The Mistresses of Fontainebleau

School of Fontainebleau | Diana the Huntress (oil on canvas, ca 1550, Louvre) and The Duchess of Villars and Gabrielle D’Estree (oil on canvas ca 1594, Louvre).

The School of Fontainbleau (or École de Fontainebleau) occurred from ca. 1530 to ca. 1610. There were two main Schools referred to as the First and Second Schools which spanned two major French periods of artistic production from the late Renaissance and a French version of the Northern Mannerism style. Both were centred on the Royal Palace of Fontainebleau. Here are two examples, one from each School.

Diana the Huntress is by an anonymous artist of the First School of Fontainebleau. The First School used the Northern Mannerist style of painting, introduced to France by Italian artists in the 1530s. Diana the Huntress, is a depiction of the Roman goddess Diana shown carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows; accompanied by her dog. In her hair is an ornament in the shape of a crescent moon, an attribute of the goddess. The model in the guise of Diana, is said to be Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henry II, of France.

The Duchess of Villars and Gabrielle D’Estree is attributed to the Second School of Fontainebleau,  The two models painted while they are taking a bath together are sisters Gabrille D’Estree (1571-1599) and the Duchess of Villars (or Villiers), or perhaps another sister Madame de Balagny. Gabrielle was a mistress of King Henry IV of France (1553-1610), who gave birth to an illegitimate son in 1594. The oddly affectionate way in which the sister is pinching Gabrielle’s right breast has often been taken as symbolizing her pregnancy and future birth of her son.

  • Apart from the two women having a bath, did you notice between the red curtains is a woman sitting beside the fire busy with her sewing?
  • Perhaps she is preparing a layette for the coming child of Gabrielle –  César de Vendôme.

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