Cousin, JEAN, a French painter, sculptor, etcher, engraver, and geometrician, b. at Soucy, near Sens, 1500; d. at Sens before 1593, probably in 1590. Cousin began his long art-life in his native town with the study of glass-painting under Hympe and Grassot. At the same time he was diligently applying himself to this branch of art, wherein he was to become a master, the young man became a great student of mathematics and published a successful book on the subject. He also wrote on geometry in his student-days. In 1530 Cousin finished the beautiful windows for the Sens cathedral, the subject chosen being the “Legend of St. Eutropius”. He had also painted the windows of many of the noble chateaux in and around the city. The latest date on any of his Sens work, 1530, points to this as the year he went to Paris, where he began work as a goldsmith; but the amount and kind of his productions in the precious metals are alike unknown.
In Paris Cousin continued his eminent career as a glass-painter, and his masterpiece, the windows of the Sainte-Chapelle in Vincennes, are considered the finest examples of glass-painting in all France. He subsequently devoted himself to painting in oil, and is said to be the first Frenchman to use the “new medium”. For this and other reasons Cousin has been called “The Founder of the French School”; but his work in oil, while graceful, refined, reserved, and even classically severe, is more that of an Italian “Eclectic” than of a “founder of a national school”. Pictures attributed to him, all of much merit, are found in several of the large European collections, but, excepting “The Last Judgment”, none is known to be authentic.”The Last Judgment” is fine in composition, noble in conception, and beautiful and harmonious in color, strongly suggesting Correggio. For a long time this masterpiece, which won him the name of the “French Michelangelo”, lay neglected in the sacristy of the church of the Minims, Vincennes, until it was rescued by a priest and became one of the important works in the Louvre. It is also celebrated for being the first French picture to be engraved.
In the sixteenth century Cousin’s renown came from his historical and glass-paintings; today he is best known as an illustrator of books. He made many fine designs for woodcuts and often executed them himself. The “Bible“, published in 1596 by Le Clerc, and the “Metamorphoses” and “Epistles” of Ovid (1566 and 1571 respectively) contain his most celebrated work as an illustrator. Cousin etched and engraved many plates after the manner of Mazzuola of Parma, to whom the invention of etching has been ascribed; but he excels all his contemporaries in facility of execution and classical breadth and simplicity of idea and feeling. His etched work approaches in excellence the oil-paintings of the great masters. Cousin’s sculptures are full of strength and dignity. The mausoleum of Admiral Philippe de Chabot is the best piece of French sculpture of the sixteenth century; the strikingly beautiful tomb of Louis de Breze (Rouen) is another celebrated achievement. In addition to his early writings on mathematics, he published, in 1560, a learned treatise on perspective, and, in 1571, an excellent work on portrait-painting. During his life Cousin success-fully pursued every branch of the fine arts, and enjoyed the favor of, and worked for four kings of France: Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. Among his paintings, in addition to the “Last Judgment”, mention should be made of the miniatures in the prayer book of Henry II now in the Bibliotheque Nationale; among his etchings and engravings, the “Annunciation” and the “Conversion of St. Paul”; among his woodcuts, the “Entree de Henry II et Catherine de Medicis a Rouen” (1551).