Chastillon, Claude et al.

Title Topographie françoise...
Imprint Paris, J. Boisseau, 1641
Subject Castles, Churches, Domestic architecture
Consult in image mode
Transcribed version of the text


     In 1641 the illuminator Jean Boisseau published the Topographie francoise ou representations de plusieurs villes, bourgs, chasteaux, maisons de plaisance, ruines & vestiges d’antiquité du royaume de France by Claude Chastillon (1559-1616), twenty-five years after Chastillon’s death. Boisseau had acquired the plates, already engraved by Mathieu Merian, Léonard Gaultier, Joachim Duviert and Jacques Poinssart and he had Isaac and Nicolas Briot (Weigert 1951, p. 307) and others engrave the drawings that he bought. As indicated by the title, it contains views of cities and strongholds that were under Chastillon’s responsibility as topographer and king’s engineer, but also views of castles, some more modest residences, abbeys and antiquities that he visited during his stays in Champagne (he lived in his home town of Châlons until 1606), in the Ardennes, in Picardy, in Île de France and Berry, but also in Aunis, Saintonge and Guyenne.
     Chastillon, the author of a Recueil de géométrie et de mécanique (Paris, BnF, Estampes I a 2, ff. 384-388), an expert in fortification and cartography, an excellent hydraulic engineer, died before publishing the Topographie francoise, which he was planning on, as shown by the table of contents. The names of some monuments are not complete; the letters (A to Z) indicated on the engravings were not followed by the captions they referred to. Many plates were not signed.
     The book, full of a vast number of engravings, approximately 500, is remarkable less for its graphic qualities (absence of cast shadows, schematic view and awkward perspective) than for its documentary wealth. The monuments represented, whether they are military (fortresses, citadels), religious (churches, abbeys, collegiate churches, priories) or civilian, from castles to more modest residences (manors, country estates), or else antique monuments provide a snapshot of France’s monuments between 1589 and 1616, even if it proves to be incomplete because of the travels of this specialist in fortification. Chastillon’s assignments did not allow him to cover all of Guyenne, or especially southern France where the most remarkable ruins were concentrated. Chastillon had the responsibility of inspecting the Cordouan lighthouse in 1606, leaving us a very precious drawing of the monument which was not engraved until 1642. Some representations are all the more valued since they give us a previous condition before reconstruction or changes (the châteaux of Étoges, of Chilly-Mazarin, of the Cour Senlisse, of Coulommiers), show buildings no longer standing today (the château royal de Pontoise, the château neuf de Challuau, the châteaux de Limours, Sillery, Chapelaine, and Châteauneuf-sur-Loire with its exceptional polygonal steam baths perhaps made for Philippe le Bel...). It illustrates the finished condition of the château de Meillant at the end of the 16th century before its many later modifications.
     Among the most remarkable monuments illustrated are Saint-Denis and its abbey, the château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, de Gaillon and de Coulommiers, and the remarkable city planning ensemble of Charleville. The Topographie also shows the private residences in style (the hôtels d’Angoulême, du Maine, de Nevers) as well as the great Parisian constructions from Henri IV’s reign, the Collège royal, the hôpital Saint-Louis, the place Royale, the place Dauphine and the place de France where Chastillon worked with his colleague Jacques Alleaume but which was never finished.
     The distinctive feature of the Topographie is that it shows approximately twenty antique constructions that Chastillon had seen during his numerous trips with the army. This large collection is original in its content. In fact, beside the well-known ruins at Poitiers, at Saintes or in Bordeaux there are the more modest vestiges at Tonnay-Charente and at Varaize, at Drevant-sur-Cher, and even those at Metz with the famous aqueduct of Jouy-aux-Arches. The remaining antique city gates in Reims are very visible in the engraving, and the one of Boulogne shows the Tour d’Odre. Chastillon also drew the vestiges of the thermal baths at Cluny, known for a long time although misidentified as the Palace of Julian the Apostate.
     Some copies of the Topographie have a title page dated 1641 but have a few plates with a later date (Pastoureau, 1984, p. 97). It was reprinted in 1648 and in 1655, evidence of the public’s enthusiasm for this type of purely visual book. But it was quickly overshadowed by the more appealing publications by Merian, Perelle, Silvestre and even Marot. Nevertheless, as is, the Topographie, a rare book of which there are only approximately fifteen copies, putting all the editions together, remains an exceptional source of documentation.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CESR, Tours) – 2014

Critical bibliography

F. Boudon, “La Topographie française de Claude Chastillon: propositions pour une grille d’analyse des gravures”, Les Cahiers de la recherche architecturale, 18, 1985, pp. 54-65.

F. Boudon & J. Blécon, “Le réel et l’imaginaire dans l’œuvre de Claude Chastillon” (ordered by the ministère de l’Urbanisme, 1983), unpublished.

D. Buisseret, “Les ingénieurs du roi au temps de Henri IV”, Annales de la Section de géographie, 77, 1964, pp. 13-84.

D. Buisseret, Ingénieurs et fortifications avant Vauban. L’organisation d’un service royal aux XVIe-XVIIe siècles, Paris, CTHS, 2000, pp. 69-73.

M. Dumolin, Essai sur Claude Chastillon et son œuvre, Paris, s.d., typed manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale (Estampes, YB3 2725 4°).

M. Grivel, Le commerce de l’estampe à Paris au XVIIe siècle, Geneva, Droz, 1986, pp. 282.

M. Herme-Renault, “Claude Chastillon et sa ‘Topographie française’ ”, Bulletin monumental, 139-3, 1981, pp. 141-163.

F. Lemerle, La Renaissance et les antiquités de la Gaule, Turnhout, Brepols, 2005, pp. 77-78.

M. Pastoureau (in collaboration with F. Lestringant), Les atlas français, XVIe-XVIIe siècles: répertoire bibliographique et études, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1984, pp. 120-124.

M. Préaud, P. Casselle, M. Grivel & C. Le Bitouzé, Dictionnaire des éditeurs d’estampes à Paris sous l’Ancien Régime, Paris, Promodis, 1987, pp. 56-57.

J. Proust-Perrault, “Claude Chastillon et sa bibliothèque parisienne”, Les Cahiers de la Rotonde, 1997, pp. 115-144.

J.-P. Ravaux, Claude Chastillon (vers 1560-1616) et sa Topographie française, à l’aide de renseignements inédits, Châlons-en-Champagne, 1998.

R.-A Weigert, Inventaire du fonds français. Graveurs du XVIIe siècle, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1939, 1, pp. 393-394.

R.-A Weigert, Inventaire du fonds français. Graveurs du XVIIe siècle, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1951, 2, pp. 307-381.