To be frank, there has been art in France since there have been humans on Earth. There are cave paintings in several locations across France, with prehistoric humans capturing the essence of their new humanity with the pictures themselves. Think about that for a moment. That is an incredibly long time for a country to have art and that also means that there has been a substantial amount of evolutions throughout the history of France. So in order to even begin to cover this, I have to do an abridged rundown of art history, only supplying a rough idea of what they have seen through the years. I will cover the Modern Period in another article.
Celtic and Roman Times
Before the Roman invasion, there were the Celts living in France. Celtic art blossomed out of the Iron Age, which was popular until the Romans landed. The Celts’ art has been found within their burial mounds that are still located all over France. Roman art consisted of theater primarily. Their architecture was also an art form all by itself and has been shown that it was able to stand the test of time as many Roman structures are still standing all over France today.
Around the 5th century, Medieval French art was born. It happened as the Romans left and the Gauls took over. In response to the over-the-top Roman artwork, the medieval period was full of simplicity rather than luxury. It was also during this period that manuscript illumination appeared, bringing back the Celtic art forms that had seemed to vanish. There were many movements of art during the medieval period so here is just a quick rundown of them all.
- Romanesque art: Over the course of one hundred and fifty years, Romanesque art was the craze. It also was what prompted the Gothic style. They were focused more on the traditional Roman stylings.
- Gothic art: This was the birth of sculpture tradition in French art and architecture which had not existed in France before this time period. They began dabbling with ornate details to thing as well as enormity in size in relation to the art.
- Carolingian art: This is in reference to art pertaining to the reign of Charlemagne. They blended German art with classical art, creating something entirely new and different.
- Merovingian art: This art form was mastered by the Franks. There was a lot that was made of timber, unfortunately, so it has not withstood the test of time.
Early Modern Period
The Early Modern Period is part of the French Renaissance that happened in the fifteenth century as a result of the French invasion of Italy. This period includes the patronage of François I, who as an avid art enthusiast and was a close personal friend of Leonardo Da Vinci. The Early Modern Period also included Baroque and Classicism styles. The Classicism period was embraced by Louis XIV who loved it so much that it’s luxury was reflected in his renovation of the Palace of Versailles, which was previously a small hunting lodge used by his father.
Following the Baroque and Classicism periods, we had the Rococo and Neoclassicism, which refers more to visual and architectural arts more than anything else. There was a lot of wood used and things were in general less grandiose than its predecessor. Though Neoclassicism was rooted in returning to the stylings of Greek and Roman works and iconography, including the death of Socrates as well as Brutus. There were also radical forms of Neoclassicism as well that used geometrical forms that represented harmony and symmetry of styles rather than extreme beauty.