Lot 50

Sold: 100,000 €

Important bas-relief in gilded bronze representing the bust of François I, Paris, second third of 16th century

Category: Objet d'art ancien

Important bas-relief in gilded bronze representing the bust of François I, Paris, second third of 16th century

H. 49,2 L. 45,2 cm

Provenance :
– Orned the chimney of the Castle of Roujou ou Roujoux, Fresnes (Loir-et-Cher) ;
– Acquired with the chimney at the 19th century by  Gustave-Armand-Henri de Reiset (1821-1905), diplomat;
– In his family ever since


No large bronze portrait of François I from the 16th century is known to exist. Another bust of him in his armor, with the left hand on the waist and the right one holding a baton, currently at the Louvre Museum, is an 18th century model from the sculptor Louis Claude Vassé. It is a later cast from a lost original in sandstone, which used to be at the Fontainebleau Castle.

The bas-relief presented by us has the advantage of resembling other portraits of the King found in gems and medals. Its antique style shows strong Italian influence, possibly from Matteo del Nassaro (c. 1490-1547), active artist in Milan, whom many other portraits of the King are attributed to. This goldsmith originally from Verona, cited as the King’s painter in 1521, lived in Paris during most of his career. The sculptor has possibly been inspired by the King’s profile in a silver medal, made in the event of multiple wars in Italy, currently at the Cabinet des Médailles, for which the issuance dates back from 1538 or 1544. Its similarities are numerous: the hair dressed in parallel hair locks, the beard coming down to the chest until the beginning of the armor, which is decorated with pearls, roses and cherub heads. Among other engravings delicately interpreted in the bas-relief.

With its round bottom and its pins on the back, our portrait of François I was probably part of a big medallion, fixated at a marble background. Possibly decorating an entrance or a chimney. The latter is where a plaster cast of this bas-relief, currently at the de Blois museum, was found. The museum’s collection catalogue, edited in 1888, indicates the object under number 553 and casted by Benvenuto Cellini. The institution received it from the Count of Lezay-Marnésia, ancient mayor of Loir-et-Cher, with the note “casted from a bronze which used to decorate a chimney at the Castle of Roujou. This chimney has been sold to Mr de Reiset”.

An analysis under spectroscopy fluorescent X was realized by the CARAA laboratory for the purpose of determining the present elements blend. It is a mixture known as brass (copper and zinc), with a homogeneous composition and zinc levels of 16%. It also has smaller levels of lead and tin. Meaning the plaque’s compositions is compatible with other works in copper alloy dated from the 15th and 16th century. No other chemical elements that would indicate a later casting of the plaque were found. From all alloys analyzed for an exhibition catalogue on French bronze casts in 2008-2009, our François I bust chemical composition resembles the most a big bronze figure of Dame Tholose, casted by Claude Pehlot circa 1550. We were also able to come to the conclusion that it differs vastly from the famous Nymphe de Fontainebleau, which Cellini casted in 1853 with only 1% of zinc.

If this important plaque of François I resembles the profile on the medal known as “François I invaincu” from Matteo del Nassaro, there are still subtle differences, such as the treatment of the hair, beard and specially a delicacy regarding the arabesques on the armor. This bas-relief in gilded bronze comes surely from the hands of a very talented artist, whom doubtlessly knew the king personally, although we cannot fully attribute to Cellini.

Bibliography: The French Bronze . 1500 to 1800, New York, 1968 ; Expositions Paris-New York- Los Angeles 2008-2009, Bronzes français de la Renaissance au Siècles des lumières, musée du Louvre – The Metropolitan Museum of Art – J. Paul Getty Museum, cat. sous la direction de G. Bresc-Bautier et G. Scherf ; Exposition Blois 2015, Trésors royaux – La bibliothèque de François 1er, château royal, cat. sous la direction de M. Hermant, pp. 241-242.