BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
||Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 14727
||Architecture, Geometry, Machines, Military Architecture
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Transcribed version of the text
Jacques Gentillâtre was born in 1578 in Sainte-Menehould in Champagne. Towards 1595 he went to Paris to be trained in the the workshop of Jacques II Du Cerceau, architect to the King and probably a fellow Protestant. There he copied numerous drawings, notably of the work of his master at Fontainebleau, Paris and especially at the castle de Monceaux. Around 1602 he left Paris and settled in the austere Protestant citadel of Sedan where he constructed at least one private mansion. We next find him in the service of Jean III du Châtelet, the baron de Thon and field-marshal of Lorraine, for whom he constructed a large château at Thons in Lorraine in approximately 1603-04. Starting in 1606-07 he directed the reconstruction of the medieval château Chauvirey-le-Chatel in Franche-Comté for the brother of the baron de Thon, René du Châtelet. His next stopping-place was Montbéliard, a Protestant city, belonging to the Duke of Wurtemberg where he stayed in 1610, mostly busy it seems with hydraulic works. One year later he was recommended for a post as engineer to the city of Geneva. If he failed to invent a hydraulic machine there, at least he constructed a part or all of the Mint. In 1612 he was back in France and settled in Chalon-sur-Sâone, where he stayed ten years. As soon as he arrived he began to work on a sumptuous private mansion, occupied today by the sous-préfecture, for Claude-Enoch de Virey, former secretary of Henri II, prince de Condé. He built at least three other mansions in Chalon. His official consecration came with an order to construct the palace of the bailiwick. His drawings vouch for more or less significant work in some châteaux in the area surrounding Chalon, notably a large part of Cormatin. In 1621 he moved one last time, settling in Lyon where in 1622, at the place Belcour, he began the portal of the church of la Charité. His last payment was dated 1623.
The Lyon collection, found recently, comes in all likelihood from his workshop stock. We might, in fact, imagine that he finished his days in Lyon, probably in great financial straits: in his Parisian treatise, in fact, he makes the bitter acknowledgment that his fate was to “Vivre en honneur, et mourir pauvre”.
Gentillâtre’s work is exceptionally well documented. The Royal Institute of British Architects in London holds un album bringing together almost 300 of his drawings datable between 1597 and 1623, to which can be added at the BnF in Paris an octavo volume of 594 handwritten leaves, the architectural treatise that interests us here. The goal of this work compiled between approximately 1615 and 1625, in which several chapters are unfinished, was to provide a practical manual for an engineer-architect. Each demonstration is accompanied with drawings. Although for a large part it is a question of a compilation, the choice of subjects treated and the priorities he gave to them are personal to him and signify an attitude that the author shares with the generation of late mannerism.
Following the Vitruvian tradition the work is divided in ten books corresponding to four large sections. The first deals with mathematics, the second with fortresses and war machines, the third with civil buildings and the fourth with mechanical inventions. The text begins with elementary notions of arithmetic and geometry (ff. 14v°-196r°). It is symptomatic of a new orientation that two books are devoted to fortifications and war machines (ff. 208r°-321r°). The authors quoted are Albert Dürer, Aurelio Pasino, Galeazzo Alghisi and Samuel Marolois. The two men from Lorraine, Jean Appier called Hanzelet and Jean Errard are not mentioned, although their drawings were copied.
Civil architecture (ff. 340r°-397v°) begins with Jean Martin’s translation of extracts of the first book of Vitruvius. What follows is connected to it through two ideal residences serving as examples of layouts. The most distinctive characteristic of the first château, Gentillâtre’s invention, lies in the accentuation of the lateral wings, wider than the central body which consists only of a connecting gallery “pour se promener… pour communiquer d’affaires”. This preliminary design can be found in the two châteaux that he built, at Thons in Lorraine and at Cormatin in Burgundy. This type of residence is contrasted with the country house. The strange conception of the plan with its multiple outbuildings obviously imitates Vitruvius’ Roman house (VI, 9). In the details, Gentillâtre was inspired by the Casa degli Antichi by Palladio (II, 16). Contrary to all expectations the accompanying text is by neither Vitruvius nor Palladio, but by Alberti and deals especially with layout. Although in his architectural drawings from London the author shows a frequently exuberant taste for decoration, his treatise remains practically silent on every question of aesthetics. The orders are copied from Vignola; the diagrams on the proportions for openings are copied from Serlio and Philibert De l’Orme. The part dealing with buildings draws to a close with two books on masonry (ff. 406r°-459r°) and framework (ff 465v°-487v°) which are essentially founded on his own experiences and his constructions.
After two pages on optics, Gentillâtre devotes his last book to the mechanical arts (ff. 492v°-590v°), like Vitruvius. It remains difficult to distinguish between his own invention and what he borrowed. In any case the pages starting with folio 591r° on hydraulics were copied from the Forces mouvantes (1615) by Salomon de Caus.
In this somewhat ambitious rough draft of a treatise, Jacques Gentillâtre succeeded in encompassing all the facets of knowledge necessary for an architect of his time, from the rules of arithmetic, and the conception of a château down to a simple cabbage-cutter, seen at Fontainebleau in times gone by.
Liliane Châtelet-Lange (Strasbourg) – 2006
L. Châtelet-Lange, "Jacques Gentillâtre et les châteaux des Thons et de Chauvirey", Le Pays lorrain, 2, 1987, pp. 65-95.
L. Châtelet-Lange, "L’architecte entre science et pratique: le cas de Jacques Gentillâtre", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d'architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 397-406.
L. Châtelet-Lange, "Jacques Gentillâtre. Montbéliard-Genève-Chalon-sur-Saône-Lyon", Fondation Eugène Piot. Monuments et Mémoires, 70, 1989, pp. 71-138.
R. Coope, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Jacques Gentilhâtre, Farnborough, Eng. Gregg International, 1972.
A. Marr, “Copying, Commonplaces, and Technical Knowledge: The Architect-Engineer as Reader”, Intersections: Yearbook for Early Modern Studies, 16, The Artist as Reader, 2013, pp. 419-444.
H. Omont, Catalogue général des manuscrits français, Ancien supplément français, III, nos 13091-15369 du fonds français, Paris, Leroux, 1896, p. 251.