Marguerite De Navarre and the Androgynous Portrait of Francois Ier

By Meyer, Barbara Hochstetler | Renaissance Quarterly, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Marguerite De Navarre and the Androgynous Portrait of Francois Ier


Meyer, Barbara Hochstetler, Renaissance Quarterly


Du Roy Vers Alexandrins Celluy qui dit ta grace, eloquence & scavoir Ne estre plus grands que humains, de pres ne t'a peu veoir Et a qui ton parler ne sent divinite De termes et propos n'entend la gravite. De l'Empire du Monde est ta presence digne, Et ta voix ne dit chose humaine, mais divine. Combien doncques diray l'Ame pleine de grace, Si outre les Mortelz tu as parolle et Face?

Clement Marot, Epigramme 14(1)

A poem bestowing upon Francois Ier the essence of divinity was not a flattering aberration but an example of imagery that became emblematic of his long reign. As Anne-Marie Lecoq has shown in her incisive analyses of many laudatory illuminated treatises and poems and extravagant royal entries with theatrical enactments, the king was glorified by an allegorical symbolism often intricately interwoven with Christian typology as deemed appropriate, indeed necessary, for "un roi tres chretien" who was the brave, virtuous, pious elect of God.(2) Such adulatory offerings evolved with ever-increasing complexity from the heritage of traditional accolades proffered previous kings and queens of France.(3) Not only was Francois's persona magnified both verbally and visually, so, too, was that of his mother Louise de Savoie, who played an essential role as mentor, companion, advisor, and confidant to her son.(4)

Marguerite de Navarre, two years older than her brother Francois and his only sibling, was the third member of "la trinite des Angouleme."(5) She was a gifted woman who, along with Louise, was an integral part of his life, as is evident from their letters and gifts to one another. But after Francois's death, Marguerite recalled not a tripartite familial unity but hers with him: "Mais, helas, mon corps est banny/Du sien, auquel il feut uny/Depuis le temps de nostre enfance!"(6) "Qui pleurera Francois que Margueritte,/Qui fit liee par enfance en son bers?/Las! qui me dict le contraire, m'irrite."(7) These sentiments could possibly underlie the conception of an enigmatic portrait of the king that, I believe, was commissioned by Marguerite as a personal reflection of love for her brother.

On 15 June 1765, in the year of his death, Anne-Claude-Philippe de Levis, comte de Caylus, gave a small miniature showing Francois Ier standing above a prose dedication to the cabinet des Estampes, Bibliotheque du Roi [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].(8) The prior provenance is unknown although a fragmentary note written and signed by Caylus and once accompanying the work read: "Peint d'apres nature et dans le temps de la ... ier" with the date and statement of donation.(9)

The Parisian engraver Pierre Chenu, who frequently worked for Charles Nicolas Cochin the Younger, a friend of Caylus, copied the miniature in 1768 and accorded it to Nicolo dell'Abbate, an Italian artist who arrived at Fontainebleau in 1552 [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].(10) Nicolas Thomas Le Prince saw Chenu's engraving in the cabinet des Estampes; his description of "le Pere des Lettres & des Arts," published anonymously in 1782, repeated dell'Abbate's name and noted that the verse was by Pierre Ronsard.(11) In 1850 Leon de Laborde questioned the attribution of the portrait made, he said, by Le Prince, for Francois Ier had died on 31 March 1547.(12) He reconciled the timing by assuming it was posthumous, although the dedication was in the present tense and Le Prince's description was later than the Chenu engraving.

The miniature was in the exposition L'Europe Humaniste at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1954-55. Unsupported by documentation or stylistic analysis, the catalogue named Nicolas da Modena (Nicolo Belin) as artist with a date of 1545.(13) As a painter at Fontainebleau during Francois's lifetime, he was a convenient substitute for dell'Abbate, who was also from Modena.(14)

The portrait was next displayed at the Grand Palais, Paris, 1972-73. The Ecole de Fontainebleau catalogue noted both attributions and repeated 1545 as the date of execution. …

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