Paris Without The Louvre and the Mona Lisa?
January 21, 2015
I guess that only a few connoisseurs would know when the French Renaissance took place, let alone define what it is all about. Yet, without the French Renaissance, Paris, France and even the world would not be like it is today… This 16th century artistic and cultural movement was influenced by the Italian Renaissance and brought to France by King Francis I of France (François 1er in France), one of the most influential monarchs that ever reigned in France. Accessing the throne on January 25th 1515, this 1.99m (6,7ft) charismatic man’s goal was to do away with the archaic medieval mentalities by spreading humanism and developing knowledge, the spirit and free will. Not bad for someone who lived 500 years ago! So what would Paris, France and the world look like without this giant genius?
When Francis I was released from captivity in Madrid in 1526, he moved from Blois (200km to the south of Paris) back to Paris for better protection. He destroyed the dungeon of the run down fortress of the Louvre, the official but abandoned Parisian royal palace, and gave it a new embellished look (greatly enlarged with future generations of Kings). To house the municipal institutions of Paris, Francis I ordered the construction of the City Hall. Although the original was burned to the ground in 1871, its reconstruction was almost a replica and it is today one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris.
The Renaissance movement originated in Italy, and who better than Italian artists could help Francis I achieve his French Renaissance dream? Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the many Italian artists that Francis I invited to France. Da Vinci helped in the construction of some of his architectural wonders, such as the double helix staircase in the Château de Chambord. But probably his most famous contribution to the French Renaissance was the Mona Lisa. Painted between 1503 and 1506 and purchased by Francis I at the painter’s death in 1519, the enigmatic smile highly participated in the flourishing of French Renaissance as it inspired many younger French artists. Today, the Mona Lisa attracts more than 20 000 visitors per day.
Difficult to imagine that 500 years ago, Latin was still a language that was spoken by many and the only language that was used for administrative and legal purposes. Francis I decided to make French the official administrative language in 1539. This also led to the official creation of public vital records (birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates etc…) in France.
Right after accessing the throne of France, Francis I ordered the construction of a hunting lodge, the Château de Chambord. 426 rooms for a hunting lodge: that gives you a clear idea of Francis I’s visions of grandeur, yet he only stayed there 72 night in his entire life! Closer to Paris but still in woods, he build the Château de Fontainebleau, 60km to the south of Paris where he spent most of his time. One of the highlights there is the Galerie François 1er, a magnificent hall that inspired the Château de Versailles’ famous Hall of Mirrors.
The Spanish, the English, the Dutch and even the Portuguese had already discovered new territories across the Atlantic Ocean in the early 16th century. Surely Francis I also wanted a piece of the pie! In 1535, he sent Jacques Cartier on a transatlantic expedition. The French explorer ended up in Newfoundland (Terre-Neuve) and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and claimed these new territories to be part of the French crown. And that is how Canada (Quebec) was discovered and this French language arrived on the new continent.
Francis I of France died on March 31st 1547 following a severe sepsis and was buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis. Because of his determination to create the New Rome in France, he was the father of French Renaissance. It took him 32 years to create iconic monuments that are now almost 500 years old and still amaze by their beautiful architecture and decorations. France, and even the world, would not be the same if it weren’t for the artistic and cultural vision of this great king.