Author(s) Bachot, Ambroise
Title Le timon...
Imprint Paris, A. Bachot, [1587]
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Masson 159
Subject Geometry, Machines, Military architecture, Perspective


     Ambroise Bachot was born in an environment of painters and book makers. His father, Louis Bachot, a master-painter, lived on the rue de Seine, faubourg Saint-Germain, at the beginning of the 1540s. His property adjoined that of Jean Cousin Senior. It overlooked the rue des Marais (rue Visconti) near the rue de Seine. Out of Louis’ three sons, Jean, master-bookbinder, Laurent, master-painter, and Ambroise, at least the last two lived in this residence during their whole lives. Bachot said he printed his first book, the Timon, in 1587, at the address of the Croix Blanche near the rue de Seine. And when he published the Gouvernail in 1598 in Melun at the bookseller Bruneval’s shop, one can read in it that he “s’en trouvera aussi en son logis rue de seine...”. His widow was still living there in 1616.
We know very little about Ambroise Bachot’s life. In 1571 he was with the engineer Agostino Ramelli, in 1573 they were at the siege of La Rochelle, and in 1577 at Turin. Everything leads us to believe that Bachot carried out the functions of “conducteur des dessins” for sixteen years with Ramelli, that he became “capitaine” then engineer of the fortifications starting from that first training he probably acquired in his family environment.
From 1579 to 1587 he engraved the plates of the Timon which he published himself. Then he declared himself “le capitaine A. Bachot”. He married Hélène Bernard and in 1588 they had a son, Jérôme, who would have a fine career as engineer and superintendent of the fortifications of Brittany, succeeding Charles Errard, his wife Anne’s father.
During the siege of Paris, in 1590, Ambroise Bachot took Henri IV’s side, followed him to Melun and in 1593 settled in the parish of Saint-Ambroise. He carried out the functions of engineer of the city fortifications; in 1597 he drew up the plans for a new fortification project which is presently at the museum of Melun. He was still carrying out those functions in 1598. In 1600 he was in Paris. We know nothing more.
Thus Ambroise Bachot’s two very rare works are available today on line. We have knowledge of only three copies of the Timon: the one at the Ensba, scanned here, and another one available at the Sainte-Geneviève library (fol. V 341 inv 418 Res). There is little difference between them. They consist of the same number of pages (60 leaves) and a few rare inversions in the order of the engraved plates. However the copy at the Sainte-Geneviève library contains in addition seven drawings from the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century and eleven engravings taken from Artillerie, c’est à dire Vraye instruction de l’artillerie et de toutes ses appartenances... by Diego Ufano (Rouen, 1628). There is a third copy at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. According to Martha Gnudi’s description of it, it contains only 43 leaves and does not contain one whole part devoted to perspective (two texts and twelve diagrams outlined in a fillet border) nor four others devoted to distance measurement apparatus, which are found in the copies in Paris.
The Timon enjoyed a certain fame in recent historiography following the publication of Martha Gnudi’s article in 1974. While she was working on the translation and the publication of the most famous of the “theatres of machines”, the Diverse et artificiose machine de Ramelli, she became intrigued by the author’s denunciation of the theft of his fortification drawings by any one of his “domestiques” whom he leaves nameless, she looked for the guilty party and discovered Ambroise Bachot. Bachot, far from concealing his debt to Ramelli mentions it at length three times in the Timon, praising this “nouvel Archimède”. In his preface Ramelli writes that “me donnant titre de vertueux, en apparence de me louer, & se louans eux-mesmes” these “domestiques” “ont desrobé plusieurs desseins particuliers, & adjoustans à iceux, & diminuant quelques inutiles parcelles, inventées de leurs folles fantaisies ; & en les courbans, ou en autre endroict les destournant pour couvrir leurs larrecins”.
Martha Gnudi’s arguments are rather convincing and universally repeated. Since Ramelli’s book is dated 1588 and the Timon 1587-89, it could only be a question of the latter work. There remains the plural of the accused “domestiques”. Now if in the Gouvernail one can see some engravings signed by Laurent Bachot, it is not the case with the Timon. Martha Gnudi’s criticism of Bachot is very severe; it takes up again and supports Ramelli’s, which makes her miss something essential: as the titles of his works indicate, Bachot’s intention is not Ramelli’s. The Timon “conduira le lecteur parmi les guerrieres mathematiques sur les réduction des unes aux autres figures geometriques et instruments de mesurer toutes distances et representer tout corps en perspective” ; just as le Gouvernail “conduira le curieux de Geometrie en perspective dedans l’architecture des fortifications, machine de guerre et plusieurs autres particularitez y contenues”. The first raison d’être of these works concerns a whole system of questions relative to the written representation of technical inventions. He adds to the Timon, he says, “un traicte fort utille des Fortifications Machines de guerre et aultres particularites inventes par l’auteur” : the theft concerned only this second part and in fact the style of the machine drawings is the same as in the Diverse et artificiose machine, down to the details. The plates are simply placed side by side, without explanation or explanatory texts which were customary in the theatres of machines. On the other hand the texts in the first part of the Timon reveal an original approach, very different from Ramelli’s. Bachot’s reflections on method, on the development of ideas, on the importance to grant to perspective, but also on the usefulness of scale models to predict, as well as his conception of the appropriate time, the opportunity, are all felicitous remarks, part of a vigorous tradition during his period.

Hélène Vérin (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Centre Koyré, Paris) – 2006

Critical bibliography

J. Guiffrey, Histoire générale de Paris, artistes parisiens du XVIe et du XVIIe siècles, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1915, p. 49.

G. Leroy, Melun sous Henri IV, Melun, Hérissé, 1866, p. 13.

G. Leroy, "Un ingénieur du roy au XVIe siècle", Almanach de Seine-et-Marne, Paris, 1873, pp. 116-119.

P. Renouard, Imprimeurs et libraires parisiens du XVIe siècle, 2, Paris, Service des travaux historiques de la Ville de Paris, 1969, pp. 3-6.

M. Teach Gnudi, "The cover design. Agostino Ramelli and Ambroise Bachot", Technology and culture, 15, 4, 1974, pp. 614-625.