Author(s) De l’Orme, Philibert
Title Le premier tome de l’architecture...
Imprint Paris, F. Morel, 1567-1568
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1653
Subject Architecture, Chimneys, Doors, Orders, Stereotomy


     The plan for a complete treatise of architecture was disclosed by Philibert De l’Orme as early as 1561, in the Nouvelles inventions, which was explicitly devised to be only a part of it. This treatise appeared for the first time in 1567 ; it then consisted of nine books which deal with construction as a whole. The first two books contain preliminary considerations relative to general building conditions (choice of the site, orientation, choice of materials, etc.) as well as the status of the architect. Books III and IV treat the basics of the edifice : foundations, cellars, and more generally stone structures which guarantee stability and functionality, in particular the vaults, squinches and staircases (see below Philippe Potié’s presentation). Book V addresses decoration with the Tuscan, Doric and Ionic orders : Book VI is entirely devoted to the Corinthian order, and book VII treats various ways to "composer" original orders as well as the problem, also very important, of the French order. The last two books deal with different sorts of openings, doors, windows and dormer windows, along with façade organization, then fireplaces. A long conclusion gives the author the occasion to reflect at length on the architect’s profession. In later editions, the two books of the Nouvelles inventions were to be the crowning achievement in becoming books X and XI.
At that time, such complete treatises were rare. De l’Orme obviously wanted to compete with Alberti and Serlio, whom he no doubt was aware of surpassing, in that he integrated technical developments in his remarks, particularly on the art of constructing vaults, entirely unknown to the Italians. He had multiple sources : daily contact with the building sites provided him with all the science necessary to dominate the most concrete aspects of the art of building. His trip or trips to Italy allowed him to amass the most sophisticated artistic references, while the time spent in the humanistic milieus, in Rome and in Paris, provided him with a distance necessary for good "digestion" of that protean culture. Numerous representations from antiquity in the book (whether it is a question of drawings made in Italy or of copies of drawings and of other treatises such as Cesariano’s or Labacco’s), the allusions- willingly critical- to contemporary Roman architecture, and also the scholarly quotations sprinkled through the work, testify to it. But as it is, the treatise is not finished. De l’Orme did not have the time to write the Second tome he promised several times, in which he would have presented his own works and put forth his doctrine of the "Divines proportions". No doubt aware that he would not have the time to carry his work through to a successful conclusion, Philibert tried to integrate the planned-for material in the last books of the Premier tome, which makes its structure rather confused sometimes.
There are also few such innovative treatises. Far from limiting himself to copying Serlian forms, like Goujon or Bullant, De l’Orme reduces these models (presented as vitruvian) to small illustrations, reserving the full pages either for models from antiquity, which are thus ranked as paradigms, or for his own inventions. Under the pretext of "composer" he invents totally original orders- even passing them off as antique ones- preferable according to him to the preceding ones imposed by the Serlian tradition. Such a capital, "composé", of the Ionic order seems admirable to him, although its shape "par les ignorants & fascheux pleins d’envie pourra estre trouvée fort estrange, & peult estre, de mauvaise grace, pour autant qu’ils n’ont accoustumé de voir la semblable & ne peuvent louer ce qu’ils ne sçavent faire & oultrepasse leurs gros esprits" (f. 208). In the same way, the wavy surface of the squinch at Anet, "lequel j’ai voulu faire de forme étrange pour rendre la trompe de la voûte plus difficile et belle à voir" (f. 89 v°), is all the more admirable as it is extraordinary. The aesthetics of the Premier tome are more like Serlio’s aesthetics in the Extraordinario libro than those of Bullant, in his Vitruvian strictness. It is the same "fureur architectonique" set forth by the Italian who clearly inspired De l’Orme in his taste for originality, abundance, the variety of "excogitation".
There exist few architectural treatises which are as personal as this. Philibert De l’Orme the man appears here in all his facets, all the more truthful as his writing style is very lively. He is not satisfied to inform us of his experiences as a builder ; he shares confidences with us in recounting one or another anecdote of his trip to Rome, as a young, when he had setbacks after the death of Henri II, his main protector, to whose memory he remained very faithful. The abbé de Saint Serge of Angers, who "possède terres et vignes", remembers that rain ruined the grape-gathering in 1555 ; at the same time, the canon of Notre Dame, who came to live near the cathedral at the end of his life, faithful to the chapter, steps in readily to warn against the sin of pride and to invoke God, the true author of all his architectural inventions, and that Philibert is only His faithful servant.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2004

     In his 1567 treatise Philibert De l’Orme transmitted an entire knowledge which until then had been transmitted under the seal of secrecy inside the corporations : the art of line drawing. Progressively established between the 12th and the 14th centuries in southern France, the art of creating working drawings, enabling one to master complex volumes, would give rise to a new chapter in liberal arts. Stereotomy in the 17th century, the descriptive brochure in the 18th century would measure the evolution of what was to become a science in the hands of mathematicians while architects would develop the "artistique" vision inaugurated as early as the 16th century by De l’Orme.
The "architectural" use of the line drawing is perceptible in the selection that he makes among the corpus of medieval working drawings. In fact one can notice that he never presents to his architectural student the basic models which in good pedagogical technique he should have taught initially. The Montpellier squinch, the simple spherical cupola, elementary works, are symptomatically absent. Instead, one finds the Anet squinch and the cupola on a square base, that is, two already complex vaultings characterized by their architectural effects. De l’Orme, with the architects, intends to "se spécialiser" in an intellectual operation which he designates as "excogitation", not yet daring to use the term "creation" reserved for God alone. In this "architectural" perspective, the working drawings logically make up the integral part of the architectural treatise, in the circumstances forming books III and IV (whereas they would be the subject of specialized technical works, thus separate ones, as early as the 17th century.)
The account of the "excogitation" method is presented using the example of De l’Orme’s Anet squinch. Careful to persuade, understanding the difficulty of the geometric statements, he does his utmost to explain how it is possible to vary the medieval models by means of insertions, in the nature of working drawings, of "cultural parameters" which modify the final shape of the project. In the case of the Anet squinch he explains the subterfuge by which one can insert a centered plan à l’italienne which "onde" the surface of the squinch in the working drawing of the Montpellier squinch. In Spain Vandelvira and Guarini in Italy would repeat this lesson which makes the geometry of the drawing the means of transforming, curving surfaces. Faithful to De l’Orme’s lesson, the architects would make the art of line drawing a rhetoric, allowing the development of a scholarly art of diversity, or even of caprice, which the mannerist and baroque eras in particular would exalt.
The new and ambiguous position of this art in the organization of knowledge is perceptible right from the frontispiece of the treatise where Philibert tries to enter four working drawings, without at the same time daring to integrate them in the allegorical frame that the torches of the Platonic bodies illuminate. If the epistemological rupture is thus displayed, the world of the working drawing still seems to hesitate to be adorned with the attributes of the liberal arts, the printed book representing a symbolic attribute. The uncertain intellectual status of this art also speaks of a world in mutation which places "invention", "variation" as principles. Such an operating and technical dimension would in principal forbid its entry into the world of the liberal arts where the written word is the preferred intermediary and the library its memory. Nevertheless, the famous allegory of the "good architect" establishes the position of the architect by putting a cap and gown on him. But one could say that it is on the understanding that one reads there as inscribed on the back the figure in counterpoint of the practician, using the great mason’s compass, who directs his project in the allegory of folio 51. Neither art in the medieval sense of the term, nor science, the "method" of the project which was invented with the Renaissance discovered an intellectual approach, "invention", which until then had no independent existence in any discipline.
In this quest to recognize Art as discipline, the printed book occupied a strategic position. In being placed in the perspective opened by Mac Luhan, everything seemed to take place as though the possibility of placing the fragile conservation of the hitherto oral memory on the printed word authorised freedom and the risk of diversity. As Leroi-Gourhan pointed out, the conservation of memory constituted a quasi-obsession linked to the fear of forgetting for the societies depending on oral tradition. Repeating, chanting, learning Bible verses by heart, the working drawings represented the prime intellectual effort of these societies. The lifting of such an "inquiétude", whose strength of memorization is the instrument, certainly contributed to the "authorisation" of a more freely reflexive work allowing both the emancipation of medieval models and the breakthrough into the universe of clerks, books and the humanities.

Philippe Potié (École d’architecture de Grenoble) – 2004

Critical bibliography

A. Ceccarelli Pellegrino, Le "bon architecte" de Philibert De L’Orme. Hypotextes et anticipations, Paris/Fassano, Schena/Nizet, 1996.

M. Morresi, "Philibert de l’Orme. Le patrie della lingua", in A. Blunt, Philibert de l’Orme, Milan, Electa, 1997, pp. 159-193.

Y. Pauwels, "Philibert De L’Orme et Cesare Cesariano : le "piédestal dorique" du Premier Tome de l’Architecture", Revue de l’Art, 91, 1991, pp. 39-43.

Y. Pauwels, "Les antiques romains dans les traités de Philibert De L’Orme et Jean Bullant", Mélanges de l’École française de Rome - Italie et Méditerranée, 106, 1994-2, pp. 531-547.

Y. Pauwels, "Les Français à la recherche d’un langage. Les ordres hétérodoxes de Philibert De L’Orme et Pierre Lescot", Revue de l’Art, 112, 1996, pp. 9-15.

Y. Pauwels, L’architecture au temps de la Pléiade, Paris, Monfort, 2002.

Y. Pauwels, Aux marges de la règle. Essai sur les ordres d’architecture à la Renaissance, Wavre, Mardaga, 2008.

Y. Pauwels, L’architecture et le livre en France à la Renaissance : « Une magnifique décadence » ?, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2013, pp. 123-127, 175-189, 221-238.

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, L’architecture à la française. Du milieu du XVe siècle à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Picard, 2011 (1st ed.: Paris, 1982).

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, Introduction à Philibert De l’Orme, Traités d’architecture, Paris, Laget, 1988, pp. 43-44.

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, "Les éditions des traités de Philibert De L’Orme au XVIIe siècl", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture à la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 355-366.

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, Philibert De l’Orme Architecte du roi (1514-1570), Paris, Mengès, 2000.

P. Potié, Philibert De L’Orme. Figures de la pensée constructive, Marseille, Parenthèses, 1996.

J. Sakarovitch, Épures d’architecture, de la coupe des pierres à la géométrie descriptive, XVIe-XIXe siècles, Bâle/Boston/Berlin, Birkhäuser, 1998.