BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
||L’agriculture et maison rustique...
Paris, J. Du Puis, 1564
Toronto, Université, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Sci 00844
L’agriculture et maison rustique, published posthumously starting in 1564, the year of the dramatic death of Estienne, imprisoned for debt, is the result of a profound rewriting in the vernacular of the Prædium rusticum of 1554, implying a complete renovation of the book even in its educational aims. In the epistle to the Maison rustique (1564), also entitled Agriculture françoyse & maison rustique, it is specified that “Cato, Varron, Columella, Palladius and others, whose rules and descriptions were more useful for the Italian nation”, which leads one to believe that the agricultural techniques were to be adapted to French climatic conditions. Jean Liébault, Charles Estienne’s son-in-law and heir of his agronomical work, confirmed this bias in 1567: one must not “be merely satisfied to translate Columella, Constantin Cesar, Pietro de’Crescenzi, without taking into account that such authors dealt with agriculture according to their region and part of the country”. It is necessary to “experiment in Agriculture” and “do careful research in older books”. In summary, “one must learn antique customs, and work in the present”.
Henceforth the book was no longer divided into ten sections stemming from the Libelli gathered together in 1554 to make up the compilation of the Prædium rusticum (hortus, seminarium, vinetum, ager, pratum, lacus, arundinetum, sylva, frutetum et collis), but in six books which would be organized, if one has confidence in the dedicatory letter signed by Charles Estienne, as “Cato represented […] in his Roman agriculture”. Moreover the title La maison rustique could have been chosen in reference to the casa rustica described in De agricultura(or De re rustica) by Cato. Now this last work is made up of formulae placed one after another without a hierarchical plan. In the first chapter, this Roman treatise nevertheless begins like the Maison rustique by presenting on the one hand the duties of a country squire and his family, and on the other hand the way to choose the location of a country farm house surrounded by crops. But the following heading of Liébault’s text eludes the question of breeding cattle, which no longer corresponds to the themes developed in the Roman text. In addition, the methodical plan, split up in explicit themes, of Estienne’s new treatise, is closer to the plan in the Livre des prouffitz champestres (1486) by Crescenzi, which begins in the very same way, even if the divisions are not linked up in the same way.
After the chapter on family and entrepreneurial customs in the country and the way to build a residence in that context, the second book of the Maison rustique (1564) presents the “household garden”, the verjuice arbors and the flower gardens. The third book deals with the fruit orchard and its nursery. The fourth relates to ponds and fishponds. The fifth describes cereal crops and viticulture. The sixth and last book touches on rabbit warrens, woods, wild animal reserves and hunting. Each of these divisions corresponds to a precise place in the “theater” formed by the mental image of the “Maison rustique”. This plan was not challenged in the various French editions which included successive additions made by Jean Liébault.
Updated editions of the Maison rustique, considerable enlarged by Liébault, spanned the years from 1567 to 1586. If one relies on the introductory taxt of 1567, the 1564 edition was apparently already a draft largely made by Estienne’s follower although his name does not appear on it. In fact Liébault explains that after Estienne’s death there were only unfinished fragments of
The Maison rustique that had to be completed and assembled. This scenario is plausible because it agrees witht the chronology of Etienne’s decline: he squandered his property after some bad deals in 1556-1557, then, imprisoned for debt in 1561, he apparently died there a little before January 14, 1564.
The critical reputation of the Maison rustique by Charles Estienne and Jean Liébault was considerable in France and in Europe. One can make a list of more than twenty French editions of this “best seller” coming out between 1564 to 1653, and it continued to be published up to the end of the 18th century. With each printing the text was enlarged : 64 pages in 1564, 589 pages in 1567, then 612 pages in 1576, 735 pages in 1578 and 853 pages in 1583. In 1589 the book even reached 922 pages. It seems that the aesthetics of the copia prevailing at the end of the 16th century was the principle of an editorial strategy involving the increase in the number of agronomic formulae. In the editions published simultaneously in Paris and Lyon in 1583, the engravings of illustrations, including starting in 1567 a series of stills, increase considerably by incorporating a series of models of flowerbeds aimed at popularizing garden art.
The Maison rustique was rapidly distributed beyond national borders, with dazzling success. In Antwerp Christophe Plantin printed it in French starting in 1565, then in Dutch in 1566 under the title De landtwinninge ende hoeve. An enlarged version (De veltbouw ofte lant-winninghe),came out in Amsterdam in 1588 which was often reissued. One will notice that the beds are missing, whereas new engravings illustrating agricultural work have been added. A comparable phenomenon occurred in the German editions published in Strasbourg. Seven versions in fifteen books (XV. Bücher von dem Feldbaw) put on the market from 1587 to 1607 were substituted for two translations printed in 1579 and 1580 composed of VII books(Siben Bücher von dem Feldbau). Like their Dutch equivalents, these books have no models of flowerbeds, but they are decorated by genre scenes in the Rustican tradition. These “compartments” are also lacking in the Agricoltura, et casa di villa printed many times in Italy. Likewise, La maison rustique, or the countrey farme (1600) printed in London has no illustrations of garden ornaments. On the other hand, the English editions from 1606 and 1616 include Liébault’s models. These beds were copied in other treatises on agronomy published across the Channel during that period. One will notice the absence of a Spanish translation of this book.
Laurent Paya (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours
/Artopos, Jardin et Paysage, Montpellier) – 2013
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