Palace and Park of Fontainebleau
Used by the kings of France from the 12th century, the medieval royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, standing at the heart of a vast forest in the Ile-de-France, was transformed, enlarged and embellished in the 16th century by François I, who wanted to make a 'New Rome' of it. Surrounded by an immense park, the Italianate palace combines Renaissance and French artistic traditions.
The architecture and decor of the Palace of Fontainebleau exerted considerable influence on the artistic evolution not only of France but also of Europe. François I intended to make a new Rome of this royal residence. It was in this spirit that he brought artists of renown from Italy, whose intervention marks the decisive stage in the introduction of the aesthetic formulas of the Renaissance into France.
Used by the kings of France from the 12th century, the medieval royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, standing at the heart of a vast forest in the Île-de-France, was transformed, enlarged and embellished in the 16th century by François I. From then on it was one of the most important and prestigious sites of the French Court. The construction of the royal palace began during the reign of François I, who in 1528 ordered an ambitious campaign of demolition and expansion of the old royal residence. Further modifications undertaken by his successors and carried out at varying degrees of intensity until the 19th century gave shape to the present complex, which nowadays consists of five courtyards, arranged irregularly and surrounded by wings of buildings and gardens.
The earliest buildings were erected between 1528 and 1540 under the supervision of master builder Gilles le Breton, who was responsible for the Cour Ovale, now located in the eastern section of the complex, and which stands on the ancient foundations.
From 1533 to 1540 Rosso Fiorentino worked on the decor of frescoes and the stucco work of the Galerie François I, achieving an ambitious iconographic programme in the Mannerist style, in which themes of monarchist propaganda were borrowed from Graeco-Roman fables and myths. Francesco Primaticcio was responsible for the casting of the most famous Romantic bronzes: those of the Cortile of the Belvedere and of the Palazzo della Valle. Primaticcio devoted the better part of his career to Fontainebleau, working on the frescoes of the Salle de Bal, the room of the Duchess d'Étampes and the Galerie d'Ulysse. Very little survives of the rooms that were decorated under Primaticcio's supervision: there are traces, however, of his exquisite and refined creations in numerous drawings and engravings, which had considerable influence on the tastes of the time. Niccolò dell'Abate collaborated with him in several of these workshops.
The memory of other famous artists is intimately connected with Fontainebleau: a Hercules of Michelangelo was raised on a plinth in the Cour de la Fontaine; Benvenuto Cellini intended his Nymphe de Fontainebleau for the Porte Dorée; Serlio drew up the plans for several parts of the palace and conceived the door for the Fontaine Belle-Eau with its rustic grotto with telamons.
By virtue of the contact with the Italian architects, painters and sculptors, French artists were led to a radical self-renewal. If Gilles le Breton seems to have escaped their influence at the beginning of the workshop, for Philibert de l'Orme and then for Jacques Androu et du Cerceau, Fontainebleau was the source of definitive revelations. The lesson of the Italian painters inspired yet another generation of artists, that of the second school of Fontainebleau, such as Toussaint Dubreuilh, Ambroise Dubois and Martin Fréminet, as the need to enlarge and decorate the immense palace created the ideal conditions for the survival of an artistic centre into the mid-17th century.
Like the buildings, the gardens of Fontainebleau also underwent major transformations over the centuries. To the east the Grand Jardin was originally composed of a series of square flower beds, criss-crossed by a canal. Later it was transformed into the Parterre du Tibre and then redesigned by Le Nôtre and gradually simplified until it attained its present-day configuration with four grassy panels surrounded by flowering borders.
Royal domicile, 'house of the centuries' - Fontainebleau has retained the imprint of every reign and every style: Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XV and Louis XVI paid without hesitation for the embellishment of this royal palace, which Napoleon I preferred above all the others.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC