Jean Fouquet was a preeminent French painter of the 15th century.
Little is known of Fouquet’s early life, but his youthful work suggests that he was trained in Paris under the Bedford Master. His portrait of Charles VII (c. 1447; Louvre, Paris), though a panel painting, displays the use of brittle, incisive line characteristic of miniature painting. This work must have helped to establish his international reputation for, before 1447, he executed in Rome the portrait of Pope Eugenius IV. While in Italy he absorbed the progress that such painters as Masaccio, Fra Angelico, and Piero della Francesca had made in the handling of central perspective and foreshortening and in the rendering of volume.
Upon his return to Tours, Fouquet created a new style, combining the experiments of Italian painting with the exquisite precision of characterization and detail of Flemish art. For the royal secretary and lord treasurer, étienne Chevalier, he executed between 1450 and 1460 his most famous works: a large Book of Hours with about 60 full-page miniatures, 40 of which are among the great treasures of the chateau of Chantilly; and the diptych from Notre Dame at Melun (c. 1450) with Chevalier’s portrait (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin) on one panel and a Madonna with the features of Agnès Sorel, the King’s mistress (Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp), on the other. Also to this period of the reign of Charles VII belong the two richly illuminated manuscripts of a French translation of Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (“On the Fates of Famous Men”) and De claris mulieribus (“On Famous Women”), Cas des nobles hommes et femmes malheureux (1458, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich), and a copy of the Grandes Chroniques de France (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris); and finally, the large altarpiece of the “Pietà” discovered in the church at Nouans, his only monumental painting.
In 1469 King Louis XI founded the Order of St. Michael, and Fouquet illuminated the statutes of the order (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). In 1474 he worked with the sculptor Michel Colombe on the design of the King’s tomb and in the following year received the official title of royal painter. About the same time he completed the illustration of two volumes of a French translation of Josephus’Antiquities of the Jews (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), in which he broadened the range of miniature painting to include vast panoramas of architecture and landscape, making brilliant use of aerial perspective and colour tonality to achieve compositional unity. Fouquet’s work consistently displays clear, dispassionate observation rendered with intricate delicacy and alternates accurate perspective with a flat, non-illusionistic sense of space.