Francis Ier, King of France

Francis I<sup>er</sup>, King of France

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Title: Francis Ier, King of France.

Author : CLOUET Jean (1480 - 1540)

Creation date : between 1525 and 1527

Date shown: between 1525 and 1527

Dimensions: Height 96 cm - Width 74 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on wood

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Hervé Lewandowski

Picture reference: 96-007328 / Inv. 3256

Francis Ier, King of France.

© RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Hervé Lewandowski

Publication date: April 2015

University professor in History and Civilizations (history of modern worlds, history of the contemporary world, art, music)

Historical context

This painting depicting Francis Ier became famous, because he fixed a kind of official portrait of the king which prints, engravings and textbooks took over. Placed at the Château de Fontainebleau, stored in the 18th centurye century in the stores of the King's Superintendence, then exhibited between 1837 and 1848 in the Salle des Rois of the Historical Museum of Versailles, it moved to the Louvre, where it still stands today.

This traceability and pictorial fortune contrast with the long hesitation of art historians on its attribution. This being considered dominant, the painting could be attributed to great portrait painters such as Hans Holbein and Joos Van Cleve.

Finally, a consensus was established around Jean Clouet, or Janet Clavet, originally from Hainaut. He may have worked for Louis XII, but does not appear in the royal accounts until 1516 and until 1536 as a wardrobe valet. In addition to these pensions, there are payments for "living injuries and effigies". He married the daughter of a goldsmith in Tours, before living in Paris where he died around 1540, without ever having received a letter of naturalness from the king but leaving a son, François Clouet, also a great portrait painter of the Court of France. .

Image Analysis

This portrait does not show any of the attributes of royalty. No coronation mantle, no crown, no hand of justice, no globe. Admittedly, the king’s head is framed by two fleur-de-lis crowns, but these are not closed like the royal crown.

The only symbols appearing on the canvas are the ornate hilt of a sword, the necklace made up of pearls, pieces of goldsmith's work and a chiseled gold medallion depicting the Archangel Michael, patron of the knightly order who wears her name. This order, which rewards and embraces a few great servants of the Crown, was founded in 1469 by Louis XI to compete with the Order of the Golden Fleece.

The collar here painted does not however conform to the new model promoted by François, alternating the shells with a double cord. This change gave rise to two hypotheses: the cord would evoke either that of the Franciscans, or that of the House of Savoy from which Louise of Savoy, mother of the king, came. However, this emblem is present on the garment by a double-loop knot representing an eight on the upper edge of the garment. But overall, heraldry is rare and the royal emblem, the salamander, is absent.

The one who observes the painting is above all struck by the rich dress and the face of the king. This one is not shown in armor like other kings of war, especially Germanic ones; his ceremonial dress is distinguished by the magnificence which allows the artist to demonstrate all his virtuosity in the rendering of the silky folds and the delicacy of the embroidery. Under the silk velvet doublet alternate black bands and white bands, enhanced with interlacing embroidered with gold threads. The slits in the sleeves give a glimpse of the thin canvas shirt worn by the king, with very ornate collar and cuffs.

The chamarre, a puff-sleeved coat made of white satin edged with a strip of black velvet embroidered with gold foliage, further enhances the sumptuousness of the garment. There is no evidence that this outfit was worn by the sovereign, even if the royal accounts prove the purchase of velvet and silk taffeta. Black, yellow, and white (or tanned) weren't exactly the personal colors of the monarch, who had chosen red alongside yellow and white. Did black replace scarlet after his widowhood in 1524? Anyway, he remarried in 1526.

The king's face, slightly skewed, does not prevent the sovereign from fixing the viewer with a scrutinizing gaze. He does not smile, wears a beard collar and a mustache. The beard, a fashion characteristic of the Italian court since the end of the 1510s, has spread in European courts. In France, on several occasions from 1525, the law prohibited inhabitants from wearing it, unless they were soldiers or courtiers. The beard is a symbol of good health, virility, superiority and authority. Finally, the oval shape of the face refers to the contemporary canon of male beauty. The face of Francis Ier therefore embodies a serious and benevolent majesty.


This painting, produced according to historians between 1525 and 1527, is the first large monumental portrait of the king, which until then had only been depicted in small medallions or illuminations. It never left the kingdom and therefore was not made to promote a marriage of the sovereign. Its use is intended to strengthen the royal authority, then weakened by the defeat of Pavia, the captivity of the king and the signing of the dishonorable Treaty of Madrid.

It is not a warrior hero, nor a knight king that Clouet paints, because the wars in Italy do not necessarily have good publicity. The latter accuses François Ier for having abandoned his kingdom, for having exposed it to invasions and charged with taxes. In addition, Charles V reproaches him for not acting as a knight by failing to fulfill his oath to implement the Treaty of Madrid.

The king assumes the habit of an accomplished courtier with this painting. This human ideal is then being theorized by Baldassare Castiglione, nuncio in Spain at the same time as the king is held prisoner there: The Courtier's Book appeared in 1528.

After the disastrous Italian campaign in Pavia, after the betrayal of the Constable of Bourbon, after the accusations leveled against the nobility of having abandoned their king on the battlefield, Francis Ier intends to reconnect with his nobility through the court system. In 1528, he decided to make Paris his main place of residence and began work on the Louvre to replace the old fortress. A favorite of the king, Claude de Guise, first Duke of Guise, is featured by Clouet in a portrait now kept in the Pitti Palace in Florence, which is reminiscent of the royal portrait. Courtiers must imitate the first and most perfect of them.

But this bust portrait also remains a State portrait which uses the canonical model of Charles VII by Jean Fouquet. Clouet appropriates the idea of ​​a slightly biased bust, cut below the waist, with her hands resting on a draped hem. But he adds the sword, a discreet reference to the knight king, and the red damask (tapestry) depicted in many of the backdrops of princely portraits of northern Europe. Royal majesty does not arise from outward symbols, but from idealized personal qualities. Sovereignty is embodied and manifested in the beds of justice of 1527, which become the expression of absolute power.

To find out more about the portrait of François Ier by Jean Clouet, go to the site Panorama of art

  • court life
  • monarchical court
  • Francis I
  • official portrait


BURKE Peter, The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, coll. “The Penn State Series in the History of the Book”, 1996. JOLLET Étienne, Jean and François Clouet, Paris, Lagune, 1997. KNECHT Robert J., A Renaissance prince: Francis I and his kingdom, Paris, Fayard, coll. "Chronicles", 1998.LE GALL Jean-Marie, A masculine ideal? Beards and mustaches (15th-18th century), Paris, Payot, coll. "History", 2011.LE GALL Jean-Marie, The Lost Honor of Francis I: Pavia, 1525, Paris, Payot, coll. “Historical Library”, 2015.MELLEN Peter, Jean Clouet: catalog raisonné of drawings, miniatures and paintings, Paris, Flammarion, 1971 SCAILLIÉREZ Cécile, François I by Clouet, cat. exp. (Paris, 1996), Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, coll. “The Files of the Department of Paintings” (no 50) / “The Files of the Louvre Museum”, 1996.

To cite this article

Jean-Marie LE GALL, “François Ier, King of France "

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