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Work Angel Engraving the Memory of Francis II on a Tablet

Department of Sculptures: France, Renaissance

Angel Engraving the Memory of François I on a Tablet

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

France, Renaissance

Montalbetti Valérie

This elegant angel, intent on his work, engraves the memory of the short-lived Valois king Francis II on a tablet. He was one of the three funerary spirits destined to decorate the monument containing the king's heart in Orléans Cathedral. The initial project was never realized, and the work remained on its own. It is one of only two known works by Roussel, who played a very active role in the decoration of the Château de Fontainebleau.

A short reign

This elegant winged adolescent, sitting on a rock and intently writing on a tablet, is recalling the memory of Francis II, king of France. The eldest son of Henry II and Cathérine de Médicis, Francis II married Mary Stuart and became king of France on his father's death in 1559. He died shortly afterwards, in 1560, and was succeeded by his brother Charles IX.

A funerary spirit

This funerary spirit was destined for the monument containing Francis II's heart, which Primaticcio, the famous Italian artist who directed the refurbishment of the Château de Fontainebleau, was to erect in Orléans Cathedral. The monument consisted of a marble column topped by a copper angel surrounded by three funerary spirits on a triangular base. The sculptor Frémyn Roussel, who had worked under Primaticcio at Fontainebleau in the 1560s, was commissioned to sculpt the spirit of history. He received two payments for its execution in 1563 and 1565. Girolamo della Robbia, an Italian sculptor also working at Fontainebleau, was commissioned to sculpt the two other spirits but died before they were completed. This prompted a complete change in the project, of which Roussel's work was no longer a part. In the 18th century, it was deposited in the basilica of Saint-Denis as an autonomous piece.

A sculpture of Italianate majesty

The sculpture's very Italianate elegance probably stems from the fact that Primaticcio did the drawing for it. The adolescent's hunched posture, sitting on a rock gazing intently down at the tablet, is freely inspired by a famous classical statue, the Spinario or Thorn Puller (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome), offered by Pope Sixtus IV to the people of Rome in 1471. The sculptor gave the spirit a vigorous, firm-fleshed physique. The drapery of the light tunic, worn over only one shoulder, falls in gentle folds over the rock below. Two fibula clasp the garment at the hip. The highly decorative texture of the fuzzy hair was achieved using a trepan. This sculpture is a pricless record of this artist's work, of which there is only one other known example, the bas-relief of Charity executed for the tomb of Henry II in the basilica of Saint-Denis.


Beaulieu Michèle, Description raisonnée des sculptures du musée
du Louvre, t. II Renaissance française, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion
des musées nationaux 1978, p. 167, n 256.
L'École de Fontainebleau, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Grand Palais, 1972, n 553.

Technical description

  • Frémyn ROUSSEL (active from 1563 to 1570)

    Angel Engraving the Memory of François I on a Tablet

  • Marble

    H. 0.95 m; W. 0.55 m; D. 0.46 m

  • Provenance: Musée des Monuments Français, 1821 , 1821

    M.R. 1585

  • Sculptures

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