The Bath of Diana - Francois Clouet (Musée de Beaux Arts, Tours)

The Bath of Diana

On 30 June 1559, Henry II of France arranged a spectacular jousting tournament at the Palais de Tournelles, his residence in Paris, as part of the celebrations for two marriages. His daughter Elisabeth de Valois was marrying by proxy Philip II of Spain, now a widower after the death, nineteen months earlier, of ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor; and his 36-year-old sister was due to marry Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy on the following day. The tournament was to be attended by the bridal couples and their assembled guests.  As a keen athlete, Henry planned to take part himself.

Henry had been suffering from vertigo and Catherine de Medici, his Queen, begged him not to take part after having a premonition of his fate.  After several runs at the list, he insisted on one more ride.  His opponent was a Norman with Scottish blood, Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgommery, Captain of the Garde Ếcossaise, a man of courage and skill.  He also tried to excuse himself, apparently fearing the worst, but Henri commanded him to obey his Sovereign.  As they met:

‘The King was struck on the gorget and the lance broke, but his visor was not strapped down and several splinters wounded the King above the right eye.  He swayed from the force of the blow and the pain, dropping his horse’s bridle, and the horse galloped off to be caught and held by the grooms.  Helped from his horse, his armour was taken off and a splinter of a good bigness removed.’

Rosewater and vinegar were administered to revive him, but he was borne off with his face covered.  Surgeons removed further smaller splinters and purged him with rhubarb and chamomile.  They took twelve ounces of blood, purged him again, applied ice packs and fed him barley gruel.  With the family gathered in vigil round his bed, he wavered in and out of consciousness, moving neither hand nor foot, and had a very evil rest, whereof there were great lamentations.  The mortified de Lorges begged that the King should have his head or hand cut off, but the King told him that he had carried himself like a brave knight and a valiant man-at-arms and had done nothing requiring pardon. On 8 July, the King ordered that his sister’s wedding to the Duke of Savoy should take place.  They were married at midnight in a nearby church amid great despondency.  Only Catherine, in floods of tears, attended from the Royal family.  The King lingered on during the next day, managing to bless the Dauphin, but, early on 10 July, suffered a massive stroke and died in agony.  The feeble 15-year-old Dauphin, now Francis II, fainted and was carried from the room leaving the assembled company including Catherine to go down on their knees before the 16-year-old Mary Queen of Scots, the new Queen of France.

By the splintering of a lance, Constable Montmorency, the Grand Master and Diane de Poitiers, Henry’s politically astute mistress were out, and Mary’s uncles, Francis, Duke of Guise and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, supported by Catherine, were in authority . They took Francis, Mary and his brothers to the Louvre.  Within three days they were in complete ascendancy.  They played on Mary’s ability to dominate her husband’s decisions, and Catherine had no choice but to work with them.  The Cardinal evicted Montmorency from his suite of apartments and Guise took his place at dinner.  Although he remained Constable, Montmorency had lost authority and handed over his seals of office as Grand Master.  Guise supporters were now placed in key Government roles. Diane de Poitiers, was packed off back to her palatial home at Anet, dying there seven years later.

The Guises were the most powerful family in France after the Valois Kings. They were a cadet branch of the Dukes of Lorraine, and had made their names in France as soldiers, senior churchmen and administrators. Through the family’s influence with the French crown, their sister Marie had been chosen to marry James V of Scotland and was the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. The Guise family was vehemently Catholic and strongly opposed the development by ‘Huguenots’ of a Protestant Church in France.

The Guises’s sudden ascendency to power caused disquiet at Court. Francois Clouet the Court artist, who had sketched and painted most members of the Valois and Guise families, set to work on an allegorical painting of ‘The Bath of Diana’, of which three versions are thought to be in existence, one in the the Musée de Beaux Arts at Rouen (the first version below), one in the Musée de Beaux Arts at Tours (the second version below) and one in South America.

The Bath of Diana - Francois Clouet (Musée de Beaux Arts, Rouen)
Three versions of ‘The Bath of Diana’ are thought to be in existence. This one hangs in the the Musée de Beaux Arts at Rouen.
Bath of Diana - Francois Clouet (Musée de Beaux Arts, Tours)
This second version of ‘The Bath of Diana’ hangs in the the Musée de Beaux Arts at Tours.

The pictures refer to a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Diana the huntress was disturbed by the hunter, Acteon, as she bathed in a forest stream. He was immediately turned by her into a stag, only to be killed by his own hounds.  Clouet used this as a political satire showing a naked Mary as Diana (twice) being dressed by her nymphs in Royal crimson, with the stag representing Henri II lying dead on the right behind her.  One of the nymphs, depicted as Catherine de Medici, also nude, sits in tears. The other, dressing Diana, is thought to be Anne d’Este, the young Duchess of Guise.  They are surrounded by the Guise brothers as satyrs praising Diana’s actions.  In the left background is a horseman. In both pictures this was originally painted as Acteon (Henry II) riding with his hunting dogs before he had been turned into a stag, but, in the Rouen version, he has been over-painted as Francis II, paying  no attention to what is going on.  The face of Diana in the in the Tours version has been turned to face the viewer, perhaps to make her more obvious as Mary. There is also a thistle on the left side of the picture as a symbol of Mary’s Scottish ancestry.

Clouet  is certainly not applauding the Guises’s sudden rise to power, but it is not known for whom he painted the picture, despite their obvious Huguenot sympathies. He took a considerable risk in showing Mary and her mother-in-law in the nude with the Guises as satyrs, and it can be certain that they did not sit for their portraits!  The musical instruments also have a bawdy connotation. According to information provided from Rouen they can be associated with marriage and fertility. With Francis II generally thought to be impotent, this was an unkind jest.  Perhaps surprisingly this is not the only picture in which Clouet is known to have painted senior personalities in the nude. In 1571, he painted Diane de Poitiers as a young woman, although some five years after her death. This picture is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It certainly bears a resemblance to drawings by Clouet, acknowledged to be of Diane. It is shown below:

Diane de Poitiers - François Clouet (1571)
Francoise Clouet’s nude portrait of Diane de Poitiers was painted five years after her death. It hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.