Palladio, Andrea
Fréart de Chambray, Roland


Les quatre livres de l’architecture d’André Palladio...

Imprint Paris, E. Martin, 1650
Localisation Tours, Cesr, SR/46 (4045)

Architecture, Domestic Architecture, Ancient Buildings, Orders, Treatise

Transcribed version of the text


     Roland Fréart de Chambray is the author of the first unabridged translation of Palladio’s treatise on architecture. In 1645 Pierre Le Muet had published only the first book, in a version freely adapted for French use. Finished about 1641, Chambray’s translation had been postponed by the disgrace (1643), then the death (1645) of its patron, his cousin the Superintendant of buildings François Sublet de Noyers. It did not come out until 1650 from the shop of Edme Martin, shortly after the Parallèle. The two books were part of an ambitious cultural policy aiming among other things at legislating on literary and artistic creation. In order to put architecture back on the straight and narrow it was necessary to give precise rules and models to copy, antique and contemporary. In the Parallèle Palladio, who appears as “le premier entre ceux de la profession”, was the only contemporary architect embodying the regular architecture advocated by those in power. As such he was the perfect antidote to the contemporary Mannerist flamboyancy like that of the façade of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, the Jesuit mother house. The criticism addressed to the architects who knowingly ignored the rules and reason, literally repeats the chapter “Degli abusi” of the Quattro libri (I, 20). Thus Sublet had given Chambray the responsibility of rendering the Italian theorist’s treatise intelligible to the French, “dans la pensée qu’il avait de faire connaître, en même temps par la théorie et par la pratique, la noblesse de l’Architecture régulière : et de bannir cette capricieuse et monstrueuse façon de bâtir, que quelques modernes ont malheureusement introduite comme une hérésie dans l’art, par je ne sais quel libertinage contre ses préceptes et la raison même” (Dedication to his brothers).
In the Parisian edition, Chambray’s dedication replaced Palladio’s to Count Angarano ; the one in book III to Philip of Savoy was deleted. The translation, sober and elegant, is precise but more literary than Le Muet’s. Chambray was perfectly fluent in Italian (he was preparing to publish the translation of the Trattato della pittura by Leonardo da Vinci the next year), intervened rarely and when he did, he indicated his interpretation in parentheses. He corrected the mistakes he found in certain Latin inscriptions and restored their original arrangement. The addition of an index at the end of the volume, an indispensable tool in his opinion, is a proof of his concern to attend to his readers as well as possible. He also modernized certain place names: the Palladian expression “per andare in Piazza Giudea” is freely interpreted “proche le quartier des Juifs” (I, 28). But the translator was sometimes absent-minded: for example he attributes twice the width of the pilaster to the height of the fanlight of the Ionic arcade; according to Palladio, the pilaster’s height is “la metà di più di quel ch’é grosso il pilastro” (I, 16). In fact the rare mistakes made by Chambray can be attributed to the fact that he was not an architect and therefore was not always able to give the equivalent of some technical terms, as was noted by the members of the Royal Academy of Architecture when they devoted their first works to reading Palladio’s treatise. In this instance Chambray did not take his inspiration from Le Muet, his precursor, who would nevertheless have been a sure guide for the first book.
Owing to political circumstances, Chambray was obliged to abandon the copperplates he had planned to use which were partially completed. He had the luck “inespérée” in his own words, to have Palladio’s original plates that he had had sent from Venice. Now, in the package were three plates that had not been used for the Italian edition. According to Chambray, the engraver had probably not had enough time to finish them for inclusion in the treatise. One is an engraving of the floor plan and elevation of a villa, a second and third are engravings of a Doric temple (called “de la Piété”). Chambray inserted them in books II and IV since they pertained to these books, in order to conform the treatise to its author’s plan. At the same time he distinguished them from the illustrations of the original edition; thus they appear at the end of each book, with their annotations in italics.
Contrary to Le Muet’s partial translation which was very successful, the proof of this being numerous pirated Dutch copies, Chambray’s translation was not reissued. Sublet’s disgrace, after the 1642 death of Richelieu who had promoted an artistic policy supported by institutions such as the “Académie française” created in 1635 and the death of Louis XIII in 1643 dramatically interrupted the activity of the circle called “les Intelligents” whose spokesperson had been Chambray until then. The delay in the publication of the Parallèle and in the translation of the Quattro libri unquestionably limited their influence. Palladio’s theoretical supremacy, declared in the Parallèle, had no repercussion on the practical experience of French architects, who often borrowed their designs from Vignola. But Palladio was the first theorist studied by the Academy after Vitruvius. It is unquestionable that Chambray’s translation was considered to be a reference, to be compared with the original text. The members of the Academy neither used nor quoted Le Muet’s translation that they could have compared to Fréart’s, were it only for book I. In fact it was through the Parallèle and the translation of the treatise that Palladio was known, praised or criticized during the second half of the 17th century.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique,
études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2006

Critical bibliography

R. Fréart de Chambray, Parallèle de l’architecture antique avec la moderne (Paris, 1650), Critical edition established by F. Lemerle, followed by Idée de la Perfection de la peinture, edition established by M. Stanic, Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 2005.

F. Lemerle, Les quatre livres de l’Architecture d’Andrea Palladio (translation by Fréart de Chambray, Paris, 1650), Paris, Flammarion, 1997, Introduction, pp. I-XI (reed.: Paris, Flammarion, 2002).

F. Lemerle, "À propos des trois planches de Palladio insérées par Fréart de Chambray dans sa traduction des Quattro libri ", Annali di architettura, 9, 1997, pp. 93-96.

F. Lemerle, "Les Quattro libri dell’Architettura d’Andrea Palladio, à Venise en 1570", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 397-398.

F. Lemerle, "L’Accademia di architettura e il trattato di Palladio (1673-1674)", Annali di archittetura, 12, 2000, pp. 117-122.

F. Lemerle, "À l’origine du palladianisme européen : Pierre Le Muet et Roland Fréart de Chambray", Revue de l’art, 178, 2012-4, p. 43-47.

F. Lemerle & Y. Pauwels, Architectures de papier. La France et l’Europe (XVIe -XVII e siècles), Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 112-116.

C. Mignot, "Palladio et l’architecture française du XVIIe siècle", Annali di architettura, 12, 2000, pp. 107-115.