French humanism

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Guillaume Budé, portrayed by Jean Clouet

French humanism is the name given to Renaissance humanism in France. It arose under the influence of Italian humanism and in conflict with it. As everywhere in Europe, the humanists in France were the champions of a literary educational movement that demanded an orientation towards “classical” ancient models and wanted to free the educational system from the dominant influence of late medieval scholasticism .

Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), the leading figure of early Italian humanism, spent a large part of his life in France. He polemicized against the French culture, which he considered inferior. In his opinion there were no speakers or poets in France at that time, so no education in the humanistic sense. Petrarch's criticism provoked violent reactions from French scholars. Even in this controversy, there was a nationalistic trait in French humanism and a tension between French and Italian scholars.

Although the cultural history of France (and already of the Frankish Empire in later French territory) showed phases of an intensive turn to ancient models as early as the Middle Ages, which are sometimes misleadingly referred to as "Renaissance" (" Carolingian Renaissance ", " Renaissance of the 12th century ") , Renaissance humanism did not gain a foothold in France until the late 14th century. Its first important representatives were the famous scholar and preacher Nikolaus von Clamanges († 1437), who taught rhetoric at the Collège de Navarre from 1381 , and the chancellor Jean de Montreuil (1354-1418). They admired Cicero and imitated his eloquence.

The turmoil of the Hundred Years War made itself felt as inhibiting factors in cultural life . Only after the end of the fighting did humanism flourish from the middle of the 15th century. The achievements of the rhetoric teacher Guillaume Fichet , who set up the first printing press in Paris and published a textbook on rhetoric in 1471, and his pupil Robert Gaguin († 1501), who was a rhetoric professor at Paris University and who strongly advocated the replacement of medieval educational content with humanistic ones, were groundbreaking . Gaguin wrote the first account of French history from a humanistic point of view. Major impulses came from the numerous Italian humanists who stayed temporarily or permanently in Paris, including Publio Fausto Andrelini († 1518), who taught rhetoric at the Sorbonne and became court poet of King Charles VIII , whose Italian campaign he glorified. The Greek humanist Janos Laskaris († 1534), who had already distinguished himself in Italy as the editor of classical Greek literature, moved to Paris for a few years in 1496, where he introduced the Neoplatonic trend of Italian humanism.

Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples († 1536) made great contributions to classical studies in France, in particular through his work as editor, translator and commentator on the works of Aristotle . He was also one of the leading experts in the field of humanistic biblical research (biblical humanism ). Guillaume Budé (1468–1540), who had studied with Laskaris, was one of the most important humanistic scholars of antiquity . He researched the tradition of Roman law by philological means and wrote a seminal study of Roman coinage. He also emerged as a Graecist and as an organizer of French humanism. On his initiative, the establishment of the Collège Royal (later the Collège de France ) went back, which became an important center of humanism. The Collège Royal formed a counterpoint to the anti-humanist tendency at the University of Paris, whose representatives were conservative theologians. Like many French humanists, Budé was an ardent nationalist and herald of the greatness of France. The important humanist poet and writer Jean Lemaire de Belges was also politically and culturally nationalist . In the writing “La concorde des deux langages” (1511) he advocated the equivalence of French and Italian, which, according to humanistic standards, meant an appreciation of French.

King Francis I , who ruled from 1515 to 1547, was considered the most important promoter of French humanism in his time.


  • Werner L. Gundersheimer (Ed.): French Humanism 1470–1600 . Macmillan, London 1969.
  • Anthony HT Levi (Ed.): Humanism in France at the end of the Middle Ages and in the early Renaissance . Manchester University Press, Manchester 1970.
  • Sem Dresden: The Profile of the Reception of the Italian Renaissance in France . In: Heiko A. Oberman (Ed.): Itinerarium Italicum. The Profile of the Italian Renaissance in the Mirror of Its European Transformations . Brill, Leiden 1975, ISBN 90-04-04259-8 , pp. 119-189.
  • Alexander Peter Saccaro: French humanism of the 14th and 15th centuries . Fink, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-7705-0821-1 .
  • Philippe Desan (Ed.): Humanism in Crisis. The Decline of the French Renaissance . The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1991, ISBN 0-472-10239-7 .
  • Jean-François Maillard among others: La France des humanistes . Brepols, Turnhout 1999 ff.
  • Philippe de Lajarte: L'humanisme en France au XVI e siècle . Champion, Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-7453-1855-8 .