2024 will mark the 500th anniversary of the entrance of Giovanni da Verrazzano in the Bay of New York. It is also in 1524 that Pierre de Ronsard, the famous French Renaissance poet, was born.
Wondering about the extent to which Ronsard had ben aware of the Americas, Lère started to investigate. That took him down a rabbit hole of research, which resulted in a large body of paintings.
Born under François I’s reign, Ronsard became the official poet of François’ son and grandsons, Henri II, François II and Charles IX. His work embodies the “Beautiful 16th century”, and the splendor of the nomadic Valois Court. The Gentilhomme vendômois era also saw the extension of naval expeditions to the West, as European powers were searching for a trade route to Asia, resulting in the first exchanges across the Atlantic. Colonization of the newly encountered lands ensued. The “Prince of poets” and his contemporaries also experienced endless years of almost uninterrupted wars: the Italian wars that were fought from 1494 to 1559 were followed in France by eight wars of religion (1562-1598).
The paintings produced by Lère illustrate the different aspects of Ronsard’s century and of the poet’s life. Anachronic winks to our current world remind us that the 16th Century can still resonate with us today. The issues which the poet and his contemporaries had to face then are still very much part of today’s reality.
Subsets of the Ronsard painting series were shown during the summer of 2022 and 2023 summers at Ronsard’s birthplace, Manoir de la Possonnière. A number of exhibitions of the work are already scheduled for 2024. Below are descriptions of some of the paintings.
In the spirit of magical realism, 1524, A Route to the Americas (60 x 98 inches) illustrates the encounter between Europe and the Americas, both North and South. The painting evokes engravings from La Cosmographie Universelle by André Thévet, who had travelled to Brazil in 1555. Under a starry sky, two roman-inspired muses frame a seascape of various ships, flying fish, and marine monsters. Ames Van Wart’s Indian Vase, from the American Wing Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the source for the Native Americans sitting on a rock. Various nautical instruments evoke the technology that facilitated the explorers’ voyages.
To represent aspects of the poet’s life, Lère painted a series of 15 letter paintings. Each one (24 x 18 inches) depicts a word evocative of the period, and together they spell the name Pierre de Ronsard.
The letter paintings are inspired by the wooden stalls at Saint-Julien Cathedral, in Le Mans, France. The stalls were carved between 1563 and 1576 to replace those destroyed in 1562 during an iconoclastic episode of the wars of religion which opposed Catholics and Protestants. Based on the original stalls, as needed, Lère then added details taken from various 16th century sources. The Enfants Royaux painting, for example on the right below, reproduces a royal family portrait depicting Queen Catherine de Medici and four of her children, from the Workshop of painter François Clouet.
Larger paintings bring together the 16th and 21st centuries through the combination of various elements and sources.
In Verrazzano in the Bay of New York, the explorer’s portrait (24 x 40 inches) is based on a mural by Reginald Marsh, located in the Rotunda of the US Custom House in Manhattan, now home to the National Museum of the American Indian. Paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and 16th century engravings are the inspiration for the other characters. A view of Manhattan today and the Verrazzano Bridge can be seen in the distance.
Starting in 1562, France was divided by civil wars. One of the worst episodes of the Wars of Religion was the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre which started with the assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and quickly spread throughout Paris and the provinces. Coligny was the Protestant military leader who attempted to establish Protestant settlements in Brazil in 1555, and in Florida in 1560. The Coligny Brothers (24 x 40 inches) recalls the event, featuring the 1889 Admiral’s memorial in Paris, rue de Rivoli. The iconic street, now closed to traffic, has been taken over by youth on their bicycles; these young people’s preoccupations as advertised on the girl’s tee-shirt (Need sleep, Need pizza, Need friends, Need love, Need Fortnite, Need Netflix) are a far cry from those of their 16th century counterparts.