National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 26, 1975

Annual Index
Author & Subject

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The Monumental Style of Fontainebleau and 
its Consequences: Antoine Caron and
"The Submission of Milan"

by W. McAllister Johnson

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4 

The chronological sequence of the Histoire françoyse commences with the two earliest victories of the reign of Francis I (1515-1547). The sonnet from the verso of the Battle of Marignano (figs 6, 7) does indeed introduce the drawing of the Submission of Milan (fig. 8) from which the Ottawa painting under discussion (fig. 9) is derived:

Entant le Millanois de coup effroyé
Il pense pour son mieux qu'il luy fault condescendre
A quelque honnest accord et pense de nous rendre
4 MILAN, qui s'en alloit autrement fouldroyé
Et voicy tout soubdain comme il a envoyé
Les clefz de la Cité qu'il esproit defendre
Estans le chasteau prest d'estre reduict en cendre
8 Si son accord ne l'eust du malheur desvoyé.

Mais SFORCE le rendant le saulve de ruyne,
Si que luy prisonnier en France on l'achemine,
11 Le ROY faisant pardon au reste des Soldars
Ayant monstré par là quelle estoit sa clemence
A l'endroit des vaincus: comme aux oeuvres de Mars
14 Il leur avoit monstré quelle estoit sa vaillance.

The rhyme scheme (abba, abba, ccd, ede) is a common one. However, it is the catch-words and dependent clauses which should retain our attention: MILAN (cité, chasteau, clefz); SFORCB (vaincus, accord); le. ROY, (nous [français]). If, however, the events and participants are detailed and "given to view," one cannot but remark their curious manner of presentation....

Rather than employing a unified compositional field, the Submission of Milan is fragmented into complementary, though seemingly autonomous scenes - each of which gives some gloss upon the highly conventionalised central panel. The latter would to most eyes be considered sufficient to include all significant historical detail or allusion and would be interpreted accordingly.

However, this "most general" topic is presented, as we have already noticed, at centre, as an inserted, squarish panel. The Surrender of Milan is personified by Francis and Maximilian Sforza, conveniently omitting that they met in Pavia after the event. Each additional constituent element of the composition - which, we must recall, includes the architectural framework into which these elements are worked - has its own scale. Hence, some idea is given of the nature of its subordinate position to the event itself. The four small rectangular scenes of "archetypal" nature are then placed above and below the oval cartouches containing specific anecdotal detail of a kind likely to have been preserved in chronicles. (9) In such way may different temporal and geographical episodes be related to a complex event. The surrendering of the keys is "surmounted" by an equestrian triumph (Francis entered Milan in October of 1515) and "underscored" by the gesture of concord and reconciliation that is the hand-shake. Accordingly, the evacuation of the Citadel (rather than its investiture by French troops depicted at centre) is surmounted by an ecclesiastical homage and underscored by an exchange of coin, whether the payment of mercenaries or the "voluntary" contributions of the Milanese afterwards. In the drawing only (fig. 8) appear the cipher "F" and the salamander identifying Francis I in the most conventional way, although the latter device has a history and circumstantial acceptions of its own. (10)

Owing to the rigid symmetry of all compositional elements, we come to discern what types of scenes are to be considered together - each of which, taken singly, being of only limited use for our intelligence since they are, finally, not as autonomous as might first be thought. (One is, after all, dealing with a pure historical reconstitution in which allegory has no part.) (11) Upon superimposing this intellectual structure upon History, it will be seen that the oval cartouches give the reality of the two surrenders of Milan, for the City and the Citadel functioned quite independently of each other in political and military matters, the Citadel holding the key to the entire Milanese region. (12) It is said that the people of Milan came to Francis asking mercy, ostensibly placing themselves under his protectorate by the presentation of the keys (fig. 10). During this time Maximilian Sforza, his Swiss mercenaries, and Matthias Schimmer, Cardinal Sion, withdrew to the Citadel, coming to the hard decision to negotiate and evacuate (fig. II) only upon the definitive placing of mines at its walls. In acquiescing to Francis's hereditary pretentions to the duchy of Milan, Maximilian received some 30,000 ducats pension and went into retirement in France under more favourable terms than had his predecessor, Ludovico il Moro, who died in chains at Loches.

Since the Ottawa picture is only slightly larger than of France the Caron drawing, the very addition of colour might be of aid in the conclusive identification of any summarily indicated motifs. At the same time, it would pose the twofold problem as to, first, the destination of a picture "brought up" from a wash drawing (perhaps intended for tapestries), and then the correct translation of the linear "annotations" of the drawing, thereby confirming or denying identity of hand. A brief enumeration of changes effected in the course of transposition necessarily follows:

All salamanders and ciphers have been erased (or replaced with other motifs) in rendering the architectural grisaille;

Drawings for the Histore françoyse have a cratouche at bottom centre for the placing of inscriptions, even when these were but rarely inserted. A counterfeit marble panel resembling tortoise-shell is used to fill the void, but it makes a mockery of the glances of the two flanking figures; the obliteration of the arms of France and of Medici at top centre likewise affects the surrounding personifications;

While the flowing garment ornamented with fleur-de-lis (saye) and the diadem on the helmet (both given in the drawing of the Battle of Marignano) indicate the involvement of some French king, he remains hypothetically unrecognisable in the painted version because of the suppresion of personal insignia in the surround and since it was only some four years after this event that Francis grew the luxuriant beard with which he is associated. (13)

For the socially adept, the only internal evidence situating this scene of capitulation would likely be the emblem of Milan appearing in truncated form on the shield presented by the kneeling warrior along with the attributes of radial crown, sceptre, and sword. The child half-swallowed by a serpent would have been recognised as the insignia ducatus Mediolanensis by anyone knowledgeable in heraldry or else possessing any of the editions of the emblems of Alciati. (14) In its present form, the general delineation of the drawing was let stand in the painting. Moreover, the rather complete misunderstanding of the gesticulating left hand of the standard-bearer immediately behind (but at some distance from) the emblemated shield of Milan points to a different hand in the execution. Such is not inconceivable in that Caron seems to have specialised in the creation of drawings for execution as paintings or engravings by others (15); his autograph paintings are rather different in stylistic detail.

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