He can be seen both as climactic figure of the Middle Ages and as a herald of the Renaissance. The first great realist in French art, he painted with magical perfection in a time of change and disarray.
In his lifetime Jean Fouquet of Tours was widely recognized as the foremost French painter of his day. If, as the records indicate,he was the bastard child of a priest and an unmarried woman, neither his reputation nor his career suffered on that count. He was forgotten for centuries, but over the past 150 years he work has come back from the fado out, although very little of his total output has been rediscovered, as the founder of an enduring tradition and he may be mentioned in the same breath with the great early Netherlandish painters Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.
It was a period that in retrospect seems to have offered little enough encouragement to the arts, falling as it did, during the last miserable decades of the Hundred Years War, while France suffered a murderous cycle of strife and brigandage, pestilence and famine. Trade and commerce came to a standstill and merchants took to the road only if they were armed to the teeth. The harvests were slim and wolves drifted into Paris from the surrounding countryside to scratch for freshly buried cadavers.
Fortunately, france recovered from its long ignominy. In 1450, two years after the schism within the Church had been settled, the English were in effect booted out of France, to rudely paraphrase Joan of Arc’s prayer. From the decay of the past came new life. Feudalism was all but dead. Chivalry was dying a slow death.
It was a prime aspect of Fouquet’s genius that he could assimilate disparate influences from the early Florentines and contemporary Netherlanders and remain unquestionably master of his own art.
While the Middle Ages waned the preoccupation with death was profound, as the popularity of the “danses macabres” so poignantly witnessed. On virtually every surviving page of the Book of Hours, Fouquet emblazoned the name or initials of his patron, the estimable Etienne Chevalier, ambassador and treasurer for two kings, a man of substance and proud of it. But the artist also included, as a point of reflection, a preview of the funeral of his living patron. In the end, he should be reminded, only the spirit mattered.
The principal centre was Bruges, while secondary centres were established at Dijon in Provence. Each of these had its masters and its school. The only remnant of truly French life found refuge in the valley of the Loire, in the neighborhood of Tours, since the time of St. Martin the true heart of the nation in every crisis of French history. Here grew up the first of our painters who possesses not only a definite personality but a French physiognomy. Fouquet was the contemporary of Joan of Arc, and his character is as national as that of the heroine herself. For the basis of his style we must look to the School of Burgundy, itself simply a variant of that of Bruges. Tours is not far from Bruges and Dijon, and in Fouquet’s work there is always something reminiscent of Claux Sluter and of the Van Eycks. To this must be added some Italian mannerisms. It is not
wn on what occasion Fouquet went to Italy, but it was certainly about 1445, for while there he painted the portrait of Pope Eugene IV between two secretaries. This famous work, long preserved at the Minerva gallery, is now known only from a sixteenth century engraving. Filarete and Vasari speak admiringly of it, while Raphael paid it the honour of recalling it in his “Leo X” of the Pitti Palace.
Fouquet remained under the charm of the early Italian Renaissance. The influence of the bas-reliefs of Ghiberti and Della Robbia, the paintings of Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, and Gentile da Fabriano which he saw at Florence and at Rome may always be traced in his work. He appears to have been in France in 1450. Some critics are inclined to believe that he made a second journey, for they find it hard to believe that Fouquet never saw the “Lives of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen” by Fra Angelico in the chapel of Nicholas V. It is these Italian works which most closely resemble his own. The harmonizing of the two Renaissance movements (North and South), the intimate and natural fusion of the genius of both in the creative soul of one French artist, without any effort or shadow of pedantry, narrowness, or system, constitutes Fouquet’s charm and originality. If French character consists in a certain effacement of all racial characteristics, in the power of assimilation (cf. Michelet, Introduction à la philosophie del’histoire), no artist has ever been more “French” than Fouquet. Withal he does not lack the savour of his country. Without poetry or depth of thought, his style has at least two striking characteristics. In depicting the human countenance, he possessed to a rare degree the gift of taking life, as it were, by surprise, and not even Benozzo could tell a story as he could. Read More:http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06161b.htma
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ( Sir Nigel ): …The whole of France was feeling the effects of that war with England which had already lasted some ten years, but no Province was in so dreadful a condition as this unhappy land of Brittany. In Normandy or Picardy the inroads of the English were periodical with intervals of rest between; but Brittany was torn asunder by constant civil war apart from the grapple of the two great
combatants, so that there was no surcease of her sufferings. The struggle had begun in 1341 through the rival claims of Montfort and of Blois to the vacant dukedom. England had taken the part of Montfort, France that of Blois. Neither faction was strong enough to destroy the other, and so after ten years of continual fighting, history recorded a long ineffectual list of surprises and ambushes, of raids and skirmishes, of towns taken and retaken, of alternate victory and defeat, in which neither party could claim a supremacy. It mattered nothing that Montfort and Blois
had both disappeared from the scene, the one dead and the other taken by the English. Their wives caught up the swords which had dropped from the hands of their lords, and the long struggle went on even more savagely than before.
In the south and east the Blois faction held the country, and Nantes the capital was garrisoned and occupied by a strong French army. In the north and west the Montfort party prevailed, for the island kingdom was at their back and always fresh sails broke the northern sky-line bearing adventurers from over the channel.
Between these two there lay a broad zone comprising all the center of the country which was a land of blood and violence, where no
law prevailed save that of the sword. From end to end it was dotted with castles, some held for one side, some for the other, and many mere robber strongholds, the scenes of gross and monstrous deeds, whose brute owners, knowing that they could never be called to account, made war upon all mankind, and wrung with rack and with flame the last shilling from all who fell into their savage hands. The fields had long been untilled. Commerce was dead. From Rennes in the east to Hennebon in the west, and from Dinan in the north to Nantes in the south, there was no spot where a man’s life or a woman’s honor was safe. Such was the land, full of darkness and blood, the saddest, blackest spot in Christendom,
into which Knolles and his men were now advancing.
But there was no sadness in the young heart of Nigel, as he rode by the side of Knolles at the head of a clump of spears, nor did it seem to him that Fate had led him into an unduly arduous path. On the contrary, he blessed the good fortune which had sent him into so delightful a country, and it seemed to him as he listened to dreadful stories of robber barons, and looked round at the black scars of war which lay branded upon the fair faces of the hills, that no hero of romances or trouveur had ever journeyed through such a land of promise, with so fair a chance of knightly
venture and honorable advancement. Read More:http://www.fullbooks.com/Sir-Nigel5.html