Author(s) Boillot, Joseph
Nouveaux pourtraitz et figures de termes...
Imprint Langres, J. Desprez, 1592
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Masson 1068
Subject Animals, Caryatids, Orders, Terms


     We are as well informed as possible on the life and work of Joseph Boillot, thanks to the work that Paulette Choné and Georges Viard published in 1995, with the facsimile of the Nouveaux portraits et figures de termes. A “bourgeois” from Langres, very much attached to his city in which he had held the office of “contrôleur au magasin et grenier à sel” since1571, he was an alderman from 1587 on. Moreover a specialist in military arts, he wrote a work on pyrotechnics (Modelles, artifices de feu et divers instrumens de guerre..., 1598). These various occupations did not prevent him from acquiring a genuine humanist culture, but nevertheless his writing style was often heavy and his syntax sometimes rough, showing his limits.
The treatise published in 1592 at Langres is a surprising collection of zoomorphic terms, which falls a priori in the tradition of l’Œuvre de la diversité des termes by Hugues Sambin (1572). According to its title, intended for architects, it proposes not without a certain logic to replace human statues in the figured columns with animal forms. According to Vitruvius, atlantes and caryatids represent slaves or captives, and their petrified image under the weight of the entablature perpetuates this slavery. For Boillot, this status did not respect human dignity during a time when slavery had been abolished. On the other hand, Providence gave us animals to accomplish painful and heavy tasks; therefore it is natural that they should replace men in the work of supporting architectural forms. From there, the author proposes a series of fifty-five terms, in a rough classification which goes from the heaviest animals, the most capable of carrying very heavy loads, and decorating the ground floor of buildings (the elephant, the rhinoceros, or the ox) to the smallest and weakest (the porcupine or the monkey). Wild animals and exotic ones are mixed in together, common ones and domestic animals, strange and mythical creatures (even if the unicorn or the griffon were not mythical at that time). Boillot adds his grain of salt when he joins each animal to its “antipathie et contrariété naturelle”, that is to say one or several animals opposed to it according to the concepts of natural science held at that period: thus the elephant is associated with the rat and the dragon, “son ennemi mortel”, the horse with the camel, the goat with the wolf. But this “antipathie” can take other forms: the bear is represented with a skeleton, for it detests the appearance of cadavers, and the tiger with many bells, tambourines and trumpets, for it is said that it hates music. All this gives rise to many picturesque images, in which a very lively imagination and a great decorative sense are evident, all brought out by a sure engraving technique on wood and on copper. The two techniques are mingled in the collection.
These curious terms are the fruit of a learning which is not very architectural. Boillot is more at ease with Aelian, Galen or Aristotle, all abundantly quoted, than with Vitruvius, whose name appears only once. His knowledge in the art of building appears rather rudimentary. The capitals and the entablatures which are sometimes crowned by his animals sometimes betray approximate grammar. Besides, his terms are very difficult to use practically: one cannot see very well how the thin quills of the porcupine (f. Ivi) could be carved in stone, and, in a general way, how these sculptured figures could carry a real entablature. Actually, there is no conclusive example which would prove that Boillot’s models could be implemented, unless in the particular context of the short-lived decorations of the royal entry ceremonies, in which painting eliminated technical problems; for example, the entry of a “temple of Janus” planned for Marie de Medici’s entry to Avignon in 1600 is framed by a term of a lion and one of a sheep- gentleness linked to strength (Le labyrinthe royal de l’Hercule Gaulois..., Avignon, 1600, p. 142). But that remains very marginal.
Is the book then really intended for architects? One thought to find here a “hiéroglyphique” work, whose images and texts really hid a sort of collection of edifying maxims intended for a young prince. This is doubtless going too far, and attributes to the author profound thoughts which would have astonished him very much- why in the devil go hide lessons of morality as commonplace as those in Æsop’s Fables in some “hieroglyphes”? On the other hand, the lesson is perhaps a political one. The profession of faith accompanying a great part of the dedication to the duc de Nevers clearly situated its author in a party, certainly Catholic, but favourable to Henri IV and fiercely opposed to the members of the league accused of “espagnoliser” France. Now, the monarch was the support of the State, if not to say its column- the one which often appears in the portraits of the kings or ministers. In Boillot’s work, this support is produced in the meeting of two animals hostile to each other with contradictory natures: could not Henri IV in the same way unify in himself the opposition of the Catholics and Protestants in order to assure a stability for the country which had been lacking for such a long time?

Yves Pauwels (Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) - 2004

Critical bibliography

J. Boillot, Nouveaux Pourtraitz et figures des Termes pour user en l’architecture..., new edition in facsimile with critical presentation, index et glossary by P. Choné and G. Viard, Paris, Klincksieck, 1995.

I. Bouvrande, "Les termes zoomorphes de J. Boillot : étude sur le langage hiéroglyphique", Albertiana, 5, 2002, pp. 165-187.

P. Choné, "Les Nouveaux Pourtraits et Figures de Termes de Joseph Boillot, à Langres en 1592", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 466-469.

P. Choné,"Faire le beau pour faire la paix : considérations sur les bêtes dressées de Joseph Boillot", K. A. E. Enenkel & P. J. Smith (ed.), Early modern zoology : the construction of animals in science, literature and the visuals arts, Leyden, Brill, 2007, pp. 567-601.

E. Forssman, Säule und Ornament. Studien zur Problem des Manierismus in den nordischen Säulenbücher und Vorlageblättern des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, Stockholm/Uppsala, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1956.

Y. Pauwels, L’architecture au temps de la Pléiade, Paris, Monfort, 2002.