Henry II Style (1530-1590)

The Henry II style was the chief artistic movement of the sixteenth century in France, part of Northern Mannerism.

It came immediately after High Renaissance and was largely the product of Italian influences. Francis I and his daughter-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici, had imported to France a number Italian artists of Raphael’s or Michelangelo’s school; the Frenchmen who followed them in working in the Mannerist idiom.

info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_II_style

History and curiosities

Saint-Porchaire ware is the earliest very high quality French pottery, and it is also known under the name Henri II ware because some pieces carry the king’s monogram.

Faïences of Saint-Porchaire XVI century.
Faïences of Saint-Porchaire XVI century.

image source: http://regardantiquaire.canalblog.com/archives/2009/05/23/13831550.html

It is white faience ware that was made for a restricted French clientele from the 1520’s to the 1550’s. Only about sixty pieces of this ware survive, but they all clearly show the influence of Mannerist movement.

The link to the village of Saint-Porchaire was first made in 1898, but there is no archaeological evidence to support the village as the kiln site.

The production of Saint-Porchaire ware was labour-intensive, and in overall decorative design, no two pieces are alike.

The basic clay shapes were thrown on the wheel and perhaps refined on the lathe or were assembled from shaped slabs of clay. The surface was then covered with a lead glaze that fired to give a slightly golden transparency. Salt cellars, standing cups with covers, plateaux, ewers and the spouted vessels called “biberons, and candlesticks, often in distinctive bizarre and fantastic designs derived from Mannerist silver- and goldsmiths’ work, are the usual forms of Saint-Porchaire wares.

Furniture style

Diningroom illustration in the " Larousse Illustré ".
Diningroom illustration in the “Larousse Illustré”.

image source: http://www.wikiwand.com/fr/Style_Henri_II_(XIXe_si%C3%A8cle)

Actually the Henri II furniture style is characteristic for the reigns of the last Valois kings, from Henri II and ending at the beginning of the 17th century.

The period was characterized by an intense artistic activity, which led to the appearance of albums of engravings with designs for monuments, furniture, and decorative sculpture, all inspired by classical antiquity.

The authors of these collections of engravings were Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, a Parisian, and Hugues Sambin, a Burgundian. They published the albums in their towns of residence, Paris and Dijon.

Drawing of a mantelpiece at the Château de Madrid, Paris. British Museum, London.
Drawing of a mantelpiece at the Château de Madrid, Paris. British Museum, London.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mantelpiece,_Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Madrid,_Paris,_drawing_by_Jacques_Androuet_du_Cerceau.jpg

The works of these two artists allow us to divide the furniture produced in France in the second half of the 16th century into two schools, that of Île de France, and that of Burgundy.

Wardrobe, Hugues Sambin ,1580.
Wardrobe, Hugues Sambin ,1580.

info source: http://www.european-furniture-styles.com/Henry-II-Furniture.html

This style displayed an architectural character, as did its Gothic predecessor. For example, the armoires had generally four folding-doors, two above and two below, separated with pilasters such that they were imitating an architectural façade.

The architectural effect was enhanced even further by the presence of niches containing statuettes. In the lavish manner characteristic of the Henri II style, sometimes figures were painted in gold. It added details in carving, including strap and band, pierced shield, arabesque, lozenge, cartouche, with shell and scroll carving introduced latter. Favorite motifs were the winged chimeras and the caryatids of mythological inspiration.

Beds were either of rectangular shape, with four balusters supporting a canopy, and the carving of the feet representing griffins, or narrower at the feet than at the head, and having only three balusters to support the canopy, two at the head and one at the foot, representing a man or a woman standing, resting on a T-shaped pedestal.

Furniture tables were rectangular or round. Rectangular tables were richly carved, with the motifs of chimeras and caryatides, and even colonnades and longitudinal arcades, which gave them the same intense architectural feeling.


One of the worlds most famous paintings is of course Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors”, now hanging in the National Gallery in London.

Jean de Dinteville, French Ambassador to the court of Henry VIII of England, and Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. The painting is famous for containing, in the foreground, at the bottom, a spectacular anamorphic, which, from an oblique point of view, is revealed to be a human skull. An Armenian vishapagorg rug is on the table.
The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein, 1533, oil on oak.

image source: https://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/ARTH214/ambassadors_home.html

This huge panel (more than 2m by 2m) is one of the earliest portraits combining two full-length figures painted life-size.

info source: http://www.bernardsmith.eu/The_Renaissance,_and_much_more…/French_-_2nd_Renaissance_Henri_II_(1550-1589).html


The most lasting products of the Henry II style were architectural.

First Rosso Fiorentino and then Francesco Primaticcio and Sebastiano Serlio served Henry II as court artisans, constructing his gallery and the Aile de la Belle Cheminée (1568).

The French architect Pierre Lescot and the sculptor Jean Goujon rebuilt the Palais du Louvre around the now famous square court.

The Château d’Anet, commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, was designed by Philibert Delorme, who studied in Rome. The very mannerist château housed a statue of Diana by Benvenuto Cellini, who was working in France.

Château d'Anet, XVIII century.
Château d’Anet, XVIII century.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ch%C3%A2teau_d%27Anet_(18e_si%C3%A8cle).jpg

In 1564 Delorme began work on the Tuileries, the most outstanding Parisian palais of the Henry II style. It too exhibited a mannerist treatment of classical themes, for which Delorm had developed his own “French order” of columns.

info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_II_style


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