BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
|| Perrault, Claude
Leclerc, Sébastien (engraver)
Le Pautre, Pierre (engraver)
Châtillon, Louis de (e,graver)
Ordonnnance des cinq espèces de colonnes selon la
méthode des Anciens...
|| Paris, J.-B. Coignard, 1683
|| Paris, Ensba, 1273 I Fol.
Ordonnance des cinq especes de colonnes is the most accomplished
expression of Claude Perrault's theory. The work, under the patronage
of Colbert, who died a few months after it was published, is in keeping
with the overall artistic policy carried out by the minister. In this
"supplément à ce qui n’a pas esté assez
particulierement traité par Vitruve" (Épître),
Perrault intends to lay down the rules of architecture. In a long preface
he explains his theory of beauty which vindicates his geometrical and
mathematical method of "la médiocrité moyenne"
to extricate proportions "probables et vraisemblables" founded
on positive reasons, without nevertheless deviating from those in use.
The "excès" observed among the Ancients as among the
Moderns prompted him to propose a middle ground between the extremes
observed in three sorts of architecture, "l’Ancienne que
Vitruve nous a enseignée, l’Antique que nous étudions
dans les ouvrages des Romains, & la Moderne, dont nous avons des
livres écrits depuis six vingt ans" (p. 8), in other words
Vitruvius' treatise, Roman antiquities and the Renaissance theoreticians.
part of the work is given over to the proportions of the various members
which make up the orders: pedestal, column (base and capital) and entablature;
the second part deals with the particular characteristics and proportions
of each of the main members defined in the preceding part. Perrault
repeats a good many developments of the notes of his 1673 edition of
Vitruvius. For the architectural plans of antique edifices he openly
cites Antoine Desgodets, who had just published his Edifices antiques
de Rome, in 1682, and Roland Fréart de Chambray for monuments
such as the ruins of Albano or the baths of Diocletian. But he turned
to other sources such as Serlio and Palladio, which led to some difficulties:
Perrault was compelled to convert measurements expressed in different
standards (diameters, radiuses, minutes or parts, Parisian foot). The
modern authors he cites in pairs (Alberti and Viola, De l'Orme and Bullant,
Barbaro and Cataneo...), ten for Greek orders and four for Latin orders,
are the very ones pointed out by Chambray in his Parallèle.
Nevertheless Perrault had to turn to the original treatises in order
to complete Chambray who did not represent the pedestals of the five
orders. Thus he retains the most famous theoreticians of his period,
Vignola, Palladio and Scamozzi. The last mentioned appeared to him more
modern than Palladio (four-sided ionic capital, Corinthian cornice without
dentils and with small modillions to have coupled columns, room left
for the composite order between the Ionic and the Corinthian). On the
other hand he does not mention Abraham Bosse, the author of two treatises
on columns published in 1664, who had aimed to define "des Regles
certaines et facilles, pour trouver les plus belles proportions des
Ordres de l’Architecture".
to characterize the five orders Perrault suggests increasing their height
as they become more slender. The system is based on simple increasing
geometric proportions, owing to the choice of a new standard, called
"le petit module" (p. m.), which corresponds to one-third of
the diameter of the column and is equal to 20 minutes or parts, to distinguish
it from the "grand module" or diameter, divided into 60 minutes,
and the "module moyen", half-diameter or radius, equal to
30 minutes. Thanks to the choice of the "petit module" the
proportions can be expressed in whole numbers. Thus the orders are in
a regular progression of 3 "p. m.", the pedestals increase
by 1 "p. m." and the column by 2 "p. m.". The height
of the entablature alone is the same for all the orders and equals 6
"p .m.". In an attempt at rationalization and standardization
the heights are the average ("la médiocrité moyenne")
between the extreme measurements stipulated by Vitruvius, observed among
the antiquities or proposed by theoreticians of the Renaissance. Similarly
the moulding work of the pedestals, the columns and the entablatures
gain in complexity as the order gains in height and opulence. Thus the
base of the Tuscan pedestal has two mouldings, that of the Doric, three,
etc. ; its cornice has three, that of the Doric, four, etc.
As in Vitruvius' treatise, the height of the bases is a half-diameter.
As for the capitals, Perrault only makes three distinctions: the Tuscan/Doric
of the same height (1/2 D), the Corinthian/composite (1D 1/6) and the
Ionic for which he doesn't give an exact height since the proportion
stipulated by Vitruvius is not easy to convert. But Perrault cheats
with the average, for he established it from the two extremes he chose.
As already noted by Wolfgang Hermann (1980, p. 91), Perrault first invented
the system of proportions based on the average before selecting the
measurements of the antique and modern orders which allowed him to establish
originality of Perrault's models is that they are the combination of
bases, capitals and entablatures borrowed from various sources, especially
Vitruvius, a few prestigious antiquities (the theater of Marcellus,
the Coliseum, the arch of Titus, the baths of Diocletian...) and theoreticians
(Vignola, Scamozzi...). Once these models were defined, no modification
of the proportions could be imagined, not even for optical reasons,
under the postulate that sight does not mislead (IInd part, ch. 7).
It was the occasion to respond to his disparagers (in this case François
Blondel) who might have found it amusing that he make an exception for
the colossal statues which could only be put up in a very high place,
which he had already supported in his edition of Vitruvius in 1673 (pp.
194-195). Perrault is himself a severe critic (IInd part, ch. 8); he
condemns the merging of the supports, like Lescot's columns in the Cour
carrée of the Louvre (abuse 1). He disapproves of the unevenly
spaced metopes in the twinned Doric columns, as in the portal of Saint-Gervais,
or the half-triglyphs in reflex angles, as in the Church of the Minimes
by Mansart (abuse 4). The architrave cornice is, in his opinion, an
aberration (abuse 9) – a probable allusion to Mansart who used
it at Blois and then at Maisons and who as a matter of fact took his
inspiration from a plate of Philibert De l'Orme (Premier tome,
1567, f. 154), supposedly representing an antique one and which is no
other than the cornice of the third order invented by Michelangelo for
the courtyard of the Farnese Palace. On the other hand some practices
which were considered abuses such as the twinning of columns, criticized
by Blondel (Cours d'architecture, 1675, p. 233 and foll.)
was an "invention de grande beauté et commodité"
(pp. 115-116), which he himself used for the Colonnade of the Louvre.
He also advises the colossal order for great palaces like the Louvre
(abuse 6) (pp. 118-119).
is a manifesto in which Claude Perrault clearly asserts his superiority
over the Ancients as well as his immediate predecessors. The orders
he proposes are the best because they are the rational synthesis of
the most beautiful models from the past. But the "médiocrité
moyenne" results in stiff architecture. Like Fréart de Chambray
in his period, Perrault planned to impose a French architecture bearing
the stamp of his own theory. He defends his accomplishments marked by
modernity and scientific progress, that is, by the rationalization of
the conception of the building and by a certain idea of architectural
beauty. As a matter of fact the overall theory of the doctor-architect
created the gap between the amateur that he was and the practitioners,
who could not accept a sterilized theory which would take away all freedom
and prerogative from them. At the same time his theory indicated themes
which would be developed in the 18th century. The Ordonnance
was translated into English in 1708 and was reissued in 1722. Thomas
Jefferson owned a copy of it (Sowerby 4182).
Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de
la recherche scientifique,
Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) –
G. Germann, Vitruve et le vitruvianisme. Introduction à l’histoire de la théorie architecturale, Lausanne, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, 1991 (1st ed.: Darmstadt, 1987).
W. Herrmann, La théorie de Claude Perrault, Brussels/Liège, Mardaga, 1980 (1st ed.: London, Zwemmer, 1973).
F. Lemerle, "Claude Perrault théoricien: l’Ordonnance des cinq espèces de colonnes (1683)", D. Rabreau & D. Massounie (ed.), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux et le livre d’architecture en français / Étienne Louis Boullée. L’Utopie et la poésie de l’art, Paris, Monum romain, Éditions du patrimoine, 2006, pp. 18-29.
C. Perrault, Ordonnance for the five kinds of columns after the method of the Ancients, introduction by A. Pérez-Gomez, translation by I. McEwen, Santa Monica, CA, Getty Center Research for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1993.
C. Perrault, L’ordine dell’architettura, presentation by M. L. Scalvini and S. Villari, Aestetica Preprint, Palermo, Centro internazionale studi di estetica, 1991.
A. Picon, Claude Perrault, 1613-1688 ou la curiosité d’un classique, Paris, Picard, 1988.