Department of French & Italian

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Overview of the political and artistic history of the period:

See:  Janson, Anthony, and Janson, H.W.  History of Art. New York: Prentice Hall, 1997, pp. 594-607.

During the reigns of Henry IV (1589-1610), Louis XIII (1610-1643) and Louis XIV (1643-1715), France became the most powerful country in Europe. Its power was manifested above all on a military and cultural level. France and its kings arrived at this stage thanks to the policies and diplomacy of shrewd ministers such as the Duke of Sully (1559-1641), Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) and Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683). Toward the end of the Seventeenth Century, Paris began to rival Rome as the artistic capital of Europe. The relationship between art and absolutism is clear; however, it must be said that this connection is particularly applicable to the period known as “les belles années” between 1661 and 1685. In France, critics tend to classify this artistic expression as “Louis XIV Style” or “(neo-)classical style.” On the other hand, outside France, this aesthetic is known as “Baroque.” For the French, “classic” or “classicism” represents three chief ideas: 1) a great virtuosity which corresponds to that of the Haute Renaissance in Italy, or to the time of Pericles in Greece. 2) This notion refers to the imitation of the forms and themes of classical Antiquity. 3) Contrary to the “Baroque,” which is often characterized by an abundance of emotion, movement, spirituality and sensuality, the “classical” evokes a sense of equilibrium and moderation. However, since “Louis XIV Style” reflects the Italian baroque of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, readers must be careful of the exclusive use of labels such as “Classical” and “Baroque.” What emerges in French art from the period of Louis XIV is a sort of “Classical Baroque” which emphasizes the fundamental traits of the two movements.

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