Prints and drawings from the School of Fontainebleau. Production, dissemination, audience 9-10 June 2022

Antonio Fantuzzi after Rosso, l’unité de l’Etat, etching, circa 1543, BnF, Estampes, Eb-14(d)-fol, detail.

The Department of Prints and Photographs of the Bibliothèque nationale de France houses an outstanding collection of prints and drawings from the School of Fontainebleau. It holds over a thousand impressions of the approximately four hundred prints executed at the château of Fontainebleau between 1542 and 1547, and numerous drawings both by artists active at the court and by contemporaries who were profoundly influenced by the innovative Fontainebleau style. Thanks to the support of the Getty Foundation through its Paper Project initiative, the BnF has launched a two-year research and cataloguing project centred on this rich collection.

To mark the end of the project in 2022, the BnF and the Ecole nationale des chartes are organising a two-day colloquium that will bring to the fore new research on the Fontainebleau School and possible avenues of future investigation. The proceedings will be published in the online journal the Nouvelles de l’Estampe.

            Francis I’s ambitious campaign to modernise and expand the palace of Fontainebleau marked a turning point in the history of French Renaissance art. During the 1530s and 1540s, artists and craftsmen from Italy, France and northern Europe converged at the site to produce a radically innovative style characterised by a highly-wrought ornamental language, which was quickly disseminated throughout the continent. The prints and drawings produced at Fontainebleau played a crucial role in the propagation of this new style. The Fontainebleau printmakers were particularly inventive and experimental in their approach, making extensive use of the technique of etching and displaying a freedom of invention hitherto unseen in the medium.

The prints and drawings from the Fontainebleau School found their place in collections early on. From the eighteenth century, they became the object of study by print historians. Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774) was the first to focus on defining the school and identifying the individual printmakers. In 1818, Adam von Bartsch took the decisive step of devoting the last chapter of the sixteenth volume of his Peintre-Graveur to the 143 “prints produced by anonymous artists after the paintings of Fontainebleau”, and in doing so, coined the term “École de Fontainebleau”. Over the course of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, Alexandre-Pierre-François Robert-Dumesnil, Félix Herbet, Jules Lieure, Jean Adhémar, André Linzeler, Leon de Laborde and Ernest Coyecque assigned further prints to the school and published archival documents that shed light on the life and work of the artists. The restoration of the Galerie François Ier in the early 1960s prompted a renewed interest in and publications on the subject, which included Henri Zerner’s ground-breaking book L’Ecole de Fontainebleau. Gravures (1969). Since then, a number of exhibitions have contributed further to our understanding and knowledge of the Fontainebleau School: L’École de Fontainebleau at the Grand Palais (1972); Gravure française de la Renaissance at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1994-1995); Primatice, maître de Fontainebleau at the Musée du Louvre (2004-2005); Luca Penni, Un disciple de Raphaël à Fontainebleau also at the Louvre (2012-2013); and Le roi et l’artiste. François Ier et Rosso Fiorentino at the Château of Fontainebleau (2013). More recently, Catherine Jenkins’s in-depth study Prints at the Court of Fontainebleau, c. 1542-1547 (2017) made significant progress towards identifying the prints, their makers and the methods of print production used at the court. Over the last few years, the exhibitions The Renaissance of Etching (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019-2020) and Gravure en clair-obscur (Musée du Louvre, 2018-2019) shed further light on specific aspects of print production at Fontainebleau.

The study days will revolve around three broad themes:

    1. The “first” School of Fontainebleau: prints and drawings

This session will consider the prints and drawings executed at Fontainebleau in the 1530s and 1540s. Papers may focus on the circumstances and methods of print production at the court, the individual printmakers and draftsmen, the influences on their work and questions of iconography. Comparisons with other sixteenth-century printmaking centres are encouraged, as well as proposals that address the materiality of the objects and the technical analysis of their inks, paper, and states.

  1.  Reception in France and Europe

Produced during a time of expanding trade networks, the Fontainebleau School prints and drawings were quickly disseminated and widely copied by artists and craftsmen across Europe. We welcome contributions on the circulation of the works and on the dispersal of the printing plates, some of which reached Italy and perhaps the north. Within the broad themes of function and reception, discussions may address workshop practices that reflect the Fontainebleau model; the prints’ role as a conduit for artistic exchange in France and abroad; the ways in which sixteenth-century artists adapted and assimilated Fontainebleau designs and motifs in their work; and the enduring influence of the ornament style on the decorative arts.

3. Collectors and collections of Fontainebleau School prints and drawings

The third session will examine collecting practices, the taste for prints and drawings from the Fontainebleau School and how this evolved over time. Papers should therefore consider the historiography of the works and the manner in which they were appreciated, interpreted, discussed and collected from the sixteenth century onwards. In this context, we encourage proposals on the constitution and reconstruction of historic collections that form the core of French and European institutions today.

Organising committee :

  • Anna Baydova, Getty Paper Project Fellow, Department of Prints and Photographs, Bibliothèque nationale de France, and researcher, SAPRAT research group (EPHE, EA-4116)
  • Pauline Chougnet, conservatrice des bibliothèques, in charge of drawings, Department of Prints and Photographs, Bibliothèque nationale de France
  • Catherine Jenkins, independent art historian
  • Corinne Le Bitouzé, conservatrice générale des bibliothèques, deputy director of the department of prints and photographs, Bibliothèque nationale de France 
  • Marc Smith, professor of palaeography, École nationale des chartes 
  • Gennaro Toscano, Conseiller scientifique pour le Musée, la recherche et la valorisation, Bibliothèque nationale de France 
  • Caroline Vrand, conservatrice du patrimoine in charge of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century prints and drawings, Department of Prints and Photographs, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Practical information:

Proposals should be a maximum of 300 words. They should include a title and be accompanied by a short biography of the author.  Submissions should be emailed to reserve-estampes-photographie@bnf.fr before the 4th of December 2021.

Candidates will be notified by the 14th of January 2022.  

The study days will take place at the École nationale des chartes in Paris on the 9th and 10th of June 2022.

The conference proceedings will be published in the online journal the Nouvelles de l’estampe in the autumn of 2022.

Accommodation and travel expenses will be covered by the organisers, with the support of the Getty Foundation through its Paper Project initiative


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