Hugues Sambin (ca.1520 - 1601)


Born around 1520, the son of a menuisier (an occupation encompassing the English equivalents of finish carpenter, joiner, cabinet maker, and wood-carver), Hugues Sambin established himself in Dijon as a master craftsman (maître-menuisier), as well as in the roles of architect, designer, and engineer.

Archival research has shown that the young craftsman spent half a year in 1544, working at the palace of Fontainebleau, where he came into contact with the works of Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio.¹ The Italian artists' decorative work at Fontainebleau represents the height of the mannerist movement under François I, and undoubtedly influenced the young woodworker, who would later incorporate the mannerist aesthetic in his decorative elements and building designs.

After Fontainebleau, Sambin established himself in Dijon, where, in 1547, he married the daughter of a successful menuisier. With his father-in-law, Sambin worked on the décor for the entry of King Henri II in the city of Lyon. Successful as a master craftsman, Sambin also worked as (and saw himself as) creator and designer. For the entry of Charles IX in 1564, for example, Sambin was hired to create drawings for several statues and structures, as well as to supervise the production of all the works for the king's ceremonial entry into the city. In the 1550s and 1560s, Sambin was hired for several civil engineering projects by the city of Dijon. In the early 1560s, Sambin was involved in design and woodworking for several private homes in the city, including the Hôtel Fyot de Mimeure and the Maison Milsand (built for Jean Maillard, mayor of Dijon, in 1560). In the courtyard of the latter, a façade attributed to Sambin features three arcades supported by atlantes (the atlas is a standing figure of a man, used as a supporting column) that recall those of the Grotte des Pins at Fontainebleau.²

After his father-in-law's death in 1565, Hugues Sambin was often absent from Dijon, for reasons unclear, but perhaps, in this time of political and religious unrest, due to an association with the Reform movement through his wife's family. In 1571 he was working as architect on renovations of the château of Léonor Chabot, count of Charny in Burgundy, to whom Sambin dedicated his Oeuvre de la diversité des termes dont on use en architecture (Gordon 1572 .S3), published in 1572.³

In the 1580s, Sambin was again working as a master craftsman in Dijon. Two exceptional examples of his woodwork in this later period can still be viewed in Dijon: the clôture (enclosure) of the Chapelle du Saint Esprit (in what was then the Palais du Parlement du Duché de Bourgogne in Dijon and later became the Palais de Justice), which remains in its original location, and the ornate Porte du Scrin, also made for the Palais, which is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Dijon.

Similar designs and stylistic features link Sambin's work on the former palace of the Burgundy Parlament to the various construction projects with which he was involved in Dijon, including the Maison Maillard and the Hôtel Fyot, mentioned above, as well as the house of the goldsmith, Jean Robelet, begun in 1588, for which Sambin designed an impressive chimney with termes similar to those used in his cabinet-making, and related to the architectural termes depicted in his 1572 publication.

The 2001-2002 Sambin exhibit at the Musée national de la Renaissance and the accompanying publication (cited below) have drawn the attention of scholars in many disciplines to the diversity of Sambin’s work, and particularly to his ornate "cabinets" and "armoires." A 2006 exhibit at the Getty, A Renaissance Cabinet Rediscovered, documents their intensive effort to determine the age and origin of a cabinet now believed to be the work of Hugues Sambin.

-- Karen Simroth James, University of Virginia (2007)


¹ Alain Erland-Brandenburg, ed., Hugues Sambin: Un Créateur au XVIe siècle (Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001). Research cited on Sambin’s stay at Fontainebleau was conducted by Catherine Grodecki (p. 14, 63).

² For more information on Sambin’s life and work in Dijon, see Hugues Sambin: Un Créateur au XVIe siècle (Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001).

³ For more about this period of Sambin's life, see Hugues Sambin: Un Créateur au XVIe siècle, p.15; 33-34.

Further Reading

Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain, et al. Hugues Sambin: Un Créateur au XVIe siècle (vers 1520-1601). Ouvrage publié à l'occasion de l'exposition-dossier présenté au Musée National de la Renaissance du 24 octobre 2001 au 21 janvier 2002. Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001.

Zorach, Rebecca. Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.