Catherine de' Medici's patronage of the arts made a significant contribution to the French Renaissance. Catherine was inspired by the example of her father-in-law, King Francis I of France (reigned 1515–1547), who had hosted the leading artists of Europe at his court. As a young woman, she witnessed at first hand the artistic flowering stimulated by his patronage. As governor and regent of France, Catherine set out to imitate Francis's politics of magnificence. In an age of civil war and declining respect for the monarchy, she sought to bolster royal prestige through lavish cultural display.
After the death of her husband, Henry II, in 1559, Catherine governed France on behalf of her young sons King Francis II (1559–60) and King Charles IX (1560–74). Once in control of the royal purse, she launched a program of artistic patronage which lasted for three decades. She continued to employ Italian artists and performers, including the artist-architect Primaticcio. By the 1560s, however, a wave of home-grown talent—trained and influenced by the foreign masters brought to France by Francis—came to the fore. Catherine patronised these new artists and presided over a distinctive late French-Renaissance culture. New forms emerged in literature, architecture, and the performing arts. At the same time, as art historian Alexandra Zvereva suggests, Catherine became one of the great art collectors of the Renaissance.
Although Catherine spent ruinous sums on the arts, the majority of her patronage had no lasting effect. The end of the Valois dynasty shortly after her death brought a change in priorities. Her collections were dispersed, her palaces sold, and her buildings were left unfinished or later destroyed. Where Catherine had made her mark was in the magnificence and originality of her famous court festivals. Today's ballets and operas are distantly related to Catherine de' Medici's court productions.
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