François I in Prayer, a stained glass window of the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes
In 1549, Henry II entrusted architect Philibert de L’Orme the completion of the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, where he had the task of transferring the ceremonial seat of the Order of Saint-Michel. Thus, the structure was given a sumptuous interior décor and the stained glass windows, from 1551 to 1556, were ordered frequently, entrusted to Nicolas Beaurain, a renowned master glassmaker from Paris.
Each glass wall was divided into three levels placed one on top of the other. The story of the Apocalypse filled the central part with a succession of scenes presented in the grey painted frames. The top of the window offered a range of royal emblems bearing crescents, figures and mottos associated with Henry II. The lower parts of the windows were reserved to depictions of sacred figures in the choir and to portraits of members of the royal family in the nave (the reigning king, his father King François I, the queen Catherine de Medici, the dauphin François) and the main dignitaries of the Order (the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Duke of Guise and the Constable of Montmorency, Governor of Vincennes). All were depicted kneeling in prayer and in natural grandeur, startlingly realistic. François I, turned to the left in the direction of the sanctuary, occupies one of the right-hand windows of the nave.
This portrait of the deceased king is considered to be one of the masterpieces of painting on glass of the Renaissance. Nicolas Beaurain applied his vivid and rich palette to enamels, his practice of cross-hatching that vigorously modulate faces, his taste for textiles and furniture. The glass painter signed a true portrait of an aged man, with a hollowed but likeable face, a man that François I certainly was during the last years of his reign.