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Fontainebleau School

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The art produced for Francis I's palace of Fontainebleau from the 1530s to the first decade of the 17th century. In painting it was characterized by elegant, elongated figures, often in mythological settings. The description Fontainebleau School was first coined by Adam Bartsch in his Le Peintre-Graveur (21 vols. Vienna 1803–21) to refer to a group of etchings, some of which were undoubtedly made at Fontainebleau, which is situated some 40 miles south-east of Paris. In fact, printmaking played only a brief role in the history of the Fontainebleau School, mainly in the 1540s. There were also important achievements in stuccowork, grotesque ornament and prints, and sculpture. The development of the palace at Fontainebleau was instigated by Francis I in 1528 after his release from two years of captivity under Charles V. His intention was to rival the greatest art produced for the Italian humanist princes. As France had no great indigenous tradition of mural painting, Francis imported Italian artists, the two most important for Fontainebleau being Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio, both of whom engaged French and Flemish assistants. Rosso's main work (he committed suicide in 1540) was in the Great Gallery of the King, Primaticcio's in the Ballroom and the Chamber of the Duchesse d'Étampes. Other major artists who worked at Fontainebleau included Benvenuto Cellini and Niccolò dell'Abbate. Activity at Fontainebleau was severely disrupted by the Wars of Religion (1562–98), but at the end of the 16th century a programme of decoration was resumed under Henri IV. This phase is now generally referred to as the ‘Second School of Fontainebleau’ which included artists such as Ambroise Dubois, Toussaint Dubreuil, and Martin Fréminet.

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