The Ancient and the Gothic Revival in French Art and Literature
THE COUNTRY which had taken the lead in the art and culture of the Middle Ages, France, did not play so prominent a role about 1500 as did Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. It almost looks as if France, which had spent her force throughout the centuries in an uninterrupted stream, slackened at the end of the fifteenth century, when in the neighboring countries a concentration of the creative forces occurred. France was filled with that refined languishing echo of the Middle Ages which the French themselves call détente, and which found its best expression in some works of sculpture. A poetic tenderness is perhaps the foremost quality of the works of the détente. This was to become of great importance for the future. After a brief fallow period, the sixteenth century brought forth a new crop in which poetry had no inconsiderable share. The fine arts were not impaired as they were in Germany by Reformation problems, but they had to share their prominence with literature. And it was mainly in literature that the French made their great national contribution to the sixteenth century. Therefore, a joint consideration will prove helpful for the understanding of both.
The movement was more closely linked with the cultural program of the rulers than in any other country. It was not the individual struggle of artists and scholars alone, as in Germany and the Netherlands, which brought about the discussion of the new achievements of the Italian Renaissance. It was more the planned activity of the sovereigns which opened new possibilities to artists and writers. French culture in the sixteenth century was not a culture of burghers as in Germany and the Netherlands, but a court culture -- and thus far, a continuation of the medieval order. King Francis I's patronage of the fine arts gave a decisive turn to the whole development. His sister Marguerite of Navarre fos-