Portrait de François Ier jeune, d’après François Clouet (vers 1515 – 1572)


Clouet Drawings from the Collection of Catherine de Medici

at the Condé Museum of the Chantilly Domain

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Clouet Drawings from the Collection of Catherine de Medici: Portraits of the Valois Court” promises to be a major art-world event in 2011. In addition to spotlighting 16th-century drawing by displaying some one hundred works on paper by the art’s founding practitioners, the exhibition will feature one of the most beautiful selections from the Duke of Aumale’s collection, compiled in part by Catherine de Medici herself, which is usually protected from daylight and hidden from public view.

On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, the Condé Museum of the Chantilly Domain will open its doors to art lovers and collectors, many of whom will be gathered in Paris for the Salon du dessin. Visitors eager to view these rare examples of an emerging art form have until June 27. 

During the 16th century, Jean Clouet and his son François, both painters for the French royal court, made portrait drawing into a true art form in its own right, transforming it from a preparatory stage of painting to a finished work of art. Major figures from the Valois court, that is, the kings François I, Henri II and François II as well as members of their entourage, were captured by these portraitists, who used a subtle mixture of black and red chalk to draw their subjects from life.   The composition of these drawings is extremely simple and captivatingly modern: the poses are either full face or three quarter, emphasizing the subject’s expression and faces are framed by several decorative touches, a detailed hair style or head covering and the sketched outline of clothing over the bust. While unquestionably inspired by Flemish art (Jean was almost certainly born in Brussels), they also show the influence of Florentine mannerism.

Thanks to the work of Jean and François Clouet, drawing became an independent activity during the artistic flowering of the 16th century. Drawing was attractive because of its freedom and became an art form favoured by courts and individuals, as attested by Giorgio Vasari, who declared it the “father of the three arts” in his seminal book Le Vite de’piu eccellenti Pittori, Scultoried Architettori, first published in 1550.    The Condé Museum’s impressive collection of 366 portraits drawn by Jean and François Clouet is unique in the world for both its quality and consistency. The great majority of these works are from one of the world’s very first collections of well-known graphic art, which was noteworthy for having been put together by Catherine de Medici, Queen of France.

With true passion, the queen commissioned and collected over 550 portraits drawn by the finest artists of her time. Carefully stored in boxes and labeled with the name of the model, these works on paper reveal an intimate, delicate aspect of Catherine’s personality, showing her to have been a careful observer and demanding collector.

Her drawings were left to her granddaughter, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and were kept in Florence with the Medici, before being sold by an art dealer to English collectors in 1737. The Duke of Aumale, owner of Chantilly and a major 19th-century collector, acquired most of them in 1889 from the Carlisle collection, thus initiating their return to their country of origin.

The Chantilly Domain has therefore elected to offer visitors a look at part of the collection, which is of historic significance in more than one way, by displaying works on paper that have been completed restored with the support of the Friends of the Condé Museum and the participation of American Friends of Chantilly. 

While the exhibition is unquestionably a testament to the artistic flowering of the French Renaissance, it also offers a thrilling look at the vivid characters who populated the Valois court (Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France and builder of Chantilly’s petit château; Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, assassinated during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre; Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henri II; and court jesters like Triboulet and Thonin). Accompanying the exhibition is a scholarly catalogue written by historian and art historian Alexandra Zvereva, published by Arthena.


Practical Information

Opening hours – high season (after April 2, 2010):

Open daily, except Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Opening hours – off season (after November 1, 2010):

Open daily, except Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Admission: 12 euros (adults)

Free admission for every child under 18 accompanied by an adult

Information: Tel.: 03 44 27 31 80,

Website: Follow this link for information online...

Chantilly is less than one hour from Paris and only 20 minutes from Roissy-Charles-De-Gaulle Airport. By car: from Paris, take the A1 freeway, Chantilly exit 7; from Lille, take the A1 freeway, Senlis exit 8, or the A16 freeway, Champagne-sur-Oise exit. By train and rapid transit: the Chantilly-Gouvieux station is 25 minutes from Gare du Nord on the SNCF mainline or 45 minutes from Châtelet les Halles on the RER line D.

Photo Credits (top to bottom

  1. Portrait de François Ier jeune, d’après François Clouet (vers 1515 – 1572) inventaire PE-241, Chantilly, musée Condé © RMN/ Harry Bréjat

  2. François Clouet, Marguerite de France, reine de Navarre (1553-1615), inventaire MN-42, Chantilly, musée Condé © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda

  3. François Clouet, François de Coligny, seigneur d’Andelot, vers 1555,inventaire MN 295, Chantilly, musée Condé © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda 

  4. D’après Jean Clouet, Henri II, roi de France (1519-1559), inventaire PE-259, Chantilly, musée Condé © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda