Androuet du Cerceau. Liure d'architecture

Jacques Androuet du Cerceau. Livre d'architecture...

Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1520?-1584)


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Gordon 1559 .A58

Liure d'architecture de Iaques Androuet du Cerceau, contenant les plans & dessaings de cinquante bastimens tous differens : pour instruire ceux qui desirent bastir, soient de petit, moyen, ou grand estat.  Auec declaration des membres & commoditez, & nombre des toises, que contient chacun bastiment, dont l’eleuation des faces est figurée sur chacun plans ...

Paris : Benoist Preuost, 1559.

Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's Livre d'architecture... features the design of town houses and is the first printed book of architecture on the subject. (Sebastiano Serlio's unpublished 6th book on this topic was a probable source.) Du Cerceau intended his designs for people of "petit, moyen et grand etats" and included plans for houses of various sizes, from that of a merchant's townhouse to a grand hotel or country chateau for a noble family. He did not include the simplest of abodes, or the excessively grand, but his fifty designs cover most of the territory in between the two extremes. The plans are organized based on "la toise" (unit of measurement, "divisée en six piedz de long") and consequently according to the construction cost involved.

Du Cerceau's only commentary about the plates is found in the brief notes that precede them, and relates only to measurement. This pragmatic information was for the benefit of the mason and for the owner to use in figuring the cost of the home, as specified on the title page:

Many of the plans are practical and were probably copied and widely used in Paris during the second half of the sixteenth century. Some of the grander plans, however, show Du Cerceau's creative fantasy at work; these include homes designed around geometrical forms (circle, triangle, pentagon) and even one in the form of the capital letter "H" (planche XLVI), in honor of Henri II, to whom the volume is dedicated.

However practical the majority of the designs in Du Cerceau's first book of architecture, the plans include no indications of setting or topography and appear, therefore, to float on the page. Françoise Boudon calls the effect of this layout an "impression d'utopie".¹ The lack of any particular setting, however, may well convey the suitability of these plans for many owners and locations. In her commentary on Du Cerceau's "paper townhouses," Alison Snow points out that, "by using minimal text, du Cerceau attempted to create a vernacular classical language that would resonate with this new audience [unversed in the art of architecture] through a universal language of plates rather than words."

The plans in this book occasionally depict a few ornamental details (statues in niches and garlands, as in plate 14, shown here). Most of the designs, however, retain an austere appearance, particularly as compared to Du Cerceau’s Second Livre d’Architecture, which includes the decorative detail intended to ornament each structure. It is likely that such details had to be left out of the more complex plans of the first book in order to maintain a readable architectural plan. Du Cerceau’s Troisieme Livre focuses on country home designs and includes technical information, as well as details on the décor and on the lifestyles of the nobility who would live in the houses.

In Du Cerceau’s later years, he published his best-known work of architecture, the two volumes of Les plus excellents bastiments de France (1576 & 1579). In a chapter on architecture during the time of the French Wars of Religion, Anthony Blunt summarizes the importance of these two volumes and highlights the unique Mannerist style displayed in Du Cerceau’s work:

   They are our best source of information for many sixteenth-century century houses that have since been altered or destroyed, although Du Cerceau is often unreliable in completing unfinished buildings according to his own fancy and in adding ornament of his own invention to existing structures. ²

Du Cerceau is also known for his plans for two Renaissance châteaux, Verneuil and Charleval. Both designs incorporate a high degree of fantasy in an anti-classical style. Du Cerceau uses classical forms in unpredictable and irregular ways and covers the building surfaces with grotesques and eclectic ornamental detail.

In addition to his books of architectural plans, Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder also published popular collections of engravings depicting garden designs, architectural elements, decorative building details, and furniture design. As in many of his architectural plans, Du Cerceau’s filled his engravings with the decorative and fantastical elements characteristic of Mannerist art and architecture.


¹ See p. 368 in the chapter by Françoise Boudon cited below.

² See p. 143 in the chapter by Anthony Blunt cited below.

Further reading:

Blunt, Anthony. Chapter 4, “The Wars of Religion, 1560-1598.” Art and Architecture in France, 1500 to 1700. Penguin Books, 1977. p. 133-156.

Boudon, Françoise. “Les livres d’architecture de Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau.” Les Traités d’Architecture de la Renaissance. Ed. Jean Guillaume. Paris: Picard, 1988. p. 367-396.