In the same mood of classic tradition softened by French refinement and feeling, the sculptors adorned the churches, mansions, gardens, and tombs of the great. Germain Pilon inherited the Renaissance grace of Cellini, Primaticcio, and Jean Goujon, but he remembered too the Gothic merger of tenderness and strength. His masterpieces are three tombs. One, in the abbey church of St.-Denis, reunited in death Catherine de Médicis and her occasional husband Henry II—the Queen dowered with an idealized beauty that would have warmed her solitary heart. Another, now in the Louvre, honored René de Birague, Chancellor to Francis II and Charles IX—a picture of pride humbled to piety, a marvel of pliant drapery caught in bronze. Beside this is the tomb of Rene’s wife, Valentine Balbiani: above, the lady in her prime, glorified with figured robes; below, the same beauty ruthlessly carved as a corpse, with bony face, hands, and legs, corrugated chest, and sunken empty breasts; this is a powerful outcry of anger against time’s sardonic desecration of loveliness. These tombs alone would have raised Pilon above any other French sculptor of the age; but he added to them an abundance of statuary, all of arresting merit, and now mostly gathered into France’s inexhaustible treasury, the Louvre.
There, too, within a few paces, one may see works of Pilon’s successors: a life figure of Henry IV by Barthélemy Tremblay, with a smile as puzzling as Mona Lisa’s; the tomb of Anne de Montmorency by Barthélemy Prieur; and a lively Renommée (Fame) by Pierre Briard—a nude blowing from puffed cheeks and writing in the air, as if to say, improving on Keats, “Here lies one whose name was writ in wind.” In the chapel at Chantilly is a memorable monument to Cardinal de Bérulle by Jacques Sarazin. Some of these sculptors studied in Rome and brought back from Bernini a baroque tendency to excessive ornament, movement, and emotion, but these excesses soon vanished under the cold eye of Richelieu and the classic taste of Louis XIV. The smooth perfection of le grand siècle already appears in the medallions of Jean Varin, who came from Liège to live in France, and who reached, in his minuscule portraits of Richelieu, Mazarin, and Anne of Austria, an excellence no later medalist has ever surpassed.
If France had left us no sculpture, architecture, or painting she would still command our loving homage for her achievements in the lesser arts. Even in this harassed interval between Francis I and Louis XIV, the drawings, engravings, enamels, goldsmithery, gem cutting, ironwork, woodwork, textiles, tapestries, and garden designs of France rivaled—some would say surpassed—the like products of her contemporaries from Flanders to Italy. Jacques Callot’s drawings of gypsies, beggars, and tramps carry the very odor of life, and his series of etchings The Miseries of War stole a march of two centuries on Goya. Let the iron artistry of the age be judged from the grille leading to the Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre. Tapestry was as much a major art as sculpture or painting. Jean Gobelin had opened dye works in Paris in the fifteenth century; in the sixteenth the firm added a tapestry factory; Francis I established another at Fontainebleau, Henry II a third in the capital. When Catherine de Médicis went to meet the Spanish envoys at Bayonne she took with her twenty-two tapestries woven for Francis I to display the wealth and art of France. The art-craft declined under Henry II, but Henri Quatre restored it by bringing a new generation of Flemish designers, dyers, and weavers to the Gobelin plant in Paris. Five distinguished specimens from his reign—The Hunt of Diana—adorn the Morgan Library in New York.
Interior decoration felt the baroque influence seeping in from Italy. Chairs, tables, chests, buffets, cabinets, dressers, bedsteads were curved and carved luxuriantly, often inlaid with ebony, lapis lazuli, jasper or agate, or adorned with statuettes. In the Louis Treize period many chairs were upholstered in velvet, needlework, or tapestry. Walls, cornices, and ceilings might be carved or painted with a frolic of plant or animal forms. Fireplaces lost some of their medieval ruggedness, and were sometimes embellished with delicate arabesques in polychrome.
In pottery it was the heyday of two old men: Léonard Limousin, who continued till 1574 to produce such enamels as had made him famous under Francis I,VII and Bernard Palissy, who, born in 1510, survived till 1589. Palissy was a man mad about pottery, with a passionate curiosity spilling over into agriculture, chemistry, and religion, interested in everything from the formation of stones to the nature of deity. He studied the chemistry of diverse soils to get the best clay for his kiln, and he experimented for years to produce a white enamel that would take and hold delicate hues. He burned half his belongings to feed his ceramic furnace, and told the story as if challenging Cellini. Too poor to hire help, he did all the work himself; he cut his hands so frequently that, he said, “I was forced to eat my soup with my hands bound up in rags.” And: “After working like this for ten years, I was so thin that no muscles appeared on my arms or legs; my legs were so thin that the garters with which I hold up my stockings [no longer held them] … When I walked my stockings fell to my ragged shoes.”141 His neighbors accused him of practicing magic and neglecting his family. Finally, about 1550, he found the mixture he sought, made an enamel of iridescent glaze, and used it to fashion vessels and figurines brilliantly adorned with fishes, lizards, snakes, insects, birds, stones—all the plethora of nature. Catherine de Médicis delighted to place these artificial fossils in her garden and flower beds; she gave the old potter a workshop in the Tuileries, and in his new environment he added naiads and nymphs to his decorations. Though a zealous Huguenot, he was exempted from the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, for Catherine and her court were fascinated by his vases, cups, plates, candlesticks, and quaint ideas. But in 1588 the Catholic League ordered a new prosecution of Protestants, and Palissy was sent to the Bastille. A diarist wrote in 1590:
In this year [actually in 1589] there died in the dungeons of the Bastille Maître Bernard Palissy, a prisoner on account of his religion, aged eighty years; he succumbed to misery, ill-treatment, and want…. The aunt of this good man having gone to inquire how he was, … the jailer told her that if she wished to see him she would find him a corpse with the dogs along the ramparts, where he had caused him to be thrown like the dog that he was.142