Right now I'm learning all I can about the construction of the fabulous Grande Galerie, now known as the Galerie François I, at the château of Fontainebleau. The Galerie--a long room decorated with frescoes, stuccoed ornaments, and woodwork--is considered the masterpiece of French mannerism. Begun about 1533 and completed by the end of 1539, the room features twelve large frescoes surrounded by exuberant stucco frames depicting putti, nymphs, garlands of fruit, grotesque masks, and emblems. The walls beneath the artwork and the ceiling are paneled with fine woodwork. Rosso Fiorentino, an Italian artist who came to work at the French court in the early 1530's after the sack of Rome, oversaw work on the Galerie. Teams of Italian, French, and Flemish artists specializing in the various media worked under his supervision; he headed the group of artists and humanist scholars who, aided by the king himself, designed and coordinated the iconographic content of the room as an expression of political ideology. The interplay between the frescoes, many of which depict obscure mythological stories, and the lavish stucco frames continues to intrigue cultural historians today. Intriguing for me is the fact that the gallery was part of the king's private chambers and accessible only by key and royal invitation. François would take honored guests on a tour, engaging them in learned discussion and impressing them with the room's secret splendor.
I'll have more to say about the Galerie in later posts, as it is the principal backdrop for my work-in-progress. For now, here are a few photographs to arouse your admiration and pique your curiosity:
For anyone interested in pursuing the subject, Rebecca Zorach's Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance (U Chicago P 2005), is a fascinating interpretation of the luxurious abundance of the Galerie and of French Renaissance art in general.