The Palace of Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres from the Centre of Paris, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The palace as it is today is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th-century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The commune of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. This forest is now home to many endangered species of Europe.
The older château on this site was already used in the latter part of the 12th century by King Louis VII, for whom Thomas Becket consecrated the chapel. Fontainebleau was a favourite residence of Philip Augustus (Philip II) and Louis IX. The creator of the present edifice was Francis I, under whom the architect Gilles le Breton erected most of the buildings of the Cour Ovale, including the Porte Dorée, its southern entrance.
The king also invited the architect Sebastiano Serlio to France, and Leonardo da Vinci. The Gallery of Francis I, with its frescoes framed in stucco by Rosso Fiorentino, carried out between 1522 and 1540, was the first great decorated gallery built in France. Broadly speaking, at Fontainebleau the Renaissance was introduced to France. The Salle des Fêtes, in the reign of Henry II, was decorated by the Italian Mannerist painters, Francesco Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate. Benvenuto Cellini's "Nymph of Fontainebleau", commissioned for the château, is at the Louvre.
The château is now home to the Écoles d'Art Américaines, a school of art, architecture, and music for students from the United States. The school was founded by General Pershing when his men were stationed there during the First World War.
The palace introduced to France the Italian Mannerist style in interior decoration and in gardens, and transformed them in the translation. The French Mannerist style of interior decoration of the 16th century is known as the "Fontainebleau style": it combined sculpture, metalwork, painting, stucco and woodwork, and outdoors introduced the patterned garden parterre.
The Fontainebleau style combined allegorical paintings in moulded plasterwork where the framing was treated as if it were leather or paper, slashed and rolled into scrolls and combined with arabesques and grotesques. Fontainebleau ideals of female beauty are Mannerist: a small neat head on a long neck, exaggeratedly long torso and limbs, small high breasts-almost a return to Late Gothic beauties. The new works at Fontainebleau were recorded in refined and detailed engravings that circulated among connoisseurs and artists. Through the engravings by the "School of Fontainebleau" this new style was transmitted to other northern European centres, Antwerp especially, and Germany, and eventually London.
- Jazz pianist and composer Tadd Dameron composed "Fontainebleau" upon visiting the palace.
- The artist Madonna refers in her song "Secret Garden" from the album Erotica to it being located somewhere in Fontainebleau.
- The guitarist and composer Neil Young wrote a song about the palace on the album Long May You Run.
- The music video for "Born to Die" by American singer Lana Del Rey was filmed throughout the Palace of Fontainebleau in November, 2011.