The Heart of the French Renaissance: Château de Fontainebleau

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
March 15, 2021 Updated: March 15, 2021

The art and architecture of the Château de Fontainebleau in France influenced the evolution of art not only in France but also across Europe. 

From the 12th to the 19th century, the kings and queens of France lived at the Château de Fontainebleau. First, King Louis VII built a hunting lodge and chapel on the site. Then in the 13th century, King Louis IX (St. Louis) transformed the lodge into a château.

In the 16th century, King Francis I had the grand vision to make a “New Rome” on the site. He commissioned the best French architects and craftsmen, as well as Italians such as the painter Francesco Primaticcio and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. These great artists combined the best of Italian and French art to create a style called the School of Fontainebleau. And it was this Italian art influence that made a lasting impact on French Renaissance art.

Other notable works at the site included when Louis XIV commissioned French landscape architect André Le Nôtre to redesign the gardens, resulting in the elegant grand parterre, the formal ornamental garden.

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The Maintenon gate is the main entrance to the Château de Fontainebleau and where the royal court would meet before and after a hunt. (Serge Reby)
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The Court of Honor is the main courtyard at the Château de Fontainebleau and faces out to the town of Fontainebleau. (Béatrice Lécuyer-Bibal)
Château de Fontainebleau.
Château de Fontainebleau and its Grand Parterre. (Jérôme Schwab)
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Louis XIV commissioned landscape architect André Le Nôtre and architect Louis Le Vau to create the Château de Fontainebleau’s Grand Parterre. The elegant formal gardens were created between 1660 and 1664 and cover around 34 acres. (RMN Grand Palais)
Château de Fontainebleau.
Since the reign of King Henry IV, in the late 16th century, carp have been in the pond at the Château de Fontainebleau. (Dalloyau)
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The Royal Chapel of the Trinity was built during King Francis I’s reign (1515–1547). The chapel connects to the Francis I Gallery. (Jérôme Schwab)
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The Francis I Gallery shows remarkable Renaissance craftsmanship, the extravagance of which France had not seen before. In this gallery, carved wood paneling and stucco blocks with rolled leather motifs dominate the space, and magnificent sculptures frame the frescoes. (Serge Reby)
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Oak-paneled pillars with fluted pilasters are some of the stunning features in The Ballroom. (Sophie Lloyd)
Château de Fontainebleau
Anne of Austria’s Bedroom at the Château de Fontainebleau when she was queen of France, first as the wife of Louis XIII and then as the regent queen for their son, Louis XIV. (Béatrice Lécuyer-Bibal)
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Successive queens of France, from Marie de Medici to Marie Antoinette, once slept in The Empress’s Bedchamber, which is lavishly decorated with symbols of fertility and femininity.  (Béatrice Lécuyer-Bibal)
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The Council Chamber at the Château de Fontainebleau. (Serge Reby)
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In 1808, Napoleon converted the king’s bedchamber into a throne room. Today, the room is the last Napoleonic throne room in existence. (Jérôme Schwab)
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Napoleon III commissioned the auditorium of the Imperial Theater, which is based on Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Trianon Theater at Versailles. (Sophie Lloyd)
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An aerial view of the 1,500-room Château de Fontainebleau and its over 320 acres of parkland and gardens. (Béatrice Lécuyer-Bibal)