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Jean Clouet, portrait artist to the French court

Unlike his son Francis, Jean Clouet has very few works that survive him. He almost certainly was the major influence of his son’s work, so his influence spans from the beginning of his own career in 1516 to his son’s death in 1572.

There are few completed portraits by either Jean or his son; most of their work are drawings of people of the court done in pencil or chalk. Since a drawing was easier to transport and took less time to complete, both Clouets used them to create “yearbook photographs” of courtiers for their personal collections. A client could purchase a set of family members to send home, or as in Catherine de Medici’s case, use those the drawings as a gage of how healthy her children were.

Collecting and swapping the photos became a popular pastime for the court. Eventually, they used the mobile sketches as a society game. Beneath the portraits were lines identifying the sitter, and many sets had removable cards that would obscure the lines identifying the sitter. It soon became a court game to try and guess the sitter’s identity. I’m assuming that a game like this would put extra pressure on the Clouets to ensure that the drawings were accurate likenesses of the sitters.

By far, the most famous of Jean’s work is the portrait of his patron, Francis, that hangs in the Louvre today. He is also usually credited for the full-length portrait of Henry II, although there is some debate over whether Francis is partially responsible for the portrait.

Jean is credited as the creator of portraits of Francis’s children, the most famous being of his eldest daughter, Charlotte, who died young, and his son, Francis the Dauphin. Francis died before he could become king, and many conspiracy theorists of the time claimed that Catherine de Medici poisoned the Dauphin in order to become the next Queen of France.

Outside of the Royal Family, Jean did few portraits, but his portrait of Claude, the first Duke of Guise is one of my favorites.

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