Marignan by Alexandre Evariste Fragonard: The historical genre revisited by troubadour art

Marignan by Alexandre Evariste Fragonard: The historical genre revisited by troubadour art

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Home ›Studies› Marignan by Alexandre Evariste Fragonard: The historical genre revisited by troubadour art

  • Battle of Marignan

    FRAGONARD Alexandre Evariste (1780 - 1850)

  • Francis Ier armed knight by Bayard on the evening of the battle of Marignan

    FRAGONARD Alexandre Evariste (1780 - 1850)

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Christian Jean / Hervé Lewandowski

Francis Ier armed knight by Bayard on the evening of the battle of Marignan

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: December 2019

Historical context

A Renaissance battle by a troubadour painter to serve the July monarchy

In order to reconcile the revolutionary and monarchical legacies to impose himself as a "citizen-king" and to make forget his father Philippe-Égalité, cousin regicide of Louis XVI, Louis-Philippe Ier had part of the Palace of Versailles redeveloped into a historical museum dedicated "to all the glories of France". Inaugurated in 1837, endowed with funds from royal or private collections and numerous copies and original works, it was all the more successful as it met the taste of the time for the Middle Ages and historical painting already in vogue. under the Restoration. Battle of Marignan, September 14, 1515 painted in 1836 has the honors of the new museum because it takes place in its flagship, the Gallery of Battles, adorned with 33 paintings each linked to a battle in French history between Tolbiac in 496 and Wagram in 1809. Made in 1837, Francis Ier armed knight by Bayard on the evening of the battle of Marignan, September 14, 1515 is a remodeled copy of a Louvre ceiling painted in 1819 and is much less highlighted in the museum.

Image Analysis

François I, king-knight among the French knights

Both works relate to the second day of the most famous episode of the Italian wars. In the 1time year of his reign, Francis Ier resumes the quest of his predecessors and sets out to conquer the Milanese, over which he claims rights through his great-grandmother Valentine Visconti. However, it was not the troops of the Duke of Milan Sforza that the French faced near Marignan but those of his formidable Swiss allies. The battle that the King of France wanted to avoid at all costs and in which he took part began on September 13, 1515 and first turned out badly for the French, saved by the night. The next day, the effectiveness of the artillery and a Venetian reinforcement made the Swiss give up.

In the first painting, the king on a white steed, wears armor covered with a cape, and an open armet plumed in white, his sword hanging from his mount. He restrains his troops with an imperious gesture. Opposite, Swiss soldiers - one holding a long spear, their emblematic weapon - also seem to be stopped and concentrated on a group on the ground at 1er plan. It is undoubtedly the count of Guise wounded but saved by the sacrifice of his squire Adam Nuremberg lying near him. The battle itself is relegated to the background, blurred by clouds of dust and powder, but where we can make out an assault by French cavalry that the Swiss pikemen try to push back, lances ahead. The choice to concentrate in this way on a dramatic anecdote is a code of troubadour art.

The other scene takes place the same evening, under a tent full of banners. It does not show, as the title indicates, the very moment of the dubbing but the one that precedes. Illuminated by the setting sun entering through the opening, dressed in a richly embroidered white cloak, the king stands in the center, on a platform in front of an altar and takes an oath, his right hand on a book, probably a Gospel, printed and illuminated. Sitting in the shadows in a posture emphasizing his age, Pierre du Terrail, Knight of Bayard, before whom the king will kneel as indicated by the presence of a cushion, still wears his armet - suggesting his participation in the battle -and holds his sword between his legs in his right hand. At 1er plan, two tilted pages present the royal sword. The king's dubbing is therefore imminent and will take place in the presence of a bishop standing near the altar. Two richly dressed women, a child and a small dog observe the scene, bringing the intimate and anecdotal character typical of the troubadour style.

We can note the same paradox on both tables: great thoroughness in the treatment of costumes and sets allied to the most obvious lack of realism concerning the composition: This suspended moment of the king facing the Swiss, all concerned about the fate of the Count of Guise is an invention of the painter as well as the religious ceremonial with which he adorns the dubbing scene. If historians today question the very reality of the latter, we can on the other hand consider that it was considered a historical fact in 1836.


A must-see king and battle but not yet popular

Marignan, the first and only major military victory of François Ier opens the doors of Milan to it Even if it will only have a short-term impact, today we are not surprised to find it selected among the glorious days in the history of France. Nonetheless, it is important to note that in the 1830s, she did not yet achieve the fame that school history would later give her. The reign of King Valois suffers from the effects of its devaluation by the Bourbons who preferred the figures of Saint-Louis and Henri IV to him and his image has not yet been positively restored under the July Monarchy. The knight Bayard is then more popular with the public than the king and this will remain the case throughout the XIXe century. But, the iconographic program of the Galerie des Batailles aims to offer the Nation a common and glorious memory transcending political conflicts, thanks to the commemoration of several victories of each dynasty then of the Republic and the Empire. However, that of the Valois knew relatively little and Marignan is undoubtedly the most important in which one of its kings participated. It therefore easily won its place in the selection but without being of interest as such, hence the place left for the picturesque or even the painter's fantasy.

  • Orleans (d ') Louis-Philipe (Philippe-Egalité)
  • Louis XVI
  • Louis Philippe
  • Versailles
  • Museum of the History of France
  • Middle Ages
  • history painting
  • Restoration
  • troubadour genre
  • battlefield
  • battles
  • Louvre
  • Francis I
  • Swiss
  • swiss army
  • artillery
  • Venice
  • horse
  • Bible
  • dubbing
  • bishops
  • Milan
  • Saint Louis
  • Henry IV
  • July Monarchy
  • Knight of Bayard (Pierre du Terrai)


Didier LE FUR, Marignan, 1515, Perrin tempus, Paris, 2015 (1st edition 2004)

Sylvie APRIL, 1815-1870, the unfinished Revolution, Belin, Paris, 2014 (1st edition 2010)

To cite this article

Laetitia REBIFFÉ-CARBONNE, "Marignan by Alexandre Evariste Fragonard: The historical genre revisited by troubadour art"

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