The ladies' mirror

Meet the ladies of the 16th century French Court

Beatrice Pacheco de Silva, Countess of Entremont (1531) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Chantilly and the Clouets

Within its precious collections, the Condé Museum holds 366 portraits drawn by the two greatest portraitists of the French Renaissance: Jean and François Clouet. 

Among them are delicate pages devoted to female models, where famous Renaissance ladies and beautiful unknowns are mixed. This virtual exhibition traces the history of female portraiture in 16th century France.

Unknown lady, probably an Italian, known as "La Romaine". (1555) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

The Clouets 

Jean Clouet, and his son François, produced numerous portraits for the French court during the lavish Valois period of the 16th century. 

Although both painters with Franco-Flemish origins deliver striking designs, there are significant differences in their work in the King's court. For example, Jean Clouet focuses his craft on the hair, hairstyles, and facial likeness of his models, while François is more descriptive and places more importance on attire and the bodies of his models.

Marguerite of France, Queen of Navarre (1559) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Mirrors, portraits and status 

The title of the exhibition, which alludes to the images of the ladies drawn by the Clouets, also echoes the Ladies' Mirrors, literary works, mostly written by men, dedicated to the proper "government" of women.

Analysing the works produced by these two portraitists also allows us to address the role that noble ladies played in the 16th century, for example, their desire to be recognized as having an eminent place in the court, on the same level as their husbands.

Renée de France, Duchess of Ferrara and Chartres (1519) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

This drawing is among the first female portraits drawn by Jean Clouet to be preserved. It depicts Renée de France, the youngest daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne of Brittany.

Renée of France is known to have played a central role in the matrimonial policy of Francis I—a policy that consisted of negotiating alliances. This portrait may therefore have been painted for one of his daughter's suitors. 

Her gown, which is embellished with a ribbon, was designed by a member of Jean Clouet's studio. The latter image covered a first, more sketched out version; her headdress was also ironed.

Madeleine of France, Queen of Scotland (1524) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

In 1524, King Francis I commissioned his royal portraitist, Jean Clouet, to paint portraits of his children. This was a way to showcase his dynasty and his promising offspring.

Here, we see a preparatory drawing of young Madeleine, then about four years old.

The princess is sketched very economically. Her round face is simply enhanced by the red chalk on her lips, while the almost imperceptible lines of black and red chalk, which give the girl's cheeks their shape, add softness to the portrait.

Marguerite of France, Duchess of Berry and Savoy (1527) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

In this portrait, commissioned by her father Francis I around 1525, young princess Marguerite has a slightly mischievous air and laughing, though tired, eyes.

The features of the model are drawn very lightly with black chalk, subtly enhanced and completed by the sanguine chalk, while her hair is quickly sketched using fine parallel lines of black and sanguine chalk.

Unknown Lady (1525) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Not all of the figures depicted by Jean Clouet are as easy to identify. For example, the lady depicted here is dressed in a pilgrim's coat with a high collar and a 1510s-style cap.

There are also some noteworthy alterations to the clothes, cap, hair and contours of the face. The proportions of the face have been skillfully revisited, thus accentuating them and enhancing the model's appearance.

Marie d'Acigné de Boisjoly in Brittany, Lady of Canaples (1525) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

The portraits painted by the Clouets are not limited to the royal family. They also drew the King's entourage, like this portrait of Marie de Canaples of Brittany—one of the beauties of Francis I's court. 

She was part of the " King's inner circle ": posing for Clouet was indeed recognized as being in favor with the sovereign.

In this preparatory drawing, one can admire the great mastery of Jean Clouet, notably through the foreshortening (a perspective effect) on the cheek and the left eye of the model.

Unknown Lady (1525) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

This unfortunately unidentified portrait is the first preserved portrait by Jean Clouet in which the sitter's gaze is turned toward the viewer.

This characteristic, which is very rare in female portraits, reveals an Italian influence, particularly that of Leonardo da Vinci and his Mona Lisa, which influenced the collections of Francis I in 1518.

This effigy is marked by great naturality, which was captured on the spot: the wavy lock of hair, drawn in black and sanguine chalk, is carelessly styled, while a light layer of sanguine coloring brings life to the cheeks and nose. The rest remains, as is often the case with Jean Clouet's works, a sketched outline.

Doña Leonor Zapata (1531) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

The French Queen Eleanor of Habsburg, Infanta of Castile, came to France accompanied by several Spanish ladies.

The most beautiful of them was Léonore de Sapata, who undoubtedly impressed Clouet: the artist delivers one of his most beautifully drawn portraits.

Léonore is dressed in Spanish fashion (split sleeves, hair held back in a net and decorated with pins, and masculine headwear). 

Particular attention has been paid to her face, with its harmonious features. It is a celebration of her beauty and elegance.

Jacqueline de La Queuille, Lady of Aubigny (1535) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Like an apparition, the face of Jacqueline de La Queuille emerges from white gauze veils, the color of which is actually created by the color of the paper.

The wife of Robert Stuart, Lord of Aubigny, Captain of the Scottish Guard and Marshal of France, wears the great white mourning attire as a tribute to her parents, according to Scottish tradition.

Her delicate features, almond-shaped eyes and thin lips accentuate the charm of this portrait, which was sketched rather economically. We understand the spiritual and religious dimension of this drawing, which underlines the piety of this lady.

Unknown Lady (1520-1530) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

A superb portrait of a lady who was not so superb … Jean Clouet's art here is at its best. The long nose, the beautiful but tired blue-gray eyes, and the gaze that is lost in the distance, all confer a disturbing realism on this relatively unsightly face.

Unfortunately anonymous, the lady is wearing an outfit inspired by the Spanish fashion adopted at court following the arrival of Queen Eleanor and her Iberian attendants.

The artist brilliantly uses sanguine crosshatching—sometimes enhanced with black chalk—and the paper to create the shadows and highlights.

Catherine dit Cathelot, dwarf or madwoman of Queen Claude (1500- 1540) by Jean ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Charged with entertaining Renaissance sovereigns and courts, often at their own expense, dwarves—also known as fools at the time—benefited from a particular social status.

This was the case of Catherine Cathelot, pictured here. Following the death of Queen Claude of France, Catherine Cathelot passed into the service of her daughter, Marguerite of France.

She is depicted in her characteristic outfit. With her intense gaze, Jean Clouet has perfectly captured the grumpy character of Cathelot, whose job was to entertain the court.

This portrait is undoubtedly a preparatory sketch for a painting, judging by the horizontal line running across the dwarf's bust, marking where the future frame would be.

Marguerite of France, Duchess of Berry and Savoy (1550) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Portrayed by Jean Clouet around 1527, Marguerite de France was also drawn by the artist's son, François, about ten years later.

This drawing seems to have been created at the time of Jean's death, around 1541, when his son François replaced him in the court.

Here, François Clouet shows that he has already mastered his craft. Having internalised all of his father's art, he differs from him by using a finer line, clearer shadows, and more subtle blending.

Greater emphasis is also placed on hairstyle (styled with what is called an Italian escoffion) and on the dress with its split sleeves, given that the frame is not closed so tightly around the image.

Jossine de Pisseleu d'Heilly, lady of Lénoncourt, countess of Vignory (1550) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

This portrait, with its delicate lines, is one of the masterpieces of François Clouet's early career. 

Rendering the face using fine, blurred crosshatching lends an amiable gentleness to the model, the niece of Anne de Pisseleu, Duchess of Etampes—a favorite of Francis I.

There is a clear distinction between the black and sanguine chalks in this portrait, making it possible to distinguish each part of the outfit and headdress.

Renée de Rieux, Marquise de Nesle, known as Guyonne, Countess of Laval (1560) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Renée de Rieux, a powerful and rich lady of Catherine de Medici, was the heiress of the Rieux and Laval families. Her career shows her independent spirit and determination.

Separated from her husband, our heroine was affiliated with the Reformation, which earned her a papal excommunication. Having obtained the power to manage her own property from King Henry II, several years later, she rebelled against royal power.

Following this last fiasco, she was sentenced to death by the Parliament of Paris, but died some time later.

This superb drawing is astonishing in terms of how natural it appears, notably given the untidy hair at the lady's temples and the extensive use of black chalk, with sanguine chalk being reserved for her face and headdress.

The dress that Renée is wearing was updated a few years after the drawing was created, being transformed into a coat inspired by masculine style.

Elisabeth of France, Queen of Spain, known as Isabella of Peace (1550) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

This portrait presents us with a young Princess Élisabeth of France, at about five years old, with her azure blue eyes and lofty manner. 

The daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici is dressed in the Spanish fashion of the time, with her hands, drawn shakily, visible, as is often the case in portraits of children.

Catherine de Medici was very attached to the representations of her children. For her, they were as important as health reports (the princes and princesses often resided outside the court), and she could keep these portraits for herself or for use on the diplomatic scene.

Isabelle (Isabeau) d'Hauteville, Countess of Beauvais (1547) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

As one of François Clouet's most charming portraits, this delicate chalk drawing depicts a relative of Queen Catherine de Medici, Isabelle d'Hauteville.

The artist took great care when producing this representation of one of the most beautiful ladies of the court: high quality modeling, eyes that gracefully address the viewer, hair drawn in black and red chalk, and alternating two techniques to denote the colors of the clothes and jewelry.

Françoise Robertet, lady of La Bourdaisière then Countess of Châteauroux (1565) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

Françoise Robertet was also a lady-in-waiting and close to Catherine de Medici; it was thanks to this relationship that she was portrayed by Clouet. She should not be confused with her namesake, the wife of Tristan de Rostain. This portrait dates back to before Françoise's widowhood in 1569.

The dress of this middle-aged lady, giving us a somewhat disdainful look, is rich in detail (additional drawings and inscriptions on the second half of the page corroborate this interest), while the jewelry is sketched only vaguely, as is usually the case in François Clouet's work.

Renée de Rieux, Marquise de Nesle, known as Guyonne, Countess of Laval (1560) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

The portraits drawn by the Clouets selected for this exhibition reflect not only the beauty or piety of their models, but also their station and spirit. The features and attitudes of these women are very much worked on by Jean and François Clouet, and offer multidimensional representations of the ladies of the French court.

Unknown lady, probably an Italian, known as "La Romaine". (1555) by François ClouetChâteau de Chantilly

As such, these exceptional drawings undoubtedly contributed towards affirming the status of women within the French court, in a world where their influence was growing. They therefore remain true historical testimonies.

Credits: Story

A virtual exhibition from the exhibition  Clouet, the Ladies' Mirror , at the Domaine de Chantilly, from June 1–October 6, 2019. Curator: Mathieu Deldicque, Curator of Heritage.  

The texts are inspired by those in the exhibition catalog Clouet, the Ladies' Mirror, under the direction of Mathieu Deldicque, co-curated by Éditions Faton and Domaine de Chantilly, 2019. 

Virtual exhibition designed by Clara Voiry.  

Images ©RMN-Grand Palais Domaine de Chantilly  

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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