Art Timeline  
  1 c. 15000 - 5000 BC Prehistoric Art
  2 5000 BC - 5ОО BC The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms of Egypt - Aegean Art
  3-4 5ОО вс - 12th century The Art of the Greeks
  5-6 5ОО вс - 12th century Italic Art
  7-8-9 12th century (1100-1199) The Early Christians  Art - Byzantine Art
  10-11 13th century (1200-1299) Gothic Art
  12 14th century (1300-1399) Gothic Art - International Style
  13 15th century (1400-1499) The Early Renaissance
  14 16th century (1500-1599) The High Renaissance
  15-16 16th century (1500-1599) Mannerism
  17-18-19-20 17th century (1600-1699) Baroque
  21-22 18th century (1700-1799) Rococo
  23-24-25-26-27-28-29 19th century(1800–1899) Neoclassical - Romanticism
    19th century (1863-1899) Impressionism Timeline
    19th century (1860-1899) Simbolism
    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
16th century (1500-1599)

  Late Gothic & Early Renaissance

Architecture  Sculpture  Painting
15th century (1400-1499)
Late Gothic & Early Renaissance
Jacopo Bellini
Stefan Lochner
Konrad Witz
Hans Multscher
Rogier van der Weyden
Luca Della Robbia
Bernardo Rossellino
Leon Battista Alberti
Fra Filippo Lippi
Bernardo Rossellino
Dieric Bouts
Jaume Huguet
Jean Malouel
Agostino Di Duccio
Filippo Brunelleschi
Piero della Francesca
Jean Fouquet
Bertoldo di Giovanni
Nanni di Banco
Antonio Rossellino
Bernat Martorell
Giovanni Bellini
Mino da Fiesole
Andrei Rublev
Desiderio da Settignano
Antonello da Messina
Andrea Mantegna
Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Hans Memling
Pietro Lombardo
Andrea della Robbia
Niccolo dell’Arca
Nicolas Froment
Andrea del Verrocchio
Michael Pacher
Jacopo della Quercia
Francesco di Giorgio
Hugo van der Goes
Derick Baegert
Bartolome Bermejo
Fernando Gallego
Benedetto da Maiano
Giuliano da Sangallo
Sandro Botticelli
Donato Bramante
Barthelemy d'Eyck
Martin Schongauer
Israhel van Meckenem
Luca Signorelli
Pietro Perugino
Biagio Rossetti
Giovanni Antonio Amadeo
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Hieronymus Bosch
Pedro Berruguete
Heinrich Isaac
Leonardo da Vinci
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder
Paolo Uccello
Filippino Lippi
Antonio Lombardo
Gerard David
Tullio Lombardo
Hans Holbein the Elder
Quentin Massys
Andrea Sansovino
Master E. S.
Giovanni della Robbia
Albrecht Durer
Baldassarre Peruzzi
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger
Sebastiano del Piombo
Andrea del Sarto
Dosso Dossi
Barthel Bruyn
Francesco da Sangallo
Rosso Fiorentino
Lucas van Leyden
Carlo Crivelli
Tilman Riemenschneider
Hans Holbein the Younger
16th century (1500-1599)
The High Renaissance & Mannerism
The High Renaissance & Mannerism
Giorgio Vasari "Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects"
Leonardo da Vinci
Donato Bramante
Filippino Lippi
Andrea Sansovino
Giovanni della Robbia
Baldassarre Peruzzi
Sebastiano del Piombo
Andrea del Sarto
Matthias Grunewald
Albrecht Durer
Dosso Dossi
Carlo Crivelli
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lorenzo Lotto
Albrecht Altdorfer
Hans Baldung Grien
Hans Holbein the Younger

Benvenuto Cellini
Nicholas Hilliard

Jan Gossaert (Mabuse)
Joachim Patinir
Agnolo Bronzino
Barthel Bruyn
Lucas van Leyden

Rosso Fiorentino
Federico Barocci
Pieter Aertsen
Giorgio Vasari
Sofonisba Anguissola
Francois Clouet

Jacopo Tintoretto
Girolamo Savoldo
Jacopo Bassano

Alonzo Sanchez Coello
Hans Burgkmair
Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Jean Goujon

Germain Pilon
Tilman Riemenschneider
Adriaen de Vries

Alonso Berruguete
Baccio Bartolommeo
Benedetto Briosco

Paolo Veronese

Leone Leoni
Pompeo Leoni
Alessandro Vittoria
Giovanni da Bologna
Hector Sohier
Pierre Lescot
Giulio Romano
Pirro Ligorio
Bartolomeo Ammanati
Jacopo Sansovino
Andrea Palladio
Giacomo Vignola
Giacomo della Porta

El Greco
Vittore Carpaccio
Francesco del Cossa
Vincenzo Foppa
Lorenzo Costa
Francesco Francia
Bernardino Luini
Joos van Cleve
The diversity of Italian High Renaissance art was remarkable. Artistic trends merged, crossed over, and pulled away from each other, enriching the style of individual artists and exerting a profound influence on the main artistic centres of Rome, Venice, Florence, Bologna, and Milan. An early 16th-century traveller to the Italian peninsula seeking to admire the revival of classical style in the works of Raphael and Michelangelo would have been shocked to see the daring experimentation being carried out by Correggio in Parma and Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino (c.1495-1540) in Florence. In 1520, Raphael died, and seven years later Rome was sacked. The entire decade was beset with catastrophe, from plagues and famine to sieges and battles. Its effect on the artistic world was the dispersal of artists, particularly those who had learnt their skills from Raphael.

Polidoro da Caravaggio moved to Naples and then to Sicily; Giulio Romano went to Mantua; Berruguete to Spain; and Rosso Fiorentino and Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554) to France. As a result, the "modern" style became diluted, re-interpreted by some and refuted by others. This was the start of the period in art labelled Mannerism - from the Italian maniera, meaning "style" - the precise definition and boundaries of which remain the subject of debate. The most widely held opinion is that it originated in a crisis of the Renaissance and marked a break with classicism. Indeed, the first signs of an anti-Renaissance direction can be seen in the work of Piero di Cosimo during the late 15th century. Another point of view regards it as regional, evolving from the art produced in Milan and Venice during the 1520s and 1530s.

Unfortunately, most artists' biographies do not record periods of crisis, with the exception of cases such as Pontormo, who Vasari suspected of heresy or madness at the time of his frescos in San Lorenzo, Florence (1546-1551), and Michelangelo, who left an extraordinary testimony of his spiritual torment in his poetry. Current interpretations of Mannerism concentrate on the anti-classical feeling that rose up in the early 1500s. Following this point of view, the work of artists such as Dosso Dossi (c.1489-1542) in Emilia and Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, and Domenico Beccafumi (1485-1551) in Tuscany can be interpreted as experimental, challenging classical rules and often introducing elements of northern European art. However, a continuing debt to the "masters" of the High Renaissance is also evident in their work. For example, while Pontormo clearly borrowed elements of Michelangelo's style, he took them to the limits of licence and subjectivity. Soon after, in Venice, Tintoretto, Veronese, and the Spanish artist El Greco (1541-1614), would in their own styles conclude this fullness of Renaissance harmony. It seems most likely, as Vasari suggests, that Mannerism was both born out of the Renaissance and was a fundamental part of it - a modern style in which the artist's own interpretation superseded the imitation of nature. Vasari recognized a substantial balance between Mannerism and realism - a "spontaneity which, although based on correct measurement, goes beyond it" -even though he personally preferred the individual approach, provided it was supported by good judgment. Seen in this way, Mannerism is both the main variant within the culture of Renaissance art. and a protagonist in the debate between subjectivity and objectivity, between the individual and reality. Humanism - a secular cultural and intellectual movement during the Renaissance that interested itself in the literature, art, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome - had already addressed this duality. After the brief, but intense period when Raphael and Bramante were in Rome, when art seemed to reach the pinnacle of harmony and grace, the two poles of the argument soon revealed themselves as extremes in a very difficult relationship. An examination of Michelangelo's work, starting with the Doni Tondo (c.1503) and the Sistine Chapel (1508-12) and culminating in the Medici tombs in Florence (1520-34) and the Last Judgment (1536-41), reveals how much he had contributed to this development. There are also different interpretations on the impact on art and architecture of religious upheavals both before and after the Council of Trent (a council of the Catholic Church that met between 1545 and 1563 to address the powers of the Papacy and the role of bishops). Apart from contact documented between certain artists and Lutheran circles, including Michelangelo himself, the strong individualism of Protestant thought and the intellectualism of certain of its aristocratic followers found favour with the more emotive and sophisticated artistic trends of the time. In response, the Catholic Church encouraged a popular form of art through commissions that concentrated on making the content and meaning of its teachings clear and effective. The confident tone of Gaudenzio Ferrari, as well as the nobler, more imposing style of Titian in the years of the Madonna of the House of Pesaro, were used by the Catholic Church to support its cause. Moreover, a new sense of realism emerged in the painting of the Brescian artists Girolamo Savoldo (c.1480-after 1548) and Moretto (1498-1554), which emphasized the devotional aspects of their subjects, strengthening and enobling the emotive content with deep colour and dazzling patches of light - glimpses of the future style of Caravaggio.

A very different style can be found in the formalism of Parmigianino. His elegant, rarefied figures, from his Madonna of the Long Neck (1534-40) to the frescos for the semi-dome and vault of the high altar of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma (commissioned 1531). were based not on Renaissance principles of balance, but on Mannerist tensions. A younger contemporary of Correggio, Parmigianino left Parma for Rome in 1524 and was probably familiar with the developing Tuscan Mannerist style. His idealized paintings are full of artifice and refined compositional elements. Raphael's pupil. Giulio Romano, produced similarly-provocative results in Mantua. His architecture and decoration of the fantastic Palazzo Te for Federigo Gonzaga - built and decorated at great speed between 1527 and 1534 - deliberately go against rules of style and measurement in an attempt to capture the most vital and basic aspects of nature. This is not a place of tranquil symmetry but the subject of experimentation and ambiguity, where the distinction between architectural space and decoration is unclear. Such ideas were highly successful in Protestant Flanders and Germany, where convention was periodically challenged by outbursts of interest in diversity and misrepresentation.


Vision of St. John the Evangelist
fresco in dome, San Giovanni Evangelista, Parma, 1520-23
In the early 1520s, two great northern Italian masters, Correggio and Parmigianino (1503—40), made an important contribution to the art of decoration with their frescos for the church of San Giovanni Evangelista at Parma and the Rocca di San Vitale at Fontanellato, respectively. Both Correggio in his Vision of St John the Evangelist and Parmigianino in his Myth of Diana and Actaeon display their innate talent for naturalism. In the San Giovanni dome there are various Roman, and mainly Raphaelesque, features, but Correggio frees the scene totally of architectural elements, leaving the figures in a vortex of light and clouds. This anticipates the most liberal of Baroque compositions. While still young, Parmigianino, from nearby Fontanellato, was influenced by Correggio. However, he was already proving himself more fluent and refined than his elder, preferring more intimate scenes. His trip to Rome in 1524 and contact with Michelangelo eventually led him away from the High Renaissance style towards Mannerism, accentuating the formal aestheticism and delicate balance, while maintaining a highly refined sense of colour and composition.

Myth of Diana and Acteon
ceiling in the Rossa di San Vitale, Fontanellato, c. 1522
Fontainebleau school

The vast number of artists, both foreign and French, whose works are associated with the court of Francis I at Fontainebleau during the last two-thirds of the 16th century. There is both a first and a second school of Fontainebleau. The earlier works are the more important.

The palace itself can be described as charming and picturesque, though architecturally it is not a work of consequence, being chiefly a transformation of the previous medieval castle, even incorporating some of the older parts. The King began rebuilding in 1528 and by 1530 had persuaded Rosso Fiorentino (1494–1540), the first of many Italians who were to work there, to locate in France. Rosso was joined in 1532 by Primaticcio (1504–70). Artists of great merit, they evolveda brilliant system of combining painted panels with stucco nudes, garlands, and other forms sculpted in high relief. In addition, Rosso developed a much imitated “strapwork” technique; that is, he treated stucco like pieces of leather that had been rolled, folded, and cut into shape. Artists who could not visit Fontainebleau knew of the work there through engravings, and these same engravings are useful today as records of what has been lost. Much of the most characteristic Fontainebleau decorative sculpture and painting can still be seen there in the Galerie François I, the Chambre de la Duchesse d'Etampes, and the Salle de Ball.

Primaticcio was active long after the death of Rosso, and his manner of representing the human figure with long limbs, thin necks, small heads, and exaggerated classical profiles was canon for the rest of the century. Other foreign masters included the painter of mythological landscapes, Niccolo dell'Abbate, who was at Fontainebleau from 1552, Antoine Caron, Jean Cousin and Benvenuto Cellini, Florentine goldsmith and sculptor, who is well known for his saltcellar made for Francis I (1540; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and “Nymph of Fontainebleau” (1543-44; Louvre, Paris).

The so-called second school of Fontainebleau generally refers to the painters Antonio Fantuzzi, Ambroise Dubois (1543–1614), Toussaint Dubreuil (1561–1602), and Martin Freminet (1567–1619), men who, though competent, lacked imagination and invention and were content to work within the artistic boundaries set by their predecessors at Fontainebleau.


Both students of Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo Pontormo were among the most ardent anti-classical interpreters of Renaissance developments, and particularly those of Michelangelo. The Deposition by Rosso and the Visitation by Pontormo show how the restless Florentine culture could take the striking colours and daring compositional formulae of the Sistine chapel and apply them to works of extreme formalism. Sometimes their use was highly figurative, as in the expressive moments of the Deposition, and at others they were employed in fluent and transparent chromatic fields, as in the Visitation. In the metaphysical setting of Rosso's altarpiece, the figures are positioned in sharp planes of light and shade. Pontormo's painting appears to have a double image, the onlookers repeating the features of the protagonists in a frontal view, Florentine painting was reaching a disconcerting crisis with this juxtaposition of reality and illusion, and search for spiritual meaning.

Rosso Fiorentino
(b Florence, 8 March 1494; d ?Fontainebleau, 14 Nov 1540).

Italian painter and draughtsman, active also in France. He was a major Florentine Mannerist , whose art is both elegant and emotionally intense. He was influential in Rome, and in Paris and Fontainebleau became one of a group of Italian artists who were instrumental in pioneering a northern, more secular Mannerism.


Rosso Fiorentino
Oil on wood, 375 x 196 cm
Cathedral, Volterra
Fontainebleau school

[Fr. Ecole de Fontainebleau].

Term that encompasses work in a wide variety of media, including painting, sculpture, stuccowork and printmaking, produced from the 1530s to the first decade of the 17th century in France. It evokes an unreal and poetic world of elegant, elongated figures, often in mythological settings, as well as incorporating rich, intricate ornamentation with a characteristic type of strapwork. The phrase was first used by Adam von Bartsch in Le Peintre-graveur (21 vols, Vienna, 1803–21), referring to a group of etchings and engravings, some of which were undoubtedly made at Fontainebleau in France. More generally, it designates the art made to decorate the château of Fontainebleau, built from 1528 by Francis I and his successors, and by extension it covers all works that reflect the art of Fontainebleau. With the re-evaluation of MANNERISM in the 20th century, the popularity of the Fontainebleau school has increased hugely. There has also been an accompanying increase in the difficulty of defining the term precisely.


Diana Huntress
Oil on canvas, 192 x 133 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
Antoine Caron

(b Beauvais, 1521; d Paris, 1599).

French painter and draughtsman. He started his career modestly in his native city, then a relatively important artistic centre, where he painted some religious pictures (e.g. the Resurrection; Beauvais, Mus. Dept. Oise) and designed cartoons for stained-glass windows; both demonstrate his innate taste for decorative work. Caron was later active in the workshops at Fontainebleau, and his name appears in the royal accounts of Henry II between 1540 and 1550. He later became court painter to Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen Regent (1560–63). Besides Jean Cousin the younger, he was the only French artist from this period with a recognizable artistic personality and was an important witness to the activities of the Valois court during the reigns of Charles IX (reg 1560–74) and Henry III (reg 1574–89) and the violent Wars of Religion (1562–98) between Catholics and Huguenots. Like his royal patrons, Caron was an ardent Roman Catholic; he was connected with the Catholic League and a friend of its poet and pamphleteer, Louis d’Orléans.


An Allegory Of The Triumph Of Summer

The Triumph of Winter
c. 1568
Oil on canvas, 103 x 179 cm
Private collection

Blutbad der Triumvirn

Portrait of a Lady
tempera on panel
Pinakothek at Munich
Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sybil

Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl
Oil on canvas, 125 x 170 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Faith in the magic of festivals

A bizarre architectural landscape on the banks of the Seme provides the setting for an opulent festival hosted by Henry III of France. Antoine Caron (1521-1599) renders the event, centred around the staging of a mystery play, in a manner which is both artificial and assiduously attentive to detail. The painting (125 x 170cm) is in the Louvre, Pans.

Amidst the storm of civil war, and notwithstanding its chronic shortage of funds, the French court stages a festival. Several events arc shown simultaneously in progress in the extensive grounds of the Tuilencs by the Seine, a setting alienated here by antique columns and circular temples. In the background on the left two knights in full armour joust in a tiltyard, while a barge, carrying a large number of musicians and singers, draws near to the nverbank.
However, the majority of figures in the painting are shown watching a play performed on an estrade, acted by persons in Roman costume. It is probably the "Mystery of the Incarnation and Birth of Our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ". In a key scene of the play the Roman Emperor Augustus - here seen kneeling in a purple gown and laurel wreath, while three of his soldiers look on - meets the wise Sybil of Tibur. He asks her to predict the fate of the Empire, whereupon she points at the sky, where the Virgin Mary and Infant appear in a nimbus. Christ is thus presented to the pagans as successor to the Roman emperor and Eord of the Universe.
The mystery play, first performed in Rouen in 1474, was revived in Paris in 1580, for its mixture of antiquity and Christian piety was much in keeping with contemporary taste. Anything Roman or Greek was likely to appeal during the late Renaissance, and the work's religious slant undoubtedly satisfied the Catholic party dominating court and capital.
But the real star of a court festival was always the sovereign himself, whose intention was to demonstrate his own power and the glory of his house. It was this, more than anything else, that Antoine Caron had been commissioned to paint, by order of the Queen Mother, Catherine de' Medici.

A powerful Florentine, larger than life


Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl (detail)
Though the sovereign was the centre of attraction at a courtly festival, the larger-than-life figure at the centre of Caron's painting is a woman, the Florentine Catherine de' Medici. Though by 1580 she had lost the regency, she was still one of the dominant personalities at the French court. Her position as queen and mother had helped her determine the course of French politics for two decades.
According to her own testimony, her sole motive in wresting power in 1559, following the death of her husband at a tournament, was to defend her children's inheritance. Her seven children were "the most important thing in the world"; with her love of family she was, in effect, a real "Italian mamma". Officially, her sons Francis II (1559-1560) and Charles IX (1560-1574) wore the crown, but both were tubercular and neurotic, one dying at 16, the other at 24. Catherine attended to their affairs of state, and was rarely squeamish in the methods which she employed. She had few qualms about murdering her opponents when interests of state or the progress of the Valois dynasty demanded it, and she shared much of the responsibility for the deaths of thousands of Huguenots killed at the St. Bartholomew Massacre of 1572. But it was also thanks to her that there was a French state left to speak of when her third son, Henry III, ascended the throne in 1574.
France had been torn asunder by the Reformation: while the Huguenots fought for religious freedom, another militant faction attempted to wipe out heresy in the name of the Catholic majority. Catherine herself was inclined to be tolerant, and she was tireless in her efforts to arbitrate be-teen the two parties. She extracted countless compromises, made them sign peace treaties, but civil war usually broke out before their signatures had dried on the paper. Thus France sank into anarchy and poverty.
If a pamphlet written in 1573 is to be believed, it was Catherine herself who was responsible for all this misery: after all, disaster was all that could be expected from the government of a woman, nay, a foreigner, the "daughter of an Italian grocer".
By 1580 Catherine had lost her political power, for her third son, Henry III, was less inclined to heed her advice than that of his proteges. Though firm in other matters, Catherine had nonetheless condoned his behaviour, for she idolized this son more than any other, and was prone to illusions about his abilites. However, once forced into negotiations with the warring factions, even he made use of Catherine's diplomatic skills. She had learned how to lead, how to use the passions and interests of others to her own benefit. In so doing, she enlisted the persuasive powers of some 300 alluring maids of honour. Known as the Queen Mother's "flying squad", they succeeded more than once in taming rebel leaders who were susceptible to feminine charms. In Caron's painting, however, the three ladies sitting at the feet of Catherine, who is not shown in mourning for once, are merely caressing their lapdogs.

The king's favourites compete


Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl (detail)
To further her political aims Catherine de' Medici not only enlisted the charms of her ladies-in-waiting, but was equally skilful in her use of festivals. The purpose of these, however, was not only to display the pomp and power of the ruling house. From her father-in-law, Francis I, she had learned that "two things are necessary in order to live in peace with the French ... One must keep them happy, and set them some sort of exercise to keep them occupied ..." The latter, as Catherine went on to tell her son, "prevents them from engaging in more dangerous activities".
In order to prevent quarrelsome sectarian leaders from inciting their followers to further bloodshed, the Queen Mother kept them as busy as possible with feasts, court balls and masquerades; she even organized snowball-fights between Catholic and Protestant nobles.
Tournaments were often the climax of such festivals, the risk and danger of martial displays providing their combatants with ample opportunity to work off surplus energy and aggression. Henry Ill's favourites, sporting young men disparagingly referred to as mignons (catamites), were particularly avid participants. It is in their company that Henry III, the last of the Valois dynasty, is seen following the |oust from an elegant stand. In 1580 Henry was only 28 years of age, the victim, like his brothers, of tuberculosis. Like them, too, he failed to provide his country with an heir. Pendulating between scenes of wild debauchery and the pious observance of his spiritual exercises, he felt most at home in women's clothes in the company of his foppish entourage. A detail from the world of fashion, the black beret with the white feather, confirms that Caron's painting dates from c. 1580.
In the hope of lending prestige to an otherwise unpopular monarch who commanded little public respect, the festival had recourse to all kinds of symbols and allegorical motifs. Comparisons as flattering as they were undeserved were drawn between the king and antique greats such as Caesar Augustus, or even gods.
Theologians, philosophers and humanists concocted the ideological flavour of the festival programme, selecting suitable images and deciding even minor details, so that even the confectionery served as a dessert was designed in such a way as to illustrate a mythological theme. In 1581, they had the sorceress Circe, together with a retinue of monsters and sea-deities, dancing on her enchanted island to the music of ten orchestras. During the fireworks that concluded the spectacle, Jupiter, the father of the gods, and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, descended to earth and, kneeling before Henry III, paid homage to "the authority, wisdom and eloquence of the great king". According to the report of one contemporary, the gods then went on to proclaim that the King owed these virtues to "the wise advice of the Queen, his mother". The event is supposed to have swallowed up 400,000 thalers and been seen by some 10,000 spectators at a single showing.
A genuine palace in an artificial setting

Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl (detail)
Translation of the festival theme into practice occupied whole teams of artists for months at a time, and these were always the best available. On 15th September 1573, for example, when the future king Henry III celebrated his "joyous and triumphal entry" to the city of Paris, the decoration of the capital and direction of festivities were entrusted to the poet Jean Dorat, the sculptor Germain Pilon and the painter Antoine Caron.
The festival team would usually include an architect; indeed he usually led it. Ever since the Italians had rediscovered Classical antiquity and embellished their towns with Renaissance palaces, building had ranked as "the queen of the arts". Building fever broke out in France, too, with the palaces at Fontainebleau and on the Loire emulating Italian design. It went without saying that a court festival required a Roman setting, even if the latter was constructed of wood, plaster and painted canvas.
Architecture also dominates Caron's painting; the natural world is practically absent. Whether erected to grace a particular festival or merely the artist's invention, his Classical edifices are laden with symbolic significance and flattering allusions to the monarch. The circular temple, designed after the Roman "tempietto" of the Renaissance architect Bramante, proclaims the king's fame. The obelisk next to it was a monument to his everlasting glory. The shield between two overladen, spiral columns on the pedestal in the foreground praises the "Pietas Augusti", the piety of the Emperor. To Caron's contemporaries, columns were symbols of power and grandeur.
Several triumphal arches have been adapted to provide elegant stands for spectators. Two of the arches are decorated with horses; the festival grounds were situated near the royal stables.
At the centre of the pseudo-antique townscape stands the real, newly-built town palace of the Queen Mother, who was obsessed with building. She had officially inaugurated it - with a festival of course - in 1573. It was built on the site of a former tilery ("Tuilerie") outside the old town walls, by which it was joined to another new royal residence, the Louvre. On the right is the Seine and Paris itself.
The Tuileries building with its twin gables appears in so many of Antoine Caron's paintings that it could almost be described as his trademark. Caron learned his craft at Fontamebleau, the primary centre of Renaissance art in France, and, following the death of his Italian master, climbed to the position of "valet and painter to the Queen Mother". Forgotten for two hundred years, Caron has regained his renown as one of the leading artists of the School of Fontainebleau.
With their strange blend of the real and ideal, their utterly disproportionate, elongated figures set against the starkly contrasting accuracy of Caron's architectonic perspectives, the ten paintings ascribed to the artist today are at once captivating and disconcerting; they epitomize the bizarre, dreamlike artificiality of School of Fontainebleau mannerism.


Breasts that spout pure oil


Caesar Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl (detail)

In the "Mystery of the Incarnation and Birth of Our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ" mention is made of a well. The Sybil has hardly had time to show the Emperor the future ruler of the world in the heavens, when her black ser-vant Sadeth, shown sitting at her feet, reports that another of her prophecies has come true. As she predicted, a Roman well had begun to provide pure oil instead of water - "like a beam of golden sunlight". Caron - a breast fetishist like most painters associated with the School of Fontainebleau - shows oil spouting from the breasts of a figure standing on the well, who, naked, with a shining mirror balanced on her head, may symbolize (prophetic) Truth.
Various other statues can be seen in Caron's painting, several of which - particularly those that fit the category of the "ideal mother" or "wise woman", images with which she liked to be identified - probably resemble Catherine de' Medici. Among the latter were the Sybils, the ten legendary prophetesses of the ancient world. Their name means "god's decree", and their arcane books were consulted by the Roman senate at times of crisis. Next to her bed, the Queen Mother kept the medieval imitation of a book of this kind, a collection of obscure proverbs, together with a calendar and several engravings with architectural motifs. People all over Europe from Pans to Prague were reading the "Sybilline Books", as well as works by Nostradamus and Regiomontanus, hoping for knowledge of the future, or advice on how to get on in the present.
There seems to have been a powerful need for this at the time, a sense of uncanny powers at work, invisible forces conspiring to trap unwitting, helpless victims. To discover their fate, people consulted not only ancient books, but the stars.
One of Antoine Caron's paintings shows Astronomers Studying an Eclipse. However, the observatory which Catherine de' Medici had built next to her town palace is more likely to have been frequented by astrologers than astronomers. It was not without reason that the edifice was referred to as a "horoscopic column".
Astrologers, magicians and necromancers were naturally consulted when the plans were laid for a festival. People sought recourse to the supernatural not merely as a means of fathoming the occult forces that determined reality; they also hoped to harness such forces to their own ends, to influence events and effect political change. At its most destructive, this might involve casting spells on their enemies; in more positive terms, it meant organizing a triumphant festival. Choosing the right day of the year, or selecting suitable artwork, whether from the realms of music, painting or architecture, were tasks whose magical dimension was self-evident.
Thus the Queen Mother and many of her contemporaries were convinced that a link existed between the performance of the tragedy Sophonisbe at court in 1556 and the death of Henry II and outbreak of sectarian troubles soon afterwards. Thenceforth, Catherine prohibited the staging of dramatical works with unhappy endings, instead putting her trust - more or less in vain - in the benificent magic of harmonious festivals. Perhaps there was more to Caron's picture than a record of the event for posterity; it is possible that the picture itself was intended as a magical charm.