It seems a strange quirk of history that this important painting of King Francis I of France by Joos van Cleve has ended up in Philadelphia, with the painting of his wife now in Austria. His wife is Eleanor of Austria and Queen of France, who was once nearly married to King Henry VIII, but the English King decided to marry her aunt instead, Catherine of Aragon.
It’s not known exactly why this painting, and that of King Francis I’s wife, was undertaken, but it’s possible it was to mark the marriage, which was his second. The painting ended up in the private collection of John G Johnson, a local lawyer who later gave all of his artworks to the museum. I’d be intrigued to know where the painting was held between when it was created in 1532 or 1533 and when Johnson purchased it, but I have no idea how I’d find that out.
Regardless of where it has been, I thought it was historically interesting, although the museum has a rather more crafted and elegant description of the painting:
“Francis is strongly illuminated from the right so that his body casts a strong shadow behind him, securely locating his form in space. Similarly, his hands are modeled with exquisite attention to the way that light falls across them and to their location in front of Francis’s body. This heightened spatial illusionism is challenged by the ornate elements of the king’s richly decorated and bejeweled costume, which is painted almost like a flat enameled surface. Unlike Francis’s elaborate costume of state, Joos did not idealize his face and even emphasized its more homely aspects. Indeed, his large, coarse features and sly expression contrast with the formality of his dress and betray the man behind the head of state.”