Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fontainebleau, Then and Now

My work in progress is set at the Château de Fontainebleau, François I's favorite residence, which features in the above image. This depiction comes from one of the eight Valois tapestries woven in Spain in the 1580's. These tapestries portray court festivities from the second half of the sixteenth century during the reigns of François's grandsons. They present an enigma to scholars, in that no one is certain who commissioned the works nor who owned them, thus rendering a definitive "reading" of the tapestries difficult. Catherine de Medici, François's daughter-in-law and the mother of three French kings, figures prominently, dressed in her signature widow's black, in all but one of the tapestries. Other members of the French court, including her daughter Marguerite de Valois and François, the duc d'Anjou, can also be identified. One theory about the tapestries holds that Catherine de Medici, who masterminded the festivities depicted in them, ordered the commemorative series as proof that the courts of her sons were as prestigious and magnificent as those of François and her own husband, Henri II.

The tapestry pictured above shows entertainments staged at Fontainebleau in 1564 during King Charles IX's royal progress. A large lagoon lies along the southern exposure of the château, flanking the grande allée leading to the main entrance, the Porte Dorée (the three story tower-like structure on the far right). This water feature permitted the staging of mock sea battles and other maritime adventures, such as the tapestry's rescue of damsels from an enchanted island. The tapestry captures the wooded ambience of Fontainebleau, where François loved to hunt boar and deer. Despite the countrified setting, however, Fontainebleau became a showcase of French Renaissance art and decoration. It features Francois's breathtaking gallery as well as an immense ballroom completed by Catherine and her husband Henri. Unfortunately, later centuries' renovations destroyed many of the château's sixteenth-century structures and much of its Renaissance decoration. However, the lagoon, now known as the Carp Lake, and the Porte Dorée, as well as the gallery, are still recognizable today.

No comments: