Jean Clouet, often known, like his son François Clouet, as ‘Janet’, an abbreviation of ‘Jehannet’, in early records, worked in the service of Francis I, King of France, from 1516 to 1536. As Court Painter, his greatest legacy lay in disseminating the image of the powerful Francis I through a variety of media. These include the limned portrait in grisaille on a blue background set within a gold roundel in an illuminated manuscript known as Les Commentaires de la Guerre Gallique (British Library).
Les Commentaires de la Guerre Gallique (1518-20) is significant in containing within the margins of the second volume (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) small, roundel portraits by Jean Clouet of the seven military commanders who had supported Francis I in his victory over the Swiss at the Battle of Marignano in 1515. These are painted in watercolour and gouache against a blue background and encompassed by a narrow gold border; in form and conception they are the immediate precursor of the detached portrait miniature as an independent art form in its own right. This miniature is significant as one of only two surviving examples which demonstrate Jean Clouet’s emancipation of the portrait miniature from the illuminated manuscript. With a date of c.1526, it is without doubt the earliest of the two, as the other surviving independent miniature by Jean Clouet, of Charles de Cossé, Count of Brissac, (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) dates from c.1535.5 The date of the Windsor miniature can be established with reference to a drawing by Jean Clouet (Musée Condé, Chantilly) which pre-dates 1525 and shows the same sitter at about the age of six, looking slightly younger than in the present miniature.
An identical pattern of development can be traced in the work of Lucas Horenbout, who produced a limned portrait of Henry VIII within an initial letter decorating a letter patent dated 28 April 15247 but who had, by 1527, produced at least five detached portrait miniatures of Henry VIII which share many points of similarity with the technique of Jean Clouet (see 420640, 420010 Royal Collection). The impetus to produce detached portrait miniatures may have come in each instance from the demands of early sixteenth-century court culture for portable dynastic images to be used in diplomatic exchanges. A double portrait in miniature of Francis Dauphin (1518–36), and of his brother Henry, duc d’Orléans, believed to be by Jean Clouet, and set in an elaborate gold locket, were sent with another of their father, Francis I, as a gift to Henry VIII in the autumn of 1526. The donor was Margaret, Madame d’Alençon, sister of Francis I; her intention was probably to encourage Henry to negotiate the release of the French king’s sons who were being held hostage in Spain after the Battle of Pavia in 1525. Shortly afterwards, a miniature of Henry VIII and one of Princess Mary, perhaps by Horenbout, were received on behalf of Francis I by his mother, Louise of Savoy, Regent of France. The frequency of such exchanges may have been underestimated and may account, in part, for the confluence of style and of idiom arising at precisely the same time in the work of Clouet and Horenbout. It is also significant in this respect that Jean Clouet, whose work on a large scale epitomises the French court style of the early sixteenth century, is revealed in court documents to have been of foreign extraction and may, like Horenbout, have had roots in the illuminators’ workshops of the Low Countries. One hypothesis links him to Simon Marmion (c.1425 – 89), painter and illuminator of Valenciennes, through Marmion’s nephew, Michel Clauwet
Text adapted from Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein, 2011
ProvenanceFirst recorded in the Royal Collection during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Jean Clouet (c. 1485-90?-1540/1) (artist)
- Physical properties
Francis Dauphin (1518-1536)