Androuet du Cerceau. Liure d'architecture

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

Gordon 1559 .A58

Paper Townhouses: Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's Livre d'Architecture (Paris: 1559)


Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's treatise, Livre d'Architecture... (Paris: 1559), presents fifty townhouse models for the 'middle' man and is intended to serve as a tool for those unfamiliar with the act of building. The designs range from that of a merchant's townhouse to a country chateau for a prominent family. Its unusual subject matter of townhouses, the first of its kind in a published format, offers unique insight into French sixteenth century architectural cultural culture. The proposed models reflect a new age of capitalism as they were intended to be mass produced with the aid of the printing press, creating a vast potential market for the standardized architectural model book. Their organization in the form of a printed book allowed them to be widely distributed and made accessible to those interested in building who did not share the advantage of a wide knowledge of French aristocratic architecture.

The Livre d'Architecture represents an example of the rise of the architectural treatise during the Renaissance. As classical texts from Italy gradually penetrated French intellectual and artistic circles and were translated into the French language, a growing interest in ancient building practices and in the all 'antica'¹ style could be witnessed. As architectural texts were translated from Latin into French, a growing need for architectural treatises addressed to a French audience with thought given to French building practices emerged. Many architects believed that through the means of print, France could assert its own individual tastes and identity and potentially rival neighboring Italy in its interpretation of classical and antique forms, allowing France to move forward from its medieval past.

Du Cerceau's Livre exemplifies these new efforts made by French architects and theorists to publish architectural treatises in the national language with thought given to French traditions. While his treatise is composed in French, the prints are annotated in Latin and a parallel version was also published in Latin as a way of asserting the educated status of its readers and in the hopes that the treatise would achieve an international diffusion.² However, du Cerceau's treatise held a purpose apart from the reinterpretation of ancient architecture through a "francophied lens" or gaining international recognition. By communicating to his audience primarily through architectural prints as opposed to abstract, theoretical words, du Cerceau's treatise addressed a new audience of individuals, unversed in the art of architecture. By using minimal text, du Cerceau attempted to create a vernacular classical language that would resonate with this audience through a universal language of plates rather than words. This means of communication allowed his treatise to serve as a model book for patrons and as a guide for architects and masons.

Although the du Cerceau's models were likely consulted, manipulated and built around Paris during the second half of the sixteenth century, sadly, no trace of their existence remains today. Therefore, the pages of the Livre d'Architecture serve as a visual testimony to French architectural culture in the mid-sixteenth century. The treatise leaves the reader to imagine the kind of patron who may have inhabited the presented homes and the kind of lifestyle they may have enjoyed within the confinements of their simple dwelling or country chateau.

Du Cerceau's title page gives the impression that the book is genuinely intended for the reader's own plaisir, not to bring glory and fame to du Cerceau himself.³ The instructional text of his book is not just limited to those already versed in the arts but rather intended to interest a more general audience of those intrigued by the act of building. The treatise represents efforts made towards allowing architectural texts to be available to architects, builders, and patrons in the form of practical, instructional manuals as opposed to lofty, theoretical treatises. In an attempt to relate to both architects and patrons, du Cerceau's treatise provides the architect with a guide from which to work that can be adjusted to a particular site and to a patron's individual taste. For the patron and for those unfamiliar with the art of architecture, the treatise's proposed models inspire a creative approach to building and are designed to stir one's imagination. His standardized model book allows this intended audience to become actively involved in building without making a grand voyage to the classical sites of Antiquity or contemplating the ideas presented in theoretical treatises on architecture. In this way, the act of building and the art of architecture go hand in hand with the concept of plaisir.

Alison Snow, Architectural History M.A., University of Virginia, excerpts from “Paper Townhouses” (2006).


¹ During the Renaissance, the term all 'antica', "in the antique manner," refered to a rebirth of the Roman traditions of design, characerized by rational clarity and regularity of parts arranged in simple mathematical proportions.

² Françoise, Boudon. "Les livres d'architecture de Jacques Androuet du Cerceau," Les Traités d'Architecture de la Renaissance (Paris: Picard, 1988), p. 368. "Pour assurer à l'ouvrage une large diffusion internationale, une édition latine double l'édition française; Cependant du Cerceau maintient dans cette dernière la légende latine des planches, 'estimer que la nostre [nation] est assez usitée et versée en langue latine."

³ Livre I, "Parallement, a l'imitation des dicts plans & desseigns, non seulement les macons, charpentiers, & autres ouvriers, mais aussi ceux, qui se delectent a la pourtraicture, peuvent prendre instruction a bien desseigner & accomoder tous logis & bastiments, chose qui apporte grand plaisir & proffit."