Author(s) Bosse, Abraham
Title Traité des manieres de dessiner les ordres...
Imprint Paris, A. Bosse, 1664
Localisation Paris, Ensba, 188 A 7
Subject Orders


     The Traité des manieres de dessiner les ordres is the first component of the two-part work on the orders published by Abraham Bosse in 1664-65. As he had planned from the beginning, in this work Bosse incorporated his Représentations géométrales, reprinted with the 1659 title page. In the author’s own account, the work on the orders was artificially divided, into two distinct collections for “the convenience of many workers” (pl. I).
The treatise begins on a title page dated 1664 but the following dedication to Colbert is dated 1665. It consists of a preliminary two-page engraved text, entitled “Ordre et Methode des figures representées dedans ce volume”, and of forty copperplate engravings with full-page illustrations. Bosse wishes to offer practitioners “the most beautiful proportions” by reading the best authors who have written on the subject. To it he adds a few practices of the Ancients, never until then put into use, and new practices (Dedication). The collection is in four parts: the first deals with entablatures and “minor” parts (pedestal, base, capital and entablature details), the second deals with ornamentation (pedestals, supports and staircase banisters). The third is devoted to architectural representation, project and modello, according to the rules of perspective. The last part, technical, concerns the position of shadows on bodies or plane objects.
In the first part, the longest (thirty plates), the orders are presented generally, with the arch written inside the order, as in Vignola and those who came after him, crowned differently each time (attic, balustrade, segmental pediment, triangular pediment, wrought iron balcony), then in profile and lastly in detail (base, capital and entablature). On this subject Bosse cites the best authors, Palladio, Vignola and Scamozzi about whom he gives a personal synthesis. He also mentions by name his contemporary, Fréart de Chambray, since he is clearly acquainted with his Parallèle. He is interested in the narrowing of the pilaster and the column. Mentioning the Pantheon in Rome in this regard leads one to believe that he had read Philandrier, who studied that very question in his Annotationes on Vitruvius. The mathematician also details the different methods for drawing a fine volute. He suggests a drawing tool, the Cartesian compass, which enables one to create the curvature of columns according to the conchoid of Nicomedes and refers to François Blondel’s work.
Bosse is aware that he is innovating while dealing with questions that his predecessors never or rarely dealt with in such detail: staircases and vaults. Thus he is seen to be in tune with his period when thanks to exploits in stonecutting and fitting, breathtaking suspended stairways are created, particularly in Paris. But he criticizes the faults in staircases as prestigious as those in the Luxembourg Palace, the Palais Royal and other great Parisian residences in which the handrails are not fitted correctly to the returns. Now this fault is easy to correct if one adheres to Desargues, who was the first to propose an outline which eliminates inelegant irregularities in the incline at the returns and adjusts the banisters of various flights of stairs perfectly.
Like Fréart de Chambray, he thinks that the imitation of Antiquity must be restricted and carefully considered, for not all ancient works are fit to be imitated. Besides, one cannot adapt large pieces of architecture without taking numerous factors into account. Bosse posseses a real architectural culture: he read the treatise by Vitruvius (pl. XI) and Renaissance theoreticians. He borrowed the idea of defining the five orders by a consistent relationship from Vignola’s Regola (Lemerle 2011, p. 419). As in Vignola the composite and the Corinthian orders have the same proportions. But once Bosse determined the height of the column, he divided it into 14 parts for the Tuscan, 16 for the Doric, 18 for the Ionic and 20 for the composite and Corinthian, each of these parts, subdivided into 30 parts, used as a module or as a basic foot. Bosse retains Scamozzi’s idea here of placing the “composite” order between the Ionic and the Corinthian, because of its nature (pl. II).
If the ornamentation of the orders varies from one collection to another and even within a single collection, once the principles are established, decorum and good taste must guide the architect. Fréart de Chambray agrees. Bosse does not claim to impose a modern and definitive vision of the orders, as Perrault does, but he is no less ambitious. His three-part treatise on architecture is the fruit of long reflection. He grasps everything about architecture, from the model to its construction and ornamentation. As such, this work is an entirety incorporating all technical and theoretical progress, in particular the science of perspective. Attractively presented with its copperplate engravings (he was a master engraver), this book is in the tradition of Vignola’s Regola where the image takes precedence over the text. Intended for practitioners annoyed by long discourses, Bosse’s book on architecture is pedagogical. The pedagogy goes right to the crux of the matter, constructing its discourse from the simple to the more complex by furnishing essential data to the reader straight away, with self-explanatory illustrations.
Bosse’s three-part book on architecture, of which the Traité des manieres de dessiner les ordres makes up the largest part, is an important, though little-known step in architectural theory during the middle of the 17th century. A contemporary of Fréart de Chambray, whose convictions he shared and on whose work he relied, Bosse anticipated the publications of the antagonists François Blondel (with whom he had contacts) and the powerful Claude Perrault. At the end of his career, Bosse had attained his goal: he managed to raise the art of engraving to that of the level of painting, but by means of perspective he was initiated into architecture represented as the “Queen of the Arts” in the frontispiece of his collection on the orders of columns. His success was marked by several reprints. Two further posthumous reprints came out in 1684 and 1688 and a final one at the beginning of the 18th century.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours)– 2014

Critical bibliography

A. Blum, L’œuvre gravé d’Abraham Bosse, Paris, Morancé, 1924.

G. Duplessis, “Catalogue de l’œuvre de Abraham Bosse”, Revue universelle des arts, Paris, 1859.

S. Join-Lambert & M. Préaud (ed.), Abraham Bosse savant graveur, Tours, vers 1604-1676, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France/Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, Paris/Tours, 2004, p. 271.

F. Lemerle, “Les livres d’architecture du graveur Abraham Bosse”, J.-P. Garric, É. d’Orgeix & E. Thibault (ed.), Le livre et l’architecte, Wavre, Mardaga, 2011, pp. 172-179.

F. Lemerle, “Ordres et proportions dans la tradition vitruvienne (XVe-XVIIe siècles)”, S. Rommevaux, P. Vendrix & V. Zara (ed.), Proportions. Science–Musique–Peinture & Architecture, Turnhout, Brepols, 2012, pp. 409-423.

R.-A. Weigert, Inventaire du fonds français. Graveurs du XVIIe siècle, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1939, 1, pp. 471-534; n° 785-831 and 832-865.