Author(s) Deville, Antoine
Title Les fortifications...
Imprint Lyon, I. Barlet, 1629
Subject Geometry, Mathematics, Military architecture, Urbanism
Transcribed version of the text


     Antoine Deville or De Ville, (1596-1656), a native of Toulouse and military engineer, owed his fame to his work entitled Les fortifications.  The first edition of it came out in Lyons when he was thirty-two years old.  Both an astute mathematician and a practitioner, Antoine Deville was in all likelihood educated at the Jesuit collège in Toulouse; he had a very mediocre memory of it, mentioning in one of his letters that after having wasted three years studying philosophy with the Jesuits, he found that he was "more ignorant and muddled than before".  He began his military career very early, participating in various campaigns against the Protestants during the 1620s.  Enlisted as a member of the Household Cavalry at the siege of Montauban in 1621, he participated in the siege of La Rochelle in 1624, then in the campaigns against the Huguenots in the Southwest and in the southern part of the Massif Central.  In 1626 he pursued his career in the Netherlands, in the batallions of Charles Emmanuel I, the Duke of Savoy.  He won renown when he was awarded the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.  Taking advantage of a short permission, he took a trip to Italy, particularly to Rome and the Kingdom of Naples where he gathered together the documentation necessary for the publication of his work on fortifications.  During this trip Artemisia Gentileschi painted his portrait, when he was just twenty-seven years old.  Antoine Deville next enlisted in Italy in the service of the Republic of Venice, from 1630 to 1635.  We are acquainted with this episode because of his brief correspondance with Galileo about the Discourse on the Two New Sciences that Galileo was getting ready to publish.  Considered by Fulgenzio Micanzio, Galileo's Venitian friend, "a great mathematician and valuable in mechanics", Deville was requested to reread the scientist's pages.  But he hardly had the leisure to go deeper into Galileo's annotations, complaining about a very busy schedule of numerous inspection missions in Istria, Dalmatia, Slavonia, on the borders of the papal states, on the Po and about his restoration work on the Mantua and Bergamo fortifications.  His very precise architectural plans of the Palazzo del Te in Mantua probably date from this period (the manuscript of the plan is now at the library of the Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre in Vincennes).  Nevertheless Deville turned to good account his visit of the fortifications of the port of Pula in Istria (today Croatia), then under Venitian rule, and published in Venice, in 1633, Descriptio portus et urbis Polæ in Latin.  The same year he published a scholarly opuscule in Latin, Pyctomachia veneta, seu pugnorum certamen venetum, in which he held forth on the old Venitian tradition of battles and fistfights organized annually in each district of the city.  These two texts were to be drawn on fully in 1722 in the Thesaurus antiquitatum et historiarum Italiæ published in Amsterdam by Peter van de Haa.  In France again in 1635, probably called back by Richelieu to whom he dedicated his subsequent publications, Antoine Deville participated in the defense of Corbie, then in the siege of Hesdin at the end of which he was named brigadier in 1639.  On that occasion he published two long descriptions of these sieges, respectively entitled Obsidio Corbiensis and Le siège de Hesdin.  His last work was published that year, De la charge de gouverneurs des places, which although devoted to military logistics, is accompanied by a short text on fortification.  There is no documentation on the end of his career, but according to Yves Brunat's research, it seems that he was active in Artois and Picardy until his death in 1656.
The privilege for his work Les fortifications was granted on June 11, 1628 when he was participating in the siege of La Rochelle.  The work was probably published a few months later in 1629, as indicated in the frontispiece.  The book opens on a frontispiece with architectural elements where the author represents allegories of the engineer and the workman entitled "Ingenio" and "Labore", followed by his portrait engraved by Jérôme David (1605-1670), a French artist living in Rome during the 1620s.  It is an inverted copy of the composition in Artemisia Gentileschi's painting of him.  The work is made up of three books respectively devoted to the construction, attack and defense of fortified towns.  The first book is conventially divided between regular and irregular fortification, supplemented by reflections on country forts, "the little forts".  The stress is put on regular fortification and the definition of the vocabulary of the different elements of fortification with bastions, an art of war which was not yet perfectly mastered at the beginning of the 17th century.  Deville, as a well-informed practician, constantly justifies his biases by quoting examples taken from his many experiences in France during his campaigns against the Protestants (Montauban, La Rochelle, Clérac) and abroad (Flushing and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, Turin, Civitavecchia, Venice "marvelously located" and Palmanova in Italy).  The second book, still harking back to several antique examples (Hannibal, Caesar, Polybius and Vegetius) explores in detail various methods of attacking strongholds by cunning, surprise and lastly, force.  The third book deals with defending the same strongholds according to the various attacks described in the second book, each attack needing to be in proportion to the number of inhabitants and soldiers residing there.  Relying on numerous examples, the author has no ambitions to present an innovative system but rather to supply a compendium of the different modern systems of fortifications.  He makes himself clear in his introduction, writing that "although the meats were delicious, not all found them to their liking" and that he prefers to offer a great diversity of solutions to satisfy all minds.  The novelty of his remarks resides in the importance he granted to outworks and to the in-depth extension of the exterior works of strongholds, precisely defining the characteristics of ravelins and hornworks.  It is possible to see in these definitions the premises of the complex spreading out of exterior works which would be put in place during the second half of the century.
The iconography of Les fortifications is exceptional.  A superb draftsman and an experienced engraver, Antoine Deville wrote in his introduction that the fifty-five full-page and double-page plates of his book are "carved by him" and that he "used perspective in order to get used to drawing the plan of the forts".  This sophisticated iconography, juxtaposing elements of fortification with rural landscapes, views of medieval towns and antique ruins, makes of this treatise a book devoted to a wide public made up of lovers of engravings as well as practitioners.  Moreover Jean-François Pernot (1978) studied in detail their Italian sources and the influence of Jacques Callot.  The virtuosity of some of these perspective projections, making it difficult to read and to calculate the flankings, would nonetheless be criticized by some of Deville's successors. Thus, Alain Manesson Mallet, in his practical vade mecum, Les travaux de Mars ou l’art de la guerre, published in 1671, would reproach his style of representation, calling him "that cavalier" in a derogatory fashion, arguing that his representations "are contrary to nature and to the practices of the best painters and the most skilled engineers".
In spite of these criticisms, Antoine Deville's work was successful.  Les fortifications were to be re-issued five times during the 17th century, in 1636 and 1666 in Paris, in 1640 in Lyons and finally in 1672 and 1675 in Amsterdam.  The subsequent editions of the book contained no changes save the name of the publisher and the date of the publication in the frontispiece.  The work was found in most of the great libraries of the period and it was also exported to the colonies. Thus it is mentioned in the 1717 posthumous inventory of Capitain Deleuze, active in New Orleans.  It was bought by the chapelain of the post at La Mobile in French Louisiana.  Unlike Blaise de Pagan's contemporary work published in 1640 which Vauban would admit inspired him to modernize the principles of fortification "in the modern way", Deville's work did not dominate because of the newness of obsidional theories but rather because of a concern to rationalize the art of war.  Granting a great deal of importance to the management of the siege, to military logistics and to the method of attacking and defending, his writings were to be a major source of inspiration for Vauban's work, Le directeur général des fortifications.  The pirated edition of this book came out in 1685 in The Hague.

Émilie d’Orgeix (Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris) – 2009

Critical bibliography

Y. Bruant, "Les traités d’architecture militaire français à la fin du XVIe siècle et au début du XVIIe siècle", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 477-484.

B. Colson, L’art de la guerre de Machiavel à Clauzewitz, Namur, Presses universitaires de Namur, 2002, pp. 69-72.

A. Du Mège, Bibliographie toulousaine, ou dictionnaire historique des personnages…, Toulouse, Veuve Navarre, 1823, 1, p. 444.

J.-F. Pernot, "L’école française de fortifications", I. Warmoes & V. Sanger (ed.), Vauban Bâtisseur du Roi-Soleil, Paris, Somogy, 2007, pp. 55-61 and comment 26 by V. Sanger, p. 158.

J.-F. Pernot, "La guerre et l’infrastructure de l’État moderne : Antoine de Ville, ingénieur du roi (1596 ?-1656?), la pensée d’un technicien au service de la mobilisation totale du royaume", Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 34, juillet-septembre 1984, p. 407.

J.-F. Pernot, "Un aspect peu connu de l’œuvre d’Antoine de Ville, ingénieur du roi (1596 ?-1656?) . Approches d’un type de documents : les gravures des traités de fortifications", Revue historique des armées, 1978, pp. 29-58.

M.D. Pollak, Military Architecture Cartography and the Representation of the Early Modern European City : A Checklist of Treatises on Fortification in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1992, n° 22.

H. Vérin, "Galilée et Antoine de Ville : un courrier sur l’idée de matière", J. Montesinos &y Carlos Solis (ed.), Largo Campo di Philosophare, Eurosymposium Galileo, Madrid, Orotavia 2001, pp. 307-322.

H. Vérin, "Un lecteur intéressant", Cahiers de Science et Vie, Dossier Galilée, 61, février 2001, pp. 68-71.