My work is informed by my fascination with history, mostly European. I am struck by how history repeats itself. George Santayana said it best: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Lessons are never truly learned and the French renaissance is one example.
The reasons for this are because the French renaissance is a lot like today, but without the comforts. It was a time of extreme violence, economic disparity, bigotry, religious wars, pandemics, fanaticism and, surprisingly, a flowering in the arts. The parallels to the world today are dismaying and surprising.
The French renaissance was defined by the struggle for power between various warring factions; the Catholics versus the Protestants( Huguenots), Catholic extremism versus Catholic compromise, the after effects of the Reformation, aristocracy versus the peasant class and the burgeoning middle class. In the end very little was resolved and France and Europe were left bankrupt and exhausted.
The Valois presided over much of this. Ambitious, greedy, ruthless, sensuous, sickly and arrogant, the Valois personified their times. Their dynasty weakened over time with each successive generation, becoming more and more divisive, decadent and distant from their subjects. The last Valois, Henry III, was a cross dressing( to me a plus!), murderous fanatic who was stabbed to death by a mad monk.
The duality of the French renaissance is exemplified by my use of a technique used mostly by carnivals and Cracker Jacks, the lenticular flip where one image ”flips” or transitions into another image using a grid of grooved lenses. I have taken the official portraits and sculpture Valois kings( and some queens) and digitally manipulated them with images that define their reigns. When the image flips to the second layer one can see the “other side” of both the person and the time they lived in. This second layer can be an image tied to the renaissance or to the world today, natural phenomenon, crime scenes, cinema, science.
This series was created to provide a vehicle for people to rethink their perceptions of the world around them using history as a springboard. The use of the playful carny flip technique makes the disturbing images accessible on a gut level. With the addition of the image’s the artworks becomes more and more alarming.
Philip VI( 1293-1350) The Fortunate: Not so fortunate. The 100 Years War began with Philip. The most devastating defeat happened in the Battle of Crécy. Before the battle was joined a storm ravaged the battlefield followed by a huge swlrling flock of panicked crows. Not a good omen. Philip died during the first wave of Bubonic Plague to hit Europe. Detail: Before he died he made the bad move of marrying his son’s fiancé turning even his family against him.
Jeanne the Lame( 1298-1348) : Lady Macbeth: Jeanne was the Duchess of Burgundy before marrying Philip VI in 1313. Jeanne was considered a sort of Lady Macbeth in that she was the true power behind the king, being ruthless in her pursuit of control and power. Both she and Philip were loathed. She died of the plague. Detail: She was nicknamed “Jeanne the Lame”, lameness being considered a mark of evil. No recorded evidence points to any malformation.
Jean II ( 1319-1364) The Good: He was taken captive by the Black Prince and held for ransom in England. He negotiated a return to France. Whether a foolish or simply stupidity, John returned to English captivity and died while captive.
Charles V ( 1338-1380) The Wise: Secretive, thin, ill proportioned, intelligent, taciturn and riddled with gout, Charles won back much of territorial France. He was the first of the great Valois builders( the Louvre and Bastille He is credited with starting the National Library of France.
Charles VI ( 1368-1422) The Mad: Charles was crowned king at the age of 13. He suffered from bouts of psychosis from an early age requiring regents who did their best to screw up France. Charles thought that he was made of glass.
Isabeau of Bavaria( 1385-1422): The Failure: Isabeau married king Charles VI when she was 15, three days after their first meeting. She reintroduced luxury and spectacle to the dour French court. In 1392 her husband began to experience a series of bouts of madness. The power vacuum left by Charles VI left Isabeau as regent. This was during a particularly contentious period. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Isabeau was a failure at dealing with all the warring factions and has gone down in history as a traitor, spendthrift and adulterous whore.
Catherine de Valois(1401-1437) The Vixen: Married to England’s Henry V( remember Shakespeare’s play Henry V?) she became his queen consort till his death of dysentery in 1492. Luckily he had impregnated Catherine and she gave birth to the future Henry VI. Being only 21 the lovely Catherine having a healthy sexual appetite, fell in love with Owen Tudor who she may, or may not have married. One of their grandchildren became Henry VII and began the notorious Tudor Dynasty.
Charles VII( 1403-1461) The Victorious: Best known for being uncrowned and hopeless until his reign and kingdom were saved through the miracle of Joan of Arc and her unswerving dedication to him and her visions. Burned at the stake by the English, the self-serving Charles did nothing to save her.
Agnes Sorel( 1422-1450) The Breast: One of the greatest beauties of renaissance France, Agnes was the first official mistress of the monarch( Mistresse en Titre). The monarch, Charles VII was a dour and depressive sort and Agnes was able to bring him out of his misery. Agnes was extravagant and very influential at court. She was very powerful and had many enemies. She died at the age of 28 of possible mercury poisoning.
Louis XI( 1423-1483) The Universal Spider: Secretive, cunning, ruthless and superstitious, Louis XI worked the strings of governments like a harp. He loved plotting conspiracies.
Charles VIII( 1470-1498) The Affable: One of the most foolish and incompetent monarchs of France. He wanted to conquer Italy. He failed miserably and bankrupted his kingdom. He died after a tennis game when he hit his head on a stone doorway lintel.
Anne of Britanny( 1477-1514) The Wealthy: Anne was the richest woman in Europe, she married Charles VIII and Louis XII. She ran the country for them both. She bore 14 children. Only three survived.
Louis XII( 1462-1515) The Father of the People: A successful administrator and reformer. He had three wives but no children. In his gouty old age he died trying to get his last wife pregnant.
Jeanne de France( 1464-1505): The Saint: Jeanne was married to Louis XII at the age of 12. He divorced her due to his disgust of her, supposed, hunchback. It has been called “the seamiest lawsuit in history.” Jeanne was made the Duchess of Berry and retired to a quiet religious life. She founded the cloistered Order of the Sisters of the Annunciation of Mary. She was declared a saint in 1950. Detail: When her body was exhumed by Protestants for desecration it was found to be incorrupt.
Francis I( 1494-1547) The Ambitious: Francis I was the first true renaissance monarch of France. His reign coincided with the Protestant reformation. His catholic paranoia led to increasingly violent persecution. Extravagant and sensual he left France richer in culture but economically weaker. He died of syphilis.
Marguerite of Navarre( 1492-1549): Sister of Francois I, Marguerite was queen in her own right via her second marriage to Henri II the king of the vassal state of Navarre. Marguerite is considered to be one of the most influential monarchs of the French renaissance. She was a skilled diplomat as well as an author of works still in print today. Marguerite wrote many poems and plays. Her most notable works are a classic collection of short stories, the Heptameron, and a remarkably intense religious poem, Miroir de l’âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul) Detail: Marguerite may have had a major influence on the English reformation by giving books on Protestantism to Anne Boleyn when she was lady-in-waiting to the French Queen.
Henry II( 1519-1547)The Quiet Burn: Sullen in his youth he blossomed as king and merrily killed as many Protestants as he did hunting deer. He died in a joust when a lance pierced through his eye to his brain.
Diane de Poitiers( 1500-1566)The Goddess: Diane de Poitiers was the official mistress of Henry II. She was twenty years senior to Henry but that did not effect his devotion to her. She ruled him and through him was the true Queen of France. A great beauty, she maintained her looks till well into her 50’s.
Catherine de Medici ( 1519-1589) The Conciliator: Catherine was married to Henry II and had to compete with his mistress Diane de Poitiers who ruled her lover. After ten years she finally produced a string of 10 children. Her secret motto was Hate and Wait. She lived for her children and the art of compromise.
Francis II ( 1544-1560) The Brief: Married at 14, king at 15 and dead at 16, Francis did not live long enough to do much of anything. His wife was Mary, Queen of Scots and she towered above her short, sickly husband. He died of an ear infection that developed into an abscess into his brain.
Charles IX ( 1550-1574) The Guilty: Thousands of Protestants were slaughtered by Catholics in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Charles was sent into a tailspin of grief, hysteria and guilt afterwards. He accused everyone including his mother of plotting against him.
Elizabeth of Austria ( 1554-1592) The Kindly Bigot: The wife and queen of Charles IX. Virtuous, beautiful and warm hearted. Devout in her piety to the point rigidity. She hated her Protestant subjects to the point where she would not allow them to kiss her hand when paying homage.
Henry III( 1551-1589) The Hypocrite: Momma’s boy and probably gay. Vacillated between doing drag and wearing too much jewelry to flailing himself bloody doing penance. Vigorously persecuted Protestants when it suited his purpose.
Louise of Lorraine( 1553-1601) The White Queen: Dull and pious. She worshiped her husband Henry III. Unable to have children she had chronic depression. After Henry was assassinated only wore white for mourning and her bedroom was painted black with silver tears covering the walls.
Marguerite de Valois( 1553-1615) The Glutton: Two times a queen. Known through history as the notorious La Reine Margot. Not a bigot she saved many Protestants from slaughter. She spent her life living with sensual extravagance and reckless rebellion against the government. She was the last survivor of the House of Valois.