Taking its name from medieval troubadours, the Troubadour Style (French: Style troubadour) is a rather derisive term, in English usually applied to French historical painting of the early 19th century with idealised depictions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In French it also refers to the equivalent architectural styles. It can be seen as an aspect of Romanticism and a reaction against Neoclassicism, which was coming to an end at the end of the Consulate, and became particularly associated with Josephine Bonaparte and Caroline Ferdinande Louise, duchesse de Berry. In architecture the style was an exuberant French equivalent to the Gothic Revival of the Germanic and Anglophone countries. The style related to contemporary developments in French literature, and music, but the term is usually restricted to painting and architecture.
The rediscovery of medieval civilization was one of the intellectual curiosities of the beginning of the 19th century, with much input from the Ancien Régime and its institutions, rites (the coronation ceremony dated back to the 16th century) and the medieval churches in which family ceremonies occurred.
Even while exhuming the remains of the kings and putting on the market a multitude of objects, works of art and elements of medieval architecture, the revolutionaries brought them back to life, it could be said. The Musée des Monuments français (Museum of French Monuments), established in the former convent that would become Paris's École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, presented all this glorious debris of the Middle Ages as subjects of admiration for the public and as models of inspiration for students of the departments of engraving, painting and sculpture, but not those of architecture since teaching of this subject had been dissociated from the "beaux-arts" and placed in the École centrale des travaux publics under the direction of J.N.L Durand, a harsh promoter of the neoclassical architecture that characterized the styles of the Convention and Consulate. Later, from the Bourbon Restoration and under the impulse of Quatremère de Quincy and Mérimée, a new tradition of teaching architecture put it back under the fine arts umbrella, in the margins of the declining official school, beginning with private workshops that behaved as diocesan architects working for historic monuments that would give rise to the Société Centrale des Architectes and make Troubador-style architecture possible.
The resurgence of Christian feeling and in Christianity in the arts, with the publication in 1800 of Le Génie du Christianisme ('the Genius of Christianity'), played a major role in favour of edifying painting, sculpture and literature, often inspired by religion.
Artists and writers rejected the neo-antique rationalism of the French Revolution and turned towards a perceived glorious Christian past. The progress of the history and archaeology in the course of the 18th century began to bear fruit, at first, in painting. Paradoxically these painters of the past were unaware of the primitives of French painting, finding it too academic and not sufficiently filled with anecdote.
Napoleon himself did not disdain this artistic current: he took as his emblem the golden beehive on the grave of the Merovingian king Childeric I, rediscovered in the 17th century, and saw himself as the heir of the French monarchy. He also gave official recognition to the Middle Ages in the forms of his coronation, and tried to profit from other trappings of the medieval French kings, perhaps even their miraculous curative powers (Bonaparte visiting the plague-victims of Jaffa by Antoine-Jean Gros was read as a modern re-envisgaing of the thaumaturgical kings[by whom?]).
Public interest in the Middle Ages in literature first manifested itself in France and above all England. In France, this came with the adaptation and publication from 1778 of ancient chivalric romances by the Comte de Tressan (1707–1783) in his Bibliothèque des romans, and in England with the first fantastical romances and gothic novels, such as The Castle of Otranto (1764). These English romances inspired late 18th-century French writers to follow suit, such as Donatien de Sade with his Histoire secrete d'Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France. The Le Troubadour, poésies occitaniques (1803) by Fabre d'Olivet popularized the term, and may have led to the naming of the style in art. The Waverley Novels of Walter Scott were hugely popular across Europe, and a major influence on both painting and French novelists such as Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo.
In painting, the troubadour style was represented by history painting portraying edifying historical episodes, often borrowing its smoothness, its minute and illusionistic description of detail, its rendering of fabrics, the intimate character of its familiar scenes and its other technical means from Dutch Golden Age painting. The paintings were typically rather small cabinet paintings, often showing quiet intimate anecdotal moments rather than moments of high drama, though these were both depicted. As well as figures from political history, famous artists and authors of the past were often shown, especially Raphael and Dante. Ingres' Death of Leonardo da Vinci in the arms of King Francois I of France is one of several works bringing rulers and artists together. A number of paintings by Ingres are in the style, and lesser artists such as Pierre-Henri Révoil (1776–1842) and Fleury-François Richard (1777–1852) specialized in the style. The Belgian Henri Leys painted in a more sombre version of the style much influenced by Northern Renaissance painting. Richard Parkes Bonington is better remembered for his landscapes, but also painted in the style, as did Eugène Delacroix. The peak period was brought to an end by the Revolution of 1848, and later the arrival of Realism, although the style arguably merged into late 19th-century academic painting. The transition can be seen in the work of Paul Delaroche.
Arguably the first troubadour painting was presented at the Salon of 1802, under the French Consulate. It was a work by Fleury-Richard, Valentine of Milan weeping for the death of her husband, a subject which had come to the artist during a visit to the "musée des monuments français", a museum of French medieval monuments. A tomb from this museum was included in the painting as that of the wife. Thanks to its moving subject matter, the painting was an enormous success – seeing it, David cried "This resembles nothing anyone else has done, it's a new effect of colour; the figure is charming and full of expression, and this green curtain thrown across this window renders the illusion complete". Compositions lit from the back of the scene, with the foreground in semi-darkness, became rather a trademark of the early years of the style.
Fragonard's painting of François Premier reçu chevalier par Bayard (Francis I knighted by Bayard, Salon of 1819) has to be read not as a rediscovery of a medieval past, but as a memory of a recent monarchic tradition.
Reaction to this genre, as to the Pre-Raphaelites in England, has been mixed. It can be seen as overly sentimental or unrealistically nostalgic, treating its subjects in a way "later associated with Hollywood costume dramas. To its proponents, the archaic details were regarded as a rallying cry for a new, localized nationalism, purged of classical (or neo-classical) and Roman influence. The small size of many of the canvases was considered a reference to Northern, primitive painting, devoid of Italian influence. To others, the small canvas sizes represent the artworks' insignificance and lack of vigor. All the brass, gilding, carving and inlaid historical detail of the headboards of the world could not redeem such objects as anything other than interior decoration.
A fashion for medieval architecture may be seen throughout 19th century Europe, originating in England, and a blooming of the Neogothic style, but in France this remains limited to certain 'feudal' buildings in the parks surrounding châteaux. After the Troubadour style disappeared in painting, around the time of the 1848 French Revolution, it continued (or re-emerged) in architecture, the decorative arts, literature and theatre.