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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her sisters

anonymous, French school

Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her sisters - anonymous, French school

Late 16th century
oil on wood
96cm x 125cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

View this work in the exhibition Bathing

The work

This picture, painted around 1594, belongs to the second Fontainebleau school. It shows Gabrielle d'Estrées, who was Henri IV's mistress, together with her sister, the Duchess of Villars, in the bath. But is it really her sister? Probably, since the two women look alike. But what about that gesture? The pinching of the nipple could signify that Gabrielle is pregnant, a supposition corroborated by the maidservant in the background sewing a layette—but is it really a layette? And what of the ring...? Gabrielle, who was waiting for the King to repudiate his official wife, Marguerite de Valois, had three children by him and died before the age of thirty, while pregnant with her fourth child, in 1599. So? Never mind: apart from its mysterious subject, this work displays a somewhat mediocre technique.

The artist

This painting is by an anonymous artist. The Louvre, where it is kept, attributes it to a painter from the Fontainebleau School. There were two: the first, during the reign of François I, was made up of Italian (Primatice, Rosso Fiorentino) and French artists (Caron, Dumoutier, Delaune) who had come to decorate the Château de Fontainebleau, a true architectural manifesto of the French Renaissance. The second, during the reign of Henri IV, brought together two French painters (Toussaint Dureuil and Martin Fréminet) and a Flemish painter (Ambroise Dubois) with the possible addition of a few Parisian artists (Caron or the Cousins).