According to Mathgeneral, the feudal world has left the gigantic ruins of its castles scattered in the countryside. Those of the Crusaders (Karitaena and Mystras near Sparta, the Krak of the Knights in Lebanon); the Castle of Rhodes and the others whose ruins are scattered throughout Syria and the Peloponnese, show how the French were able to profit from the lessons of the Saracens, heirs of the military secrets of the Byzantines and Romans. Château-Gaillard, built by Richard the Lionheart to bar Normandy, is the first example in France of this type of fortress. Soon Philip Augustus had the Louvre built, then demolished by Francesco I. The keep of Étampes (12th century), formed by a bundle of four towers, is, together with that of Provins, one of the very few still existing in the surroundings of Paris. The most formidable was the keep of Coucy (sec. XIII), but having been destroyed during the last war, it remains only to mention the large ruins of Chateau-Thierry (Aisne) and those of Clisson in the Vendée. The keep of Vincennes (13th century) is the only one that remains of the royal castles from the time of St. Louis. That military architecture was not made for beauty, and the appearance of artillery then rendered it useless; even the feudal nobility remained attached to it; for a long time it kept the old scheme – a wall flanked by towers – as well as the tournaments, parade weapons and certain knightly traditions. The cities, however, as soon as they could, got rid of their old bulwarks; in Paris the only name of the Châtelet remains, which defended the bridgehead of the island of the Cité, and just a stretch of the wall of Philip Augustus (13th century). Provins, Falaise, Dinant, Semur are the main cities of the North that have preserved their walls; in the south, the three most famous are Aigues-Mortes, Carcassonne (13th century) and Avignon (14th century). The popes, transferring their headquarters to Avignon, brought with them a whole court of dignitaries, artists, officials of Italian origin. Already Italian masters, Filippo Rusuti and his son, perhaps the same to whom we owe the mosaic of the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore, had worked in Poitiers at the time of Philip the Fair. It is known that Simone Martini died in Avignon in 1344; unfortunately the fresco he had painted in the atrium of Notre-Dame des Doms has almost disappeared. In the private apartments of Clement VI, in the Garde-Robe tower, there are exquisite frescoes depicting hunting scenes due to Matteo da Viterbo. The Palazzo dei Papi was the meeting point of the arts of the North and of Italy. In some respects the century. Compared with the previous ones, it is a prosaic century: the generous idealism of the age of cathedrals is now outdated. The cathedrals of Évreux and Saint Ouen of Rouen are the last to be built with the ancient proportions.
But this age of the first Valois, morally so much lower than the century of St. Louis, marks a fruitful transformation. Realism makes its way; the portrait appears. In fact, the portrait of John the Good, attributed to Girard d’Orléans (c. 1355), now in the Louvre, is from that time; the statues of Charles V and his wife Bona di Savoia, formerly in the Celestine door, and now in the Louvre; the portraits of the same princes drawn on the frontal of Narbonne (c. 1370; Louvre), and on a very large quantity of manuscripts; the portraits on the tombs of Saint-Denis: of Charles V by André Beauneveu, etc. For the architecture we have only the ruins of the buildings built for King Charles V and his brothers, the Dukes of Burgundy, Orleans and Berry, as well as the famous Hôtel Saint-Pol, the Hôtel des Tournelles in Paris., the famous staircase by Raymond du Temple in the Louvre then copied in Blois (v.) and Chambord (v.), the Bastille, the castle of Beauté on the island of the Marne. There remains a large hall of the palace of Poitiers, the tower of the Dukes of Dijon; and, of the Duke of Orléans, the castle of Pierrefonds (Oise) and the marvelous remains of the one in La Ferté-Milon (Aisne).
Under those principles, Paris, even more than Avignon, became a capital of the arts, a center of attraction for painters (André Beauneveu, of Valenciennes; Jacquemart de Hesdin; Jacques Coënne; the three Malouels, called the brothers de Limbourg). The artistic ties with Flanders and Italy were further strengthened following the marriage of the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good with the heiress of France (1384), the richest princess of Christianity. In turn, the Duke of Orléans marries a Milanese, Valentina Visconti. The construction of the Milan cathedral itself does not fail to help activate the artistic relations between the two countries. Paris thus became a meeting point for elements from the Netherlands, Avignon and Lombardy. From this mixture a new art was born, of complex tendencies, decorative and naturalistic. The splendid example is Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1390) in the castle of La Ferté-Milon; but the essential work of this era is the complex of sculptures of the Chartreuse of Champmol in Dijon, made by Jean de Marville and Claus Sluter (died 1404) for the Duke of Burgundy. The Virgin and donors, in the portal, and above all the prodigious Prophets of the Well of Moses they are works conceived in a singular, redundant, lyrical, already almost baroque style. This mighty and impure art, improperly called Burgundian, was to dominate Gothic sculpture for a whole century. Similar tendencies are manifested in painting and stained glass (stained glass window by Charles the Evil in Notre-Dame d’Évreux, stained-glass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle in Bourges, tapestries in Angers, by Jean de Bruges and Nicolas Bataille). With the Heures de Boucicaut, around 1390 (Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris) and the precious Heures of the Duke of Berry, 1416, due to the Limbourg brothers (museum of Chantilly), the landscape appears, the reproduction of things and places. The calendar pages beginning in this manuscript mark a date in painting, the dawn of the modern feeling of nature. The paintings of the Chartreuse of Champmol, the triptych of Broederlam, now in the museum of Dijon, the panels of Jean Malouel and Henri Bellechose, now in the Louvre, have equal importance: they are a prelude to the art of the van Eycks, in them is already the spirit of “Northern Renaissance”, ie the Renaissance based on pure naturalism.
The political adversities of the realm interrupted the course of this brilliant future, to which, moreover, the artists of Flanders had collaborated so much; Paris lost its rank as capital for two centuries, French art took refuge in the provinces; two important centers were the Rhone valley, Burgundy and Avignon one, the Loire, in Touraine, with King Renato d’Angiò, the other. The first is linked to some great works of sculpture: the tomb of the Dukes of Burgundy (Dijon museum); those of Souvigny (Allier), of Cardinal Lagrange (Avignon museum), of Pilippo Pot (around 1480, in the Louvre). They reflect the new Burgundian school, the spirit of which, expressed with greater sweetness, it is found on the banks of the Loire in the tomb of the sons of Charles VIII (Cathedral of Tours) and in those of the Dukes of Brittany (around 1500-10, Nantes Cathedral) by Michel Colombe. Painting is always dominated by the Flemish influence; L’ Annunciation of Aix (1444), the Nativity of Autun, the works of Enguerrand Charonton (Coronation of the Virgin, 1454, in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon) and Nicolas Froment (Triptych of the Uffizî, 1470; Triptych of Aix; the Burning bush ; parliament altarpiece, circa 1480, now in the Louvre).
While France was miraculously saved from the severe test of the century. XV, Italy was experiencing one of the greatest centuries of its history: its Renaissance. Florence had placed itself at the head of this extraordinary movement; and he was forging a new language, based on the rational study of nature, which was not long in relegating the Gothic to antiquities. From that labor a concept of humanity arose which, essentially, is still ours. The centuries during which Italy was to be the queen of the arts began.