Prints and drawings from the Fontainebleau School (1530–1580)

13 March – 13 May 2018


Francesco Primaticcio (1504–1570), Minerva carried to heaven by the Graces. Red chalk, heightened with white, on light brown prepared paper, squared for transfer. 1895,0915.677.

This display showcases a selection of works produced by the international team of artists who worked at the royal palace of Fontainebleau in France during the 16th century, drawing inspiration from both Northern and Italian Renaissance art.

In 1528, King François I of France decided to renovate his favourite palace at Fontainebleau, near Paris, where he often went to hunt. He not only planned to expand the palace, but also have it decorated by some of the leading artists of his day. François had a particular passion for Italian art – he had been the final patron of Leonardo da Vinci – and so he summoned painters from Italy. The Florentine artist Rosso Fiorentino arrived in November 1530 and became the first supervisor of an international team of artists whose efforts would create one of the most opulent palaces of the Renaissance. After Rosso’s death in 1540, his place as supervisor was taken by his assistant Francesco Primaticcio.

During the 1540s, as the newly enlarged palace was embellished with fresco and stucco, a small group of French and Italian artists began to make prints at or near Fontainebleau. Their subjects derived from the body of Italian drawings which Primaticcio had brought to France, among them a large group by his former master Giulio Romano. They also replicated compositions from the new galleries at Fontainebleau and developed a distinctive decorative aesthetic of their own.

The British Museum has the richest collection of Fontainebleau School prints outside France. This display marks the recent publication of Catherine Jenkins’s groundbreaking monograph, Prints at the Court of Fontainebleau, c.1542-47.