BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
Album de dessins et mesures de statues romaines...
||Paris, Ensba, PC 6415
||Antique statues, Proportions
The Album de dessins at the École nationale des Beaux-Arts was discovered “on February 7, 1856” by Philippe de Chennevières (1820-1899), a senior civil servant in artistic administrations, a great connoisseur and art historian, who built up a priceless collection of no less than 3600 French drawings, dispersed at his death. In the handwritten notes preceding the book Chennevières gives an overview of his expertise when he points out the repetitions of the faces and the different artists. In fact, interesting in more than one way, the Album is not uniform. As it is today, it contains 41 leaves, numbered subsequently (the same leaf often has two different numbers), but two leaves are unnumbered (between numbers 10 and 11, and between numbers 24 and 25) ; two have the same number (number 27). Leaf number 10, a Laocoon, seems to be the work of another artist, and has its measurements on the back of the drawing, apparently so as not to disturb its fine appearance. The same artist drew the following leaf, unnumbered, with details of the work, without measurements. As Chennevières pointed out on the first page, three drawings of Hercule and two of Méléagre are repetitions. In the Album there is a great number of very fine drawings in black ink, showing details and different aspects of the statues, on separate leaves, on the back, next to red chalk drawings. In one case there is the Antinoüs, a mirror image of the Antinoüs drawn with red chalk (number 27). Despite these differences, the Album is undeniably consistent, thanks primarily to the fact that red chalk drawings dominate, justifying the inscription written by Fréart de Chambray himself : “Proportions that I measured with Monsieur Errard on the originals themselves in Rome in 1640”. It was the first important collaboration between Roland Fréart de Chambray (1606–1676) and Charles Errard (1606–1689), which was soon to become more active, with translations of treatises by Palladio (1650), Leonardo da Vinci (1651) and the publication of the Parallèle de l’architecture ancienne et moderne (1650).
From the same generation, born the same year, Errard, the son of a painter originally from Nantes, and Fréart de Chambray, from a family of the minor nobility from le Mans, had known each other since Chambray’s first trip to Rome in 1635, where Errard had been living since 1627, occupied by drawing, especially from antiquities. Chambray’s trip to Rome in 1640 where this Album was formulated, was made for anything but enjoying tourist attractions. Chambray and his two brothers had become civil servants under their relative Sublet de Noyers, Richelieu’s most important minister, accumulating, among others, the Superintendance of the Bâtiments du Roi since 1638. In truth Chambray carried out an extremely important mission. Sublet had given him and his younger brother Paul Fréart de Chambray the responsibility of searching out the “most excellent painters [Poussin], sculptors [Duquesnoy, Algardi], architects and other famous craftsmen, and have them come to France”, as was stipulated in a letter addressed to Mazarin, pressured to give them help in the Papal City. More than that, the brothers were to bring to France everything that could be useful for the great work of embellishing and decorating the royal houses under Sublet’s responsibility, especially all the representations of the image of antique Rome : drawings, works of art or original fragments, or even the Books by Pirro Ligorio. Errard, sent by Sublet starting in 1638, was employed precisely to draw antiquities. Work in tandem on the collection of measurements of the most remarkable Roman antique statues fell quite naturally into the context of the Fréart brothers’ mission. However, interest in proportions indicates a concern which is a little distinctive.
The proportions of the human body had occupied the theory of art since ancient Egyptian times. Cennini devoted one passage of his treatise (Il libro dell’arte) to this question, and the Renaissance had become more and more intensely attached to it since Alberti, Leonardo and Dürer indicated their interest, to mention only the most famous. At the end of his life Dürer published an exhaustive and complex study on the subject (Underweysung der messung..., 1525). Almost all the theoreticians of the modern era spoke about it. Zuccaro, principe of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, even felt obliged in the 1600s to put a damper on it : everyone was to do “as he wished”, without being subjected to the rules as Armeni wanted (he was the first to put the measured proportions of the body to the test “of the most perfect statues in Rome”). Mathematics would be useless, even harmful to the artist, for the profession required “judgment and good practice”. Zuccaro’s liberalism reflects the reality of artistic practices at the beginning of the 17th century in Rome very well.
It was also of interest in France, shown by L’art de dessiner (1571) by Jean Cousin, “the French Michelangelo”, keen on mathematics and geometry, which was republished until the 19th century, and by the translations of Dürer’s treatise used with criticism. It is significant that proportions were also discussed in scientific books such as the popular Récréation mathématique... (1627). A “conférence” held at the Académie Renaudot in 1634 (58th published in 1636), dealing with the theoretical foundations of the art of painting, devoted important observations to proportions. Art is entirely based on mathematical rules and the science of the proportions of the human body. The intellectualist, universalist, objectivist tendency, stricking a false note compared to the reality of the Parisian artistic scene largely dominated by Simon Vouet and his atelier, was clearly maintained. There was already a hint of a yearning for a more sober style inspired by antiquity using an abstract canon and the discipline of rules. In brief, that “Parisian Atticism” characterized a strong trend in French art during Mazarin’s period from 1640-1660, with artists such as Stella, Poussin, Duquesnoy, and La Hyre (Thuillier 1968). In the same way Hilaire Pader (1617-1677), a painter and theoretician from Toulouse, admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1659, maintained in his Traicté de la proportion naturelle et artificielle des choses par Iean Pol Lomazzo (1649) that it is above all necessary to go beyond the “diverse and directly opposed styles, like those of Caravaggio and that of Chevalier Iosepin”.
The address to the Royal Academy, founded the preceding year, (1648), as to the authority likely to put order in the stylistic anarchy is significant, just as much as the idea that creating proportions based on objective measurements could make a rule reducing complex styles to a well thought-out style. One has reason to suppose that Fréart and Errard undertook this work in Rome in 1640 with this in mind : create a rational basis for the body’s proportions, intended to be useful for training Academy students. This idea was already developing within the superintendancy during Sublet de Noyer’s period. One can find indirect confirmation for it in the Journal de voyage du Cavalier Bernin en France (1665), by Chambray’s brother, Chantelou, who, in order to extend what Bernini was explaining to Louis XIV concerning the advantage of drawing from “beautiful Antiquities” rather than from nature, intervened, saying that he had “for the instruction of painters and sculptors […] more than twenty years ago had many bas-reliefs and some statues made and brought to France…” (Journal, September 9). The castings and statues, as well as the measurements taken by his brother and Errard, a founding member of the Royal Academy, the future director of the French Academy in Rome, could be useful for instruction. The considerable importance of the debates on the subject of proportions within the Academy starting in the 1660s, the number of academic “conférences” devoted to them (Le Brun, Bourdon, Anguier, Testelin...), the publications by authors, members of the Academy or those close to them (Bosse, Piles, Audran, Martinez, Le Comte), the missions entrusted to young students of the French Academy in Rome (created in 1666) for measuring antique statues, in short all that intense activity confirms the importance granted in France to this element of the theory. The Album by Chambray and Errard is a reference and important link, which Chambray in his fundamental theoretical treatise, Idée de la perfection de la peinture (1662), considered a “mechanical” part, easy to “acquire by studying”, like perspective and geometry, basic principles but within the reach of everyone. With this particularity nevertheless, that the theory of proportions is especially based on the measurements of antique sculptures, absolute authorities, “which are universally pleasing”, more precisely on statues chosen for what they could ideally represent as models relative to the characteristics for historic compositions. Thus, for example, Hercule Farnèse for “strength” etc. Like Sébastien Bourdon, but even more explicitly Gérard Audran in his Proportions du corps humain. Mesurées sur les plus belles Figures de l’Antiquité (1683), translated and republished until the end of the 19th century, saw “that it is only antiquity in which one can be entirely confident”. And also Roger de Piles in Les premiers éléments de la peinture pratique (1684) : “the Proportions which please everyone are those of antique figures” (ch. 4). Michel Anguier went further in this search for a universal module calculating on the antique in his academic “conférence” October 2, 1677, in which he proposed an ideal model deduced from the measurements of several statues, and which was to be useful for what he called “the great design [le grand dessein]”, an idea of universal proportion, expanding beyond the human body to “all the works of God which are in heaven, on earth, in the air and in the sea”. In resorting to antique statuary in order to determine exact proportions, he was inspired by Poussin’s example, who in the past had, as Anguier supposes, chosen as ideal the Antinoüs of the Belvedere. In fact Poussin had haunted the discussions regarding antique proportions and statues since the beginning of the academic “conférences”. In his “conférence” on La Manne (November 5, 1667), Le Brun found the proportions of Laocoön, Niobe, Seneca, Antinous, the Wrestlers, Diana of Ephesus, Apollo of the Belvedere, the Medici Venus and Hercules Commodus in all the main figures of Poussin’s compositions, and in his “conférence” on proportions explained from the antique, Bourdon claims to be a direct follower of Poussin.
None of this escaped Philippe de Chennevières, who, in the chapter “ De la mode, au dix-septième siècle, de mesurer les statues antiques ” in the third volume of his Recherches sur la vie et les ouvrages de quelques peintres provinciaux de l’ancienne France (1854 ; the frontispiece shows the engraved portraits of the two authors of the volume, Errard and Chambray, in two medallions decorated with garlands, placed above a Poussin-like landscape, with a young dreamer asleep over a book), affirms that the “mania” of measuring antique statues was borrowed from Poussin. Georg Kauffmann (1960) made an in-depth study of the subject, in which he attributes even three of the pen and ink drawings in the Album to Poussin (number 9, unnumbered leaf after number 24 ; number 27). The drawings are in fact very fine, but there are more than three done by the same artist, and which are not all as exquisite. But most of the pen and ink drawings recall the style of Errard, an accomplished drawer, recognized by Poussin himself as a good artist. In any case, it is certain that in Poussin’s entourage, including the Fréart brothers (Poussin had painted La Manne for Chantelou in 1639), the proportions measured from antique works were considered more seriously in Rome than elsewhere during that period. It is more than likely that he inspired the authors of the Album, and gave advice on the choice of statues to measure, all of them first-rate.
Was the Album really useful to the Academy, like other drawings of the same kind evoked in the “conférences” some of which were passed from hand to hand so often that they became illegible ? In any case it is sure that Bosse used it in his little book Représentation des différentes figures humaines avec mesures antiques (1656), for the Hercule Farnèse, the Méléagre, the Apollon of the Belvédère, and the Vénus Médicis. Although Bosse was not entirely satisfied with the precision of the measurements Fréart-Errard, (preferring the geometricism of Dürer, Lomazzo and Cousin), he was completely aware of the difficulty of determining the starting point of the measurements on the rounded surfaces of the human body or statues. To resolve this he added his figures “par Essieux” (axes) that he had invented in the 1640s and used in his teaching at the Academy as “dependent upon perspective”. Displeased that his drawings were used without his consent, Errard attacked Bosse who defended himself by asserting that he had obtained Chambray’s authorization. This is likely, because Chambray, far from artistic institutions, had no real personal use for the Album, and had maintained friendly relations with Bosse for a long time.
Bosse’s illustrations, with his “Essieux” were used again in the Premiers éléments de la peinture pratique (1684), with the “ Figures d’Académie pour apprendre à dessiner”, engraved by Sebastien Le Clerc originally for L’Art de peinture by Du Fresnoy, republished by Roger de Piles in 1673. However the title page of the Premiers éléments gives Jean-Baptiste Corneille as the author of the “proportions measured from the Antique”. These illustrations were published by Jombert in Méthode pour apprendre le dessin in 1755. The work carried out in advance had been accomplished by Corneille in Rome while he was a member of the French Aacademy, with Pierre Mosnier (who was taking measurements for his professor, Bourdon). After these avatars we lose track of the Album until it reappeared in the extremely rich collection of Phillipe de Chennevières.
Milovan Stanic (Université de Paris-IV) – 2013
P. Comar (ed.), Figures du Corps : Une Leçon d’Anatomie à l’École des Beaux-Arts, exhibition catalogue October 21, 2008-January 4, 2009, Paris, ENSBA, 2008.
E. Coquery, “I pittori francesi a Roma nella prima metà del ‘600 e l’antico”, O. Bonfait & J.-C. Boyer (ed.), Intorno a Poussin. Ideale classico e epopea barocca tra Parigi e Roma, Rome, Villa Médicis, 2000, pp. 41-53.
E. Delapierre, ‘La quête d’un vêtement d’idées. La question des proportions du corps humain au XVIIe siècle’, in “La naissance de la théorie de l’art en France, 1640-1720”, Revue d’esthétique, 31-32, 1997, pp. 211-219.
P. Gerlach, Proportion. Körper. Leben. Quellen, Entwürfe und Kontroversen, Cologne, Apex Verlag, 1990.
G. Kauffmann, “La Sainte Famille à l’Escalier et le problème des proportions dans l’œuvre de Poussin”, André Chastel (ed.), Nicolas Poussin, Paris, CNRS, 1960, I, pp. 141-151.
J. Lichtenstein & C. Michel (ed.), Les Conférences de l’Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Les conférences au temps d’Henry Testelin 1648-1681, t. I, vol. 1-2, Paris, ENSBA, 2006.
E. Panofsky, “L’évolution d’un schème structural. L’histoire de la théorie des proportions humaines conçue comme un miroir de l’histoire des styles”, L’œuvre d’art et ses significations : essais sur les arts visuels, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, pp.53-99.
J. Thuillier, “Doctrines et querelles artistiques en France au XVIIe siècle : quelques textes oubliés ou inédits”, Archives de l’Art Français, 23, 1968, pp. 130-137.