Author(s) Blum, Hans
Title Quinque columnarum exacta descriptio atque delineatio…
Imprint Zurich, C. I Froschauer, 1550
Localisation Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2 A civ 24d
Subject Orders
Transcribed version of the text


     Hans Blum was born in Lohr am Main in Lower Franconia towards 1520 and died towards 1560 in Zurich where we know he spent time between 1549 and 1553. He probably practiced as an engraver there and perhaps worked as an architect. The book he published in 1550, in Latin entitled Quinque columnarum exacta descriptio and in German, Von den fünff Sülen Grundlicher bericht..., is one of the most interesting (but also one of the least known) treatises on the orders which came out during the Renaissance. The European success of the book was astonishing: as early as 1551, a French translation which came out in Antwerp began a long series of re-issues in German, French, Dutch and English. With Dürer, Vredeman de Vries, Androuet du Cerceau and De l’Orme, Blum was one of the few non-Italian authors mentioned by Vincenzo Scamozzi in his treatise (Idea dell’architettura universale, 1615, I, 1, p. 18). In 1624 Louis Savot mentioned it again in the "bibliographie" of his Architecture françoise des bastiments particuliers ("Joannis Blum descriptio 5. Columnarum", p. 324).
     Although written in Latin, the book was explicitly intended for workers and artisans, not only builders but also sculptors of all kinds, painters, goldsmiths and engravers who needed to use the orders. Blum reused Serlio's repertory scrupulously: the five orders appear just as the man from Bologna described them in his Regole generali of 1537, translated into Dutch in 1539, into French and German in 1542. But whereas Serlio was satisfied to explain the system of proportions in the text, Blum permits his readers to visualize it through a system of graphic indicators, graduated rulers and circle segments, which allow anyone at all to understand the proportional relationships between the order and its parts by simply looking at the engraving, without having to refer to the printed text. Doing this, Blum was perhaps inspired by the principal of another book intended for artisans, the Inventie der colummen published in Antwerp en 1539 by Pieter Coecke: the knowledgeable Flemish publisher had probably understood that Serlio's book, whose luxurious translation he published the same year, was intended more for rich amateurs than for workers. But Blum's achievement is infinitely more efficient than Pieter Coecke's: clearer and more legible, it draws especially on the effective Serlian paradigms, leaving aside the Cesariano models to which the man from Antwerp still remained faithful.The first result of the decision to use graphics is that the illustrations must be sufficiently large that the geometric indications remain legible. Thus Blum resolved to represent each order in two plates: entablature, capital and top of the column on the first plate, base and lower part of the column on the second with the text relegated to the side. In later editions, the introduction of fold-out pages improved the presentation, the whole order to be printed on a single page without losing accuracy.
     One of the originalities of Blum's treatise was to present not five but seven models of columns: one Tuscan, one Doric, two Ionic, two Corinthian and one composite. In Serlio's work, Blum's reference, the presentation of the orders could lead to splitting up the representations of the three Greek orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), for Serlio presents different versions of the order: with or without pedestal, with or without fluting on the shaft, with or without mutules or modillions in the cornice. Blum repeats the pertinent Serlian alternatives, but it is hard to understand why he did not do it for the Doric as he did for the Ionic and the Corinthian. That would have led him to present eight models: did the figure seven appear more symbolically interesting to him?
     Another particularity: the fact of arranging the flutes of the columns in such a way that there is not a flute in the axis of the capital, as is the case in most of the treatises (and in reality) but an edge. Only Jean Bullant adopts this rare choice in his treatise on the orders, showing by doing this that he was aware of the German treatise.
     The text per se shows hardly any innovation compared to Serlio's doctrine. Neverheless a curious idea appears concerning the Tuscan order, which would have been used, according to Blum by the "Old Romans and Venitians" ("veteres Romani & Veneti usi sunt"). Perhaps a confusion between Venice and Florence? Or a reference to Vitruvius and Serlio ? In any case, this mention of the Venetians concerning the Tuscan order would be taken up again by Hugues Sambin in his Œuvre de la diversité des termes (Dijon, 1572): "il [le toscan] consiste des vraies proportions dont usaient les antiques, et principalement les Romains, et Vénitiens, qui se délectaient d’en user comme d’un ouvrage qui approche plus de la nature ordinaire d’un homme endurci au travail" (p. 8). The dedication to Andreas Schmidt, municipal councillor from Zurich, cites Vitruvius on the origin of the orders: in addition a mythical hero appears there named Toscano, evoked concerning the Tuscan order and with a genealogy flattering to the Germans: "Post inventionem nominatarum columnarum Tuscana originem sumpsit, teste Plinio, antiquum columnae genus. Namque Tusci a Graecis ortum habere perhibentur, quapropter etiam magna ex parte cum dorica convenit. Tradunt autem architecti quidam, à Tuscano hanc denominatam, qui Germanorum generis author esse fertur". In other words, the Tuscan order, the oldest order, dates back to the Greeks, ancestors of the Tuscans – unless it derives its name from a certain Toscano, himself the ancestor of the Germans or "Tütschen", of which the German version specifies that he is a giant, which would explain the massive and powerful aspect of the order considered henceforth as "German". These national preoccupations were certainly contemporary to those leading Philibert De l'Orme, in France, to create a "French order".

Yves Pauwels (Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2009

Critical bibliography

E. Forssman, Säule und Ornament. Studien zum Problem des Manierismus in den nordischen Saülenbücher und Vorlageblättern des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, Stockholm/Uppsala, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1956, pp. 75-79.

G. Germann, "Les contraintes techniques dans l’illustration des livres d’architecture du XVe au XVIIIe siècle", J.-M. Leniaud & B. Bouvier (eds.), Le livre d’architecture XVe-XXe siècle. Éditions, représentations et bibliothèques, Paris, École des Chartes, 2002, pp. 92-106.

H. Günther, Deutsche Architekturtheorie zwischen Gotik und Renaissance, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988, pp. 140-145.

H. Günther, "Le livre des ordres de Hans Blum, à Zurich en 1550", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 507-508.

T. Hänsli, "Hans Blums Von den fünff Sülen grundtlicher Bericht: einige Bemerkungen zu den Quellen und der Druckgeschichte", Scholion. Mitteilungsblatt der Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, 3, 2004, pp. 181-186.

T. Hänsli, "Exacta descriptio atque delineatio – Remarques sur la fonction attribuée aux illustrations dans le traité de Hans Blum Von den fünff Sülen grundtlicher Bericht", Études de lettres, fasc. 4, 2006, pp. 11-27.

Y. Pauwels, Aux marges de la règle. Essai sur les ordres d’architecture à la Renaissance, Wavre, Mardaga, 2008, pp. 42-43.

D. Thomson, "Hans Blum", D. Wiebenson (ed.), Architectural Theory and Practice from Alberti to Ledoux, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982, III-A-3.

E. von May, Hans Blum von Lohr am Main. Ein Bautheoretiker der Renaissance, Strasbourg, Heitz/Mündel, 1910.