Author(s) Alberti, Leon Battista
Martin, Jean
Title L’architecture et art de bien bastir...
Imprint Paris, J. Kerver, 1553
Localisation Tours, Cesr, SR/2B (4781)
Subject Architecture, Treatise
Transcribed version of the text
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


     The French translation of De re ædificatoria was Jean Martin’s last literary occupation. It came out in 1553, at the presses of Jacques Kerver, a short while after Martin’s death, as his old friend and collaborator Denis Sauvage reveals in his preface. We do not know where, when or how Martin translated Alberti’s ten books. The privilege dated August and September of 1551 indicates that he was still alive, still secretary to the Cardinal de Lenoncourt at that time. Published without translator’s preface, without annotations, index or lexicon, the French version of 1553 seems first to be based on the Latin edition printed by Jakob Cammerlander in Strasbourg in 1541, which had introduced certain variations in relation to preceding editions or to Pietro Lauro’s Italian translation (1546), itself close to the 1541 Latin text, often to the detriment of the intelligibility of the Italian text. On the other hand, Cosimo Bartoli’s Italian version, the first illustrated edition of Re aedificatoria (1550) was used to translate books VIII, IX and X. Owing to the quality of the translation of these last books and other singularities, we can perceive two phases and two different responsibilities in the edition attributed to Martin. In all likelihood he translated the De re ædificatoria on the basis of the Strasbourg Latin edition and of Lauro’s Italian translation. Then, Sauvage, Bartoli’s version in hand, apparently revised some parts of the text, notably books VIII-X, perhaps the last ones translated a bit hastily by Martin. Following Bartoli’s example, Sauvage apparently also took charge of choosing the illustrations for the French translation.
The work is illustrated with 95 xylographs, 69 of which were carefully copied from Bartoli’s Florentine edition. At least one of them, the drawing of an Ionic volute, could be original work by Martin. Among the other sources appear Serlio’s Terzo libro (1540, 1544...), the Vitruvian edition of Fra Giocondo (1511), through the likely intervention of Martin’s French translation of Vitruve (1547), in which many of these images had already been used.
Towards the middle of the 16th century, the architectural treatise De re ædificatoria was as famous as it was obsolete. After surviving for a century, it had become outdated. Martin, who had been Serlio’s collaborator and French translator, was no doubt in the best position to perceive the discrepancy which existed between the Albertian treatise and modern architectural theory. Thus we might wonder why and for whom this illustrated popular work was created. However that may be, this French Alberti does not seem to have been a "best seller" ; it was never reprinted. The fact remains that it was present in architects’ libraries, and that it remained the only French translation until a recent date.

Mario Carpo (École d’architecture de Paris La Villette) - 2005

Critical bibliography

L. B. Alberti, L’art d’édifier, translated from the Latin, presented and commented by P. Caye and F. Choay, Paris, Seuil, 2004.

M. Carpo, "Les problèmes de la traduction du De re aedificatoria d’Alberti, 1553", Jean Martin, Un traducteur au temps de François Ier et de Henri II, Cahiers V. L. Saulnier, 16, Paris, PENS, 1999, pp. 127-135.

M. Carpo, "La traduction française du De re aedificatoria (1553). Alberti, Martin, Serlio et l’échec d’un classicisme vulgaire", F. Furlan, P. Laurens & S. Matton (ed.), Leon Battista Alberti, Paris/Turin, Vrin/Nino Aragno Editore, 2000, pp. 923-964.

M. Carpo, "Le De Re Aedificatoria de Leon Battista Alberti et sa traduction française par Jean Martin, à Paris chez Jacques Kerver en 1553", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon, Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 371-372.

Y. Pauwels, "Leon Battista Alberti et les théoriciens français du XVIe siècle : le traité de Jean Bullant", Albertiana, 2, 1999, pp. 101-104.