Parlez-vous le français? French Old Masters Glossary and Museum List

Read a French Old Masters art vocabulary glossary and museum list here.

Eiffel Tower by Ilse Bing

Ilse Bing, Eiffel Tower, 1934

Welcome to the second article in our French glossary series! This time, we decided to focus on Old Masters. First of all, let’s define an Old Master. This term refers to a European painter of skill who worked before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. So it has nothing to do with the age of the painter!

We will introduce you to the Old Masters through some specific terms related to this art category, and a presentation of several French museums devoted to them that you could visit during your next trip to France!

Let’s discover Old Masters.


English French
Baroque le style Baroque
British Renaissance la Renaissance anglaise
Classicism le Classicisme
Dutch Golden Age painting l’Âge d’Or de la peinture hollandaise
Dutch School l’école hollandaise
Early Renaissance la Première Renaissance
Flemish primitives les Primitifs flamands
Florentine School l’école florentine
Gothic le style Gothique
High Renaissance la Haute Renaissance
International Gothic le Gothique international
Italian primitives les Primitifs italiens
Mannerism le Maniérisme
Medieval Art l’Art médiéval
Neoclassicism le Néo-classicisme
Northern Renaissance la Renaissance du Nord
Old Masters les Maîtres anciens
Proto-Renaissance la Proto-Renaissance
Renaissance la Renaissance
Rococo le style Rococo
Rococo era painting la peinture de l’ère Rococo
Romantism le Romantisme
Sienese School l’école siennoise
Spanish Renaissance la Renaissance espagnole
Venetian Renaissance painting la peinture vénitienne de la Renaissance


Musée du LouvreParis

  • About: Known as one of the world’s largest museums, the musée du Louvre is housed in the Palais du Louvre. Originally used as a castle in 1190, it was built under King Philippe Auguste. In 1682, Louis XIV decided to display his royal collection in this space. Then, during the French Revolution, the National Assembly decided to use it as a museum. Located in the heart of Paris, between the right bank of the Seine River and Rivoli’s street, the musée du Louvre exhibits 35,000 artworks (460,000 in total) and welcomed 10 million visitors in 2012. It features one of the broadest ranges of collecting categories, such as Renaissance painters, Islamic Art, and Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Etruscan antiquities. Commissioned by François Mitterrand, the Pyramide du Louvre was inaugurated in 1989.
  • Did you know? Between 1939 and 1945, many artworks, including Le Radeau de la Méduse by Théodore Géricault (French, 1791–1824), were relocated to Chambord castle in the Loire region. Because of its size, the painting had to be carried in a trailer initially devoted for theater set, and followed the track of the tramway. Unfortunately, after arriving in Versailles, the convoy touched the wires and provoked an outage. The entire city and the Château de Versailles were plunged into darkness because of the raft!
  • Address: Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris – France
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. on Wednesday through Monday, except for Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
Closed: Tuesday

Musée du LouvreLens

  • About: The musée du Louvre-Lens, or Louvre II, was inaugurated on December 4, 2012. Located in Lens, on a former mining site in Northern France, the museum was created to be a branch of Louvre Paris, as it is for Metz with Pompidou. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the building is composed of five different spaces made of glass and metal: the main gallery, the glass pavilion, a temporary exhibition gallery, the stage, and the discovery space. Masterpieces from Classical Greece, the Persian Empire, and Egypt are exhibited alongside works from masters including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867), Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444–1510), Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640), and Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669). La Liberté guidant le peuple (1830) by Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863) is one of the most famous artworks displayed in the museum.
  • Did you know? A woman vandalized a Delacroix painting last February by writing AE911 with a black marker. Since then, the painting has been fixed, but the mystery of the inscription remains. Another branch of the musée du Louvre will open in Abu Dhabi in 2016.
  • Address: 9 Rue Paul Bert – 62300 Lens
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Wednesday through Monday
Closed: Tuesday

Musée du Petit PalaisParis

  • About: Built in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition as the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais became a museum in 1902. It is located on Winston Churchill Avenue, which links the Champs-élysées to the Invalides. Elaborated by Charles Girault as a trapeze, the building is composed by four entities surrounded by a garden. Renovated in 2005, the more than 50,000 square foot Petit Palais displays artworks from 17th century to Paris 1900, including Renaissance, Eastern, and Western Christian works, Greek and Roman antiquities, and prints from the Dutuit Collection. The space also hosts the Museum of Fine Arts of Paris. Contemporary photographs have now been a part of the collections for 10 years.
  • Did you know? Built at the same time, the architecture of the Petit Palais is similar to the architecture of the Saigon’s Opera in Vietnam.
  • Address: Avenue Winston Churchill – 75008 Paris
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday
Closed: Monday

Musée National de la Renaissance—écouen

  • About: Built between 1538 and 1550, the castle is located in the Val d’Oise department, north of Paris. Property of Anne de Montmorency until 1632, the castle became a national property after the Revolution. According to Napoléon’s wishes, the castle housed daughters of the Légion d’Honneur from 1807 to 1962. Since 1977, the Château d’écouen has been hosting the musée national de la Renaissance; it is the only one dedicated to this period. The musée, which exhibits the Renaissance objects of the collections of the musée de Cluny and is composed by 32 museums rooms, presents many collections of silver-smithing, paintings, wool and silk artworks, furniture, arts of fire (ceramics, glassware, enamels, and stained glasses), and sculptures.
  • Did you know? The Château d’écouen was chosen to host the musée de la Renaissance because it was the only available patrimonial site to display the gigantesque, 246 foot-long tapestries representing David and Bethsabée.
  • Address: Rue Jean Bullant – 95440 écouen
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 9:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m., and 2 p.m.–5:15 p.m. on Wednesday through Monday
Closed: Tuesday

Musée des Beaux-Arts—Strasbourg

  • About: The very first municipal art collection of Strasbourg, a city in the north east of France, was founded in 1801 as a result of the French Revolution, and the expropriation of churches and cloisters, but was unfortunately destroyed by a fire during the Franco-Prussian War. So, in 1889, Wilhelm von Bode was commissioned to create a new collection. In 1890, the musée des beaux-arts de Strasbourg was born, located in the Palais Rohan. Thanks to many donations, it displays paintings from Italian, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Flemish artists from the 14th century to the 19th century, including Peter Paul Rubens, Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746–1828), Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877), and Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935). The museum also exhibits a collection of sculptures by artists including Baccio Bandinelli (Italian, 1488–1560), François Girardon (French, 1628–1715), and Alessandro Algardi (Italian, b.1945).
  • Did you know? On August 13, 1947, a fire destroyed most of the artworks (which already suffered from a bombing on August 13, 1944). With the money from the insurance, other artistically-valuable paintings were purchased.
  • Address: Palais Rohan – 2, place du Château – 67000 Strasbourg
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 12 p.m.–6 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Saturday through Sunday

Musée des Beaux-ArtsNancy

  • About: Created in 1793, the museum, one of the oldest French museums, was initially nested in the chapelle de la Visitation, and then was relocated to one of the four large pavilions on the Place Stanislas in Nancy. Built on the foundations of the Bastion d’Haussonville, the museum is a mix between Classicism and Rococo style. Besides the gallery devoted to Jean Prouvé (French, 1901–1984), the museum presents a European paintings collection, which includes works from the end of 14th century to the 20th century. Many masterpieces are displayed, including L’Annonciation (1608) by Le Caravage, L’Automne (1881) Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), and La Transfiguration (1605) by Pierre-Paul Rubens. Sculptures, Contemporary artworks, a Daum collection, and a Japonism collection from Charles Cartier-Bresson are also part of the exhibitions. With Renaissance 2013 Nancy, the city and the whole department of Lorraine are celebrating the Renaissance patrimony from May to August 2013.
  • Did you know? The Place Stanislas was designed by Emmanuel Héré in 1755, according to Stanislas Leszczyński’s wish. And since 1983, the architectural ensemble comprising the Place Stanislas and the extension of its axis, has been listed on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Address: 3, place Stanislas – 54000 Nancy
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Wednesday through Monday
Closed: Tuesday

Palais des Beaux-ArtsLille

  • About: Designed by édouard Bérard and Fernand Delmas, the neo-classical building was inaugurated in 1892. Known as the largest museum outside of Paris, the more than 129,000 square foott Palais des beaux-arts de Lille displays the second largest collection in France, after the Louvre. Artworks from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, antiquities, paintings from the16th century to the 20th century, sculptures from 19th century, ceramics, relief maps, prints, and numismatic pieces are exhibited in the museum.
  • Did you know? In 1801, Lille was one of the 15 cities chosen by the Chaptal’s decree, selected by Napoléon I, to receive artworks from the Louvre and Versailles.
  • Address: Place de la République, 18 bis rue de Valmy – 59000 Lille
  • Website:
  • Hours:

Open: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday, except for Monday 2 p.m.–6 p.m.
Closed: Tuesday

Audrey Fair is a French content manager at artnet.

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