Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Francis I (1494–1547), King of France

Workshop of Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, Cleve ca. 1485–1540/41 Antwerp)
Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
16 x 12 7/8 in. (40.6 x 32.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Accession Number:
Not on view
King of France from 1515 until his death in 1547, Francis I was a major patron of the arts and a key figure in the development of an indigenous Renaissance style. The Metropolitan’s portrait faithfully records the French king’s physiognomy, and the expressive hands have been carefully drawn and modeled. He is sumptuously dressed in a red doublet made of costly silk, the shimmering quality of which was achieved by a layer of silver leaf beneath a translucent glaze of red lake (see Additional Images), a highly expensive pigment at the time. His outer garment with puffed black sleeves and a fur collar is adorned with rows of pearls, aiglets, and gold embroidery. His feathered beret, likewise, is decorated with aiglets and pearls, and a damaged hat badge, possibly representing a half-length figure of Lucretia, as a comparison of the image with another version in the Royal Collection, London suggests (for the identification, see Campbell 1958, p. 30). In his left hand Francis holds the golden pommel of a precious sword, its curved knuckle guard surmounted with a zoomorphic finial. He gestures with his right hand as though giving an order or signaling to another figure, conceivably shown in a pendant.

The official portrait of Francis I is in the Louvre (inv. 3254) and was painted around 1530 by his court portraitist Jean Clouet (active by 1516–died 1540/41), possibly with the collaboration of the artist’s son François (Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 3256). When in the Friedsam collection, the Metropolitan’s portrait was also attributed to Jean Clouet (Réau 1926). However, it is instead related in style to a portrait of the king in the Philadelphia Museum of Art that was first ascribed by Baldass to the Antwerp-based painter Joos van Cleve (see Ludwig Baldass, Joos van Cleve: der Meister des Todes Mariä, Vienna, 1925, p. 41 and no. 79), an attribution that is now universally accepted (Hand 2004, pp. 101–2, no. 85). As is apparent from the differences in quality and execution, the Metropolitan portrait cannot be an autograph work by Joos and must, instead, be a copy of a composition that was produced with variations in his workshop. The fact that portraits of Francis I were recorded in the inventories of European rulers (such as those of Henry VIII and Charles II of Spain) and that numerous versions were created in Joos’s workshop make it very likely that the MMA portrait was destined for one of the European courts.

Joos’s large, half-length portrait in Philadelphia is generally thought to have been painted during the artist’s stay in France before 1533 (see Hand 2004, pp. 166–68, nos. 85–85.13). It shows the king standing behind a table, holding his sword pommel in his left hand and his leather gloves in his right; his glance is to his right, as though towards a pendant image that, it has been suggested, might be Joss’s portrait of Henry VIII in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. The pair would thus commemorate the meeting between Francis I and Henry VIII in Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais in 1532 (see Cécile Scailliérez, “Die Porträtkunst Joos van Cleves”, in Joos van Cleve. Leonardo des Nordens, ed. Peter van den Brink, Aachen, 2011, pp. 107–8). Attractive though this theory is, it does not explain the biblical quotation on Henry’s scroll (ITE IN MUNDUM UNIVERSUM ET PREDICATE EVANGELIUM OMNI CREATURE, translated as “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature”, Mark 16:15), and does not account for the fact that Henry VIII’s glance is directed towards the viewer while Francis averts his glance as though towards a counterpart.

In the MMA picture, the hand that in the Philadelphia portrait holds gloves has been changed to an open hand gesture, a motif found in several other versions (examples are in the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle). Although it is possible that the MMA panel was painted as an independent work for a portrait gallery, it is no less possible that, given the king’s open hand gesture and his glance to his right, it had as a pendant a portrait of Henry VIII similar in composition to two pictures in the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 3638 and NPG 1376, both ascribed to Anglo-Netherlandish painter). Not only are the costumes comparable, but so also are the prominent hand gestures (in Henry VIII’s case the hands rest on a balustrade), and the notable horizontal emphasis of the shoulder line of the two kings, who then would face each other. Nonetheless, given their different dimensions, the National Portrait Gallery examples cannot be the pendants to the MMA picture.

[Christine Seidel 2014; updated by Maryan W. Ainsworth 2015]
The painting, originally on a panel support, has been transferred to canvas. The transferred painting, including the paint layers and the ground, was adhered to the canvas support through a complex and unconventional system of interleavings and lining. First, a lead white-containing grey oil layer was applied to the back of the original ground of the painting. A piece of cheesecloth was embedded in this grey oil layer. A single sheet of paper was then adhered to the cheesecloth, using an aqueous adhesive. The paper-backed painting was then lined to a medium weight canvas, which was in turn lined to a slightly finer canvas, using an aqueous adhesive for both. The dimensions of the canvas support are slightly larger than those of the original painting, particularly on the left and right sides where the secondary support is roughly one centimeter wider than the original. The painting was stretched onto a four-member stretcher.
There are a few wrinkles and perhaps a tear in the paper interleaving, which can be seen at lower right, particularly in a raking light.
The original off-white ground is still present, although it is now impregnated with oil and other restoration adhesives. Some cursory drawing, executed with what appears to be a dry medium, is evident using infrared reflectography. The main features of the sitter were lightly indicated, while the contours of the hands were drawn with slightly bolder lines. Minor adjustments were made between the underdrawing and the painting phases: the sitter’s beard was drawn slightly larger, using loose looping curves, and the black cord hanging around the neck was initially drawn closer in.
Paint Layer:
The painting technique and materials indicate the great care and expense devoted to this portrait. The red pourpoint (a padded doublet worn over a linen shirt) has been painted with translucent glazes of red paint, which appears to be a lake, over silver leaf (see Additional Images, fig. 1). Infrared reflectography revealed that the silver leaf was applied meticulously: the leaf follows the ultimate contours of the pourpoint with reserves left for the vertical bunches of white fabric. Other notable aspects of the painting technique include the green background and the formation of grey passages. The bright green of the background was built up by layering a green glaze over a pale yellow layer, yielding a rich leafy green. To attain very cool greys the artist has mixed a blue pigment, which appears to be azurite, with white. This is best observed in the whites of the eyes and the pearls on the sitter’s dress.
The paint layers are generally in very good condition, with the uppermost glazes almost all intact and fine details preserved. The silver leaf is in remarkably good condition, exhibiting no sign of tarnishing. Its excellent state of preservation must be due in large part to the presence of the red glaze, which has protected the silver from oxidation.

[Sophie Scully 2015]
comte Guy de Montbrison, château de St. Roch, Auvillar, France (by 1909; sold to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, New York, 1909–24; sold to Bloch]; [Vitale Bloch, Vienna, from 1924]; Mrs. Chauncey J. Blair, Chicago; Michael Friedsam, New York (by 1928)
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Loan Exhibition of French Primitives and Objects of Art," October 17–November 12, 1927, no. 45 (as by Jean Clouet, lent by Michael Friedsam).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.

Pasadena Art Institute. February 5–March 26, 1952, no catalogue?

Poughkeepsie. Vassar College Art Gallery. "Humanism North and South," February 29–March 18, 1956, no catalogue?

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Junior Museum. "The Age of Discovery," October 1, 1957–June 30, 1958, no catalogue?

Fort Worth Art Center. "The School of Fontainebleau," September 15–December 5, 1965, no catalogue?

Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "A Pageant of Canada," October 27, 1967–January 19, 1968, no. 13.

Louis Réau. "Une collection de primitifs français en Amérique." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 13 (January 1926), pp. 9, 12, ill., lists this painting as a work attributed to Jean Clouet, one of several replicas.

Philip Hendy. "A Portrait of François I and its Variants." Burlington Magazine 1 (January 1927), p. 8, publishes and illustrates a group of portraits of Francis I after Joos van Cleve, locating them in the Wallace Collection, London; Hampton Court; the Louvre, Paris; and the gallery at Lyons [now Musée des Beaux-Arts], where it was catalogued as a contemporary copy of an original by Jean Clouet; notes that a fourth variant in the Johson Collection, Philadelphia [now Philadelphia Museum of Art], where it was attributed to a Franco-Flemish artist, appears to be Joos's original, as it is much finer than the others; suggests that the Friedsam portrait, recently brought to his attention, may be a variant by Joos himself.

Philip Hendy. "Letters: A Portrait of François I and its Variants." Burlington Magazine 1 (1927), p. 168, states that after receiving a "good modern photograph" of the Friedsam picture, he finds it nearly identical with that at Hampton Court, and not possibly by Joos van Cleve himself.

Louis Réau in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 164, catalogues it as a work of Jean Clouet and dates it about 1535; notes that several "reproductions" of this portrait are extant, and states that the present work was owned by Mrs. Chauncey Blair, Chicago, before entering the Friedsam collection.

Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), pp. 12–13, no. 7, refer to it as "one of a number of painted copies after a drawing to which French connoisseurs have attached the name of Jean Clouet," commenting that these works show no connection with generally accepted works by Clouet; notes that a slightly dfferent version came to the Museum in the Dreicer bequest and that many other examples exist; describes them as "all somewhat crude in workmanship," apparently "done by journeymen".

Katharine Grant Sterne. "The French Primitives in the Friedsam Collection." Parnassus 4 (January 1932), p. 8, attributes it to Jean Clouet and calls it "a masterpiece of both decoration and characterization"; notes the influence of Andrea del Castagno and Andrea Verrocchio.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 138–39, ill., ascribes it to the Workshop of Joos van Cleve.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 93, as from the workshop of Joos van Cleve.

Larry Silver. "Early Northern European Paintings." Bulletin of the Saint Louis Art Museum, n.s., 16 (Summer 1982), p. 39, discusses a variant in the Saint Louis Museum of Art, noting that the finest extant Joos van Cleve version of Francis I is in Philadelphia [Johnson Collection]; mentions our panel as a weaker version of the Philadelphia portrait.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Underdrawings in Paintings by Joos van Cleve at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Ed. Roger van Schoute and Dominique Hollanders-Favart. Colloque 4, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1982, pp. 161, 164–65, notes that it shows pouncing and "very summary underdrawing confined to the contours of hands, beard and slits in the front of the costume".

Lorne Campbell. The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Cambridge, 1985, p. 30, catalogues the variant formerly at Hampton Court and now at Windsor Castle; classifies a group of eleven portraits of Francis I into types, including ours with those in whch the the King's right hand is turned away from the sitter and the doublet is slashed; notes that all of these portraits are now generally thought to derive from a prototype by Joos van Cleve; observes that the Philadelphia version is often thought to be that prototype, but suggests that there may have been several prototypes showing the King differently posed and dressed.

Cécile Scailliérez. Joos van Cleve au Louvre. Paris, 1991, p. 97, no. 133, ill., calls it a lesser copy of the Philadelphia portrait; relates it to the English tradition of frontal representations established by Holbein and the Clouet model in the Louvre.

From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, p. 409, ill.

John Oliver Hand. Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. New Haven, 2004, p. 168, no. 85.8, as "copy of Joos".

For a thorough discussion of this panting and related versions of the composition, see Campbell 1985.
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