FRANCE IN THE TIME OF THE RENAISSANCE
Charles VIII's Italian campaign
It is wonderful to see how cheerfully France accepted the leadership of Italy and recognised her aims, while she was from the very beginning conscious of her own style, and guarded it strictly.
In the year 1495 the young and romantic King Charles VIII of France began his triumphal march into Italy. He passed with little opposition into the South. His spirit, intoxicated with sheer beauty, received into itself that glamour which the new Italian art diffused over all things in those joyful days of the Early Renaissance. Both he and the young knights, his companions, were loud in their praises, which reached the highest point when Charles arrived at Naples. Here they thought they had truly found the Earthly Paradise. “ The king in his gracious favour,” writes Cardinal Briçonnet to Queen Anne of Bretagne, “ has been pleased to show me everything, both inside and outside the city. And I assure you that the beauty of the places is incredible, with the furnishings of this world’s pleasures in every possible kind.” And Charles himself writes to Pierre de Bourbon : “You cannot believe what lovely gardens I have seen in this town; for, on my word, it seems as though only Adam and Eve were wanting to make an Earthly Paradise, so full are they of rare and beautiful things.”
There was one night, spent by the king at Poggio Reale, that seemed to him and his chroniclers, the poets at court, to be the crowning point of all this glory. “To describe the beauty of this place, one would need have the beau parler de Maistre Alexis Chartier, la subtilité de Maistre Jean de Meung, et la main de Fouquet,” says one of his companions. Charles did not bring home much in the way of political gains; the stakes which he won he lost again. But for the education of France this journey of his had far-reaching consequences. it was the birthday of the French Renaissance. He came back with twenty-two Italian artists of the most diverse types, and he gave them a home at the Chatueau Amboise. With them there arrived, under the care of Nicolas Fagot, the king’s tent-maker, a consignment of various tapestries, libraries, pictures, sculptures in marble, and porphyry, weighing in all 87,000 pounds. The French writer who makes this statement goes on to say : “ To tell of these would take, not a single sentence, but twenty sheets; for what the upholsterer Nicolas Fagot brought into the heart of France from the depths of Italy was nothing more nor less than the whole of Italian art—that art which was destined to bring forth at Amboise, at Gaillon, and in our entire fatherland, countless marvels, perhaps the choicest that France has ever seen.”
Charles felt a burning desire to make Amboise beautiful. Briçonnet had repeated the king’s words to the Queen of Naples about the Earthly Paradise, and added that “ he now no longer values Amboise as he did.” But when the king was home again it was his earnest wish to make another paradise there. The rebuilding of the castle—already put in hand before he took his journey—was continued in feverish haste, so that, when he died sud- denly two years later, the historian Conimines was able to tell of magnificent buildings begun and carried out at Amboise. Among these was the colossal tower, where one could rule up to the top, for instead of stairs it had a slope ascending gently to the upper terrace of the castle.
The death of Charles did not interrupt these activities for a moment; his successor, Louis XII, continued them very zealously in the seventeen years of his reign ; while under Francis L and those who immediately followed him the passion for the work exceeded all bounds. The achievements of eighty years of architectural effort on the castle estate, specially concerned with the study of gardens, are given in a collection of fine engravings by the architect Androuet Du Cerceau. By their help we get a view of such a development of this art as can hardly be said to have occurred a second time in history, and certainly never in a period of abundant work and fresh enthusiasm.
The desire felt by the French to learn the lessons of Italy is shown to some extent by the immigration of Italian artists, but much more by the continual stream of young French architects into Italy, who went in all eagerness to familiarise themselves with modern and antique works. Nevertheless, from the very start France exhibited an astonishing inde pendence and conservatism, First of all, the villa idea never was welcomed on her side of the Alps. The Italian country house had kept the character of a mediaeval fortress much longer than the town house. Early Florentine villas: Careggio, Quaracchi, Caffagiola, Villa Imperiale at Pesaro, the Belvedere at the Vatican, all showed so far the outside features of battlemented towers and walls, and projecting structures below, But this type was soon abandoned, and at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, the open-air country house, the Italian villa, has appeared with its towers, formerly outstanding projections of the building, now incorporated into the façade ; its ground-plan is formal, most of the parts are grouped round a single court, and the main entrance façade is generally made with a pillared hall, as open and inviting as possible.