Henry II Style (1530-1590)

The Henry II style spread under the reigns of the last Valois kings, from Henry II to Francis I until the beginning of the 17th century.

History and curiosities

During this period, important French architects and sculptors inspired their ideas to the principles learned in Italy. They brought to France several Italian artists from Raphael‘s or Michelangelo‘s school Saint-Porchaire. This is an example of low-fire white pottery made in France in the middle years of the sixteenth century. It took the name of Henri II ware because some pieces bring the king’s name.

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

Image source: https://issuu.com/alf219/docs/__the_flowering_of_the_french_renai

It is white faience ware designed for a restricted French public. Only about sixty pieces survived, but they all clearly show the influence of the Mannerist movement. The production of Saint-Porchaire used to create unique pieces different from each other. Basic clay shapes were put on the wheel and refined. The surface was then protected with a lead glaze to give golden transparency. It is possible to see upon these pieces distinctive designs derived from Mannerist works of art.

Footed bowl and cover 1550-1575
Footed bowl and cover 1550-1575

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Porchaire_ware

Furniture style

During this period there was an important artistic activity that led to the birth of albums of engravings inspired by classical antiquity. The authors  were Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, a Parisian, and Hugues Sambin, a Burgundian. They sold albums in their cities, 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://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mantelpiece,_Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Madrid,_Paris,_drawing_by_Jacques_Androuet_du_Cerceau.jpg

The schools of the Henry II style can be distinguished by their way of carving: the one of the Île de France, and the one of the Burgundy. The Burgundian style used a lavish carving  suggesting richness. The Île de France school preferred the elegantly sculpted goddesses of Jean Goujon.

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

Image source: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/486388828491532818/

The Henry II style featured an architectural character, as did Gothic. For example, the armoires had four doors, two above and two below, separated by pilasters. The architectural effect was improved by the presence of niches with statuettes. Mythological figures were favorite motifs.

French Reanissance style bed.
French Reanissance style bed.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/322570392031542016/

Rectangular tables were engraved, with chimeras and caryatides, and even colonnades and longitudinal arcades, which brought to them the same incredible architectural feeling.

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

Image source: http://gutenberg.readingroo.ms/1/2/2/5/12254/12254-h/12254-h.htm


Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” is one of the best-known paintings in the world. It was made in the Tudor period. It is a double portrait, the painting tells about still life and features several very well rendered objects, the meaning of which caused important debates. It is preserved in the collection of 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://mywowo.net/en/united-kingdom/london/national-gallery/the-ambassadors-holbein


Many products of the Henry II style were architectural and they lasted until today. First Rosso Fiorentino and then Francesco Primaticcio and Sebastiano Serlio became Henry II’s court artisans, building up his gallery and the Aile de la Belle Cheminée.

Aile de la Belle Cheminée, 1568.
Aile de la Belle Cheminée, 1568.

Image source: https://www.akg-images.com/archive/-2UMDHU24DHL5.html

The French architect Pierre Lescot and the sculptor Jean Goujon restored the Palais du Louvre that laid around the famous square court. The Château d’Anet,  was commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II and was designed by Philibert Delorme, that studied in Rome. The very mannerist estate hosted a statue of Diana by Benvenuto Cellini, that was in France at the time.

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

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_d%27Anet

In 1564 Delorme began the project for the Tuileries, the most surprising Parisian palace of the Henry II style. It also featured several mannerist classical themes, for which Delorm developed his own “French order” of columns.

Tuileries Palace, Paris.
Tuileries Palace, Paris.

Image souce: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuileries_Palace

Info source: https://www.britannica.com/art/Henry-II-style