquisition of The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux (54.1.2) reveals his appreciation of earlier manuscript illuminations.
Although an ardent bibliophile, Louis d’Anjou (1339–1384) did not measure up to the king in this domain. He is better remembered as a lavish collector of metalwork, most of it destroyed but recorded in inventories. His most famous commission was that in 1376 of a series of tapestries of the Apocalypse (Angers, Château), designed by the Netherlandish painter Jean Boudolf (who was “painter to the king”) and woven in the workshop of Nicolas Bataille in Paris.
Jean de Berry (1340–1416) was one of the most prolific patrons of the later Middle Ages. During his long life, he surrounded himself with the best available artists, such as Jean Le Noir, André Beauneveu, and the Limbourg brothers. He spent vast fortunes embellishing his residences at Paris, Mehun-sur-Yèvre, and especially Bourges with paintings, sculptures, and stained glass. Of his famous collection of tapestries, the only surviving series that may be connected with him are the Nine Heroes (32.130.3a; 47.101.4), an allegory of good government. After the death of his brother Philip the Bold, Jean de Berry secured the services of the Limbourg brothers. The Belles Heures, which they produced for him in 1406–8 (54.1.1), are of such lavish materials and refinement of execution, as to rival the work of goldsmiths (Herman and Jean may have been apprenticed to a goldsmith in Paris). The brothers were clearly on good terms with the duke, since on New Year’s Day 1411 they presented him with what appeared to be a finely bound book with silver clasps bearing his arms but was actually a painted woodblock. A keen collector of antiques, Jean de Berry certainly understood the joke as a reference to Pliny’s account of how Apelles’ mastery of trompe-l’oeil deceived Alexander the Great.
Philip the Bold (1342–1404), first Valois duke of Burgundy, invested a lot in art to establish his dynastic ambitions. Besides refurbishing and enlarging the ducal palace at Dijon, Philip founded the charterhouse of Champmol, outside the city, as a mausoleum for himself and his descendants. Many of the artists he employed come from the Low Countries, which he received at his marriage to Margaret of Flanders in 1369. Among the most eminent were the sculptor Claus Sluter from Haarlem and the painters Melchior Broederlam from Ypres, Jean de Beaumetz from Artois, and Jan Malouel from Gelderland. Broederlam’s Annunciation on the exterior of an altarpiece for Champmol (Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts) was the source for a tapestry in the Museum’s collection (45.76).
Charles VI , Isabeau of Bavaria, and Parisian Metalwork
While his uncles Louis d’Anjou, Jean de Berry, and Philip the Bold were all regents during his minority, Charles VI (r. 1380–1422) suffered from attacks of madness from 1392 onward. His wife Isabeau of Bavaria then effectively ruled France, much of which fell to the English. Isabeau was an avid collector of jewels, and she commissioned some of the most splendid objects of goldsmiths’ art from the later Middle Ages. Parisian goldsmiths developed a new method of enameling called émail en ronde-bosse, in which gold elements in the round are covered with enamel, preferably white or red. By partially concealing genuine gold, the technique differs from traditional practices in which a lesser material, such as copper or silver, is gilded to look like gold. Émail en ronde-bosse became a favorite of the Valois, especially Isabeau of Bavaria and Jean de Berry, who exchanged exquisite enameled gifts on New Year’s Day. One such object is a gold statuette of Saint Catherine (17.190.905), finely modeled, enameled in two tones of white, and decorated with a profusion of gems and pearls. Other examples in the Museum’s collection include a medallion with the Virgin and Saint John holding the dead Christ (17.190.913), and a plaque with the Entombment (1982.60.398). Inventories refer to such objects as tableaux d’or, revealing that, at the time, goldsmiths’ work and painting were considered similar art forms. Indeed, goldsmiths and painters around 1400 frequently competed in their pursuit of sumptuousness. This is apparent in the Belles Heures (54.1.1) as well as in the stippled silver triptych with the Crucifixion (17.190.369).
Later Valois Dukes of Burgundy: John the Fearless and Philip the Good
John the Fearless (r. 1404–19) flexed much financial muscle to maintain his position as duke of Burgundy, mostly against Louis, duke of Orléans, Charles VI’s brother, whom he had murdered in 1407. This led, in turn, to his own assassination in 1419 by the dauphin, the future Charles VII. His artistic patronage supported his political ambitions: work on Philip the Bold’s tomb was carried out by Claus Sluter until his death in 1406, when his nephew Claus de Werve took over as ducal sculptor. One of Claus de Werve’s masterpieces is the seated Virgin and Child from Poligny, probably a ducal commission (33.23).
During his long reign, Philip the Good (r. 1419–67) moved his court from Dijon to Lille and then Bruges, strengthening his hold over vast territories. As a patron of all the arts, Philip rivaled his great-uncle Jean de Berry, and his relationship to his court painter, Jan van Eyck, was as close as Jean’s to the Limbourg brothers. Levying taxes from the prosperous towns in the Low Countries, Philip commissioned a multitude of sculptures, tapestries, paintings, manuscripts, and goldsmith work. He carried on the familial tradition of showering munificence on the charterhouse of Champmol, commissioning his parents’ tomb from Claus de Werve, after the model of Philip the Bold’s tomb (Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts), and ordering a triptych from Jan van Eyck (wing with the Annunciation, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art). In the 1440s, Philip made Rogier van der Weyden his unofficial portrait painter. Inventories reveal the richness of the ducal holdings in metalwork, and record several objects in painter’s enamel, similar to the “Monkey Cup” (52.50).
Charles VII’s Court and Jean Fouquet
The fifth son of Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria, Charles became dauphin in 1417. His claim to the throne was thwarted by Henry V of England, with whom John the Fearless of Burgundy struck an alliance. Charles’s fortunes changed in 1429, when, led by Joan of Arc, he liberated Orléans from the English and was crowned king of France at Reims. In 1435, he concluded peace with Philip the Good, and strengthened the kingdom through financial and military reform. A rallying force of nationalism, Charles VII captured Normandy and Guyenne between 1441 and 1453, and drove the English definitively out of France. It is during this period, in a gesture of filial piety, that he ordered the completion of the tomb of his great-uncle Jean de Berry (17.190.386).
Although Jean Fouquet (ca. 1425–1478) held no official title at the court, he painted portraits of several of its members, including that of the king himself, inscribed LE TRES VICTORIEUX ROY DE FRANCE (ca. 1447, Paris, Musée du Louvre). In 1447, he was in Rome, where he painted the portrait of Pope Eugene IV (destroyed). Back in France, Fouquet began work by 1452 on his masterpiece, the hours of Étienne Chevalier, treasurer to Charles VII (the manuscript was unbound in the late eighteenth century and one leaf is now in the Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.2490). The full-page illuminations reveal Fouquet’s indebtedness to Masaccio in his placement of figures in space. And yet, Fouquet followed the tradition of earlier illuminators in Paris, such as the Boucicaut Master, who combined a wide-angle empirical perspective with a limited sense of spatial recession. Fouquet’s most gifted follower was the Master of Charles of France (active ca. 1455–70), named after a manuscript produced for Charles, duke of Berry, brother of King Louis XI (r. 1461–83) (Annunciation, 58.71a,b). The artist is presumably identical with Jean de Laval, who was mentioned in Charles’s accounts.
Chapuis, Julien. “Patronage at the Early Valois Courts (1328–1461).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/valo_1/hd_valo_1.htm (October 2002)
Fliegel, Stephen N., et al. Art from the Court of Burgundy: Patronage of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, 1364–1419. Exhibition catalogue. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2004.
Zerner, Henri. Renaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism. Paris : Flammarion, 2003.