French Painting in the XIVth, XVth and XVIth Centuries

French Painting in the XIVth, XVth and XVIth Centuries

French Painting in the XIVth, XVth and XVIth Centuries

French Painting in the XIVth, XVth and XVIth Centuries

Excerpt

As a result of an unaccountable delusion, not only the value, but the very existence of the French Primitives has been contested or even denied until quite recently.

Most of the art historians of the nineteenth century were of the opinion that there had been no panel painting in France, that is to say no French pictures worthy of that name, before the Renaissance, or even before the second quarter of the seventeenth century. French painting proper (with the exception of frescoes and illumination, stained glass and tapestry) was said to have begun in 1627, the year that Simon Vouet returned from Rome to Paris.

The scarcity of extant works, the silence of chroniclers in regard to French painters, who were not sufficiently lucky to be immortalized by some Vasari or Karel van Mander, could to a certain extent account for this flagrant error. Yet the most elementary knowledge of French art in the Middle Ages should have put historians on their guard against such an abnormal phenomenon. Was it reasonable to suppose that the host of architects and sculptors, whose genius created the French Gothic cathedrals, were impotent and sterile in the domain of painting? Such a supposition is all the more improbable because painting on panel proceeds from illumination on parchment, and the superiority of the Parisian illuminators is incontestable.

It was not until the retrospective Exhibition of 1900, and especially the more exhaustive demonstration of the memorable Exhibition of the French Primitives organised by Henri Bouchot in 1904, that this prejudice was dispelled; a fact of capital importance, by which the origin of French painting was carried back almost three centuries, from the first Parisian works of Vouet in 1627 to the portrait of John the Good in 1360. It is surely no exaggerated claim to say that this discovery of a "terra incognita" is one of the most important conquests of art historians of the twentieth century.

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