Author(s) Coecke, Pieter
Die inventie der colommen...
Imprint Antwerp, P. Coecke, 1539
Localisation Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, A.civ. 53
Subject Orders
Transcribed version of the text


     This small treatise, which came out only a few months before the first Dutch translation of Serlio’s Quarto libro differs from it both in its format and the readership it was aiming at. While the translations of Serlio’s work are luxurious folios, a priori devised for a well-off and well-read clientele, a small-sized treatise was openly intended for artisans who were really active on the building sites during that period in the Low Countries, painters, sculptors and stonemasons (“scilders, beeltsniders, steenhouders”). His success among the latter group probably explains why existing copies are extremely rare today. There is one in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, a second one at the Ghent University Library (Res 1448, incomplete) and a third one at the Herzog-August Bibliothek de Wolffenbüttel (40.5.1 Geom.).
This is a treatise on the orders which claims to be inspired by “Vitruve and various other authors”. Beyond numerous learned but superficial references whose only goal is to confer a certain humanist dignitas to the book, Pieter Coecke found his main source in Cesariano, who is cited by name starting at the beginning of the first chapter (f. a4v°), and whose influence appears clearly for example in the Doric pedestal of folio b7, characterized by a frieze with triglyphs copied from plate 65v° of the 1521 Vitruve. Other details corroborate Cesariano’s influence, in particular the very singular profile of the Tuscan base, composed of a cyma placed on top of a torus (the classic profile consisting of only a torus on the plinth) (1539, f. c6; 1521, f. 70). Another name appears, that of Diego de Sagredo, whose Medidas del Romano, which came out in Toledo in 1526, was translated into French around 1536. (Moreover this translation was re-issued in 1539, the same year as the Inventie der colommen). Coecke probably borrowed from Sagredo his method of drawing the Corinthian abacus with a center of the circle of curvature established on a perpendicular and not on the point of an equilateral triangle (1539, f. c5; 1526, f. D2v°), as well as the idea of representing the column shafts tapered regularly from the bottom to the top (1539, f. c6), and not starting only from the lower third.
These two references are evidence of a link with Spanish architectural culture, which became obsolete as soon as the Serlian influence became preponderant. The link did not concern only the use of Sagredo, obvious from that point of view, but also the use of Cesariano, from Lombardy, the first Italian theoretician to have influenced Spanish architecture. While Coecke chose to represent a Doric pedestal with a frieze taken from Cesariano, it was perhaps less out of esteem for a treatise obviously obsolete in 1539 than because this model had already inspired Pedro Machuca at the Alhambra in Grenada at the same time as other plates from the Vitruve. More generally, the Como Vitruve was very successful in Spain, corroborated by certain details such as the Cathedral of Murcia (capitals with human heads on the sacristy door and baluster-triglyphs on the exterior order of the Chapel of the Junterones). Well-known to Spanish artisans, it must also have been familiar to Flemish masons.
The link with the Iberian peninsula might explain Serlio’s absence in the Inventie, a priori surprising for the translator of the Quarto libro. But from his point of view, the treatise was intended for artisans. Like Cesariano but in a more systematic and precise way, Coecke took care to provide his illustrations with a system of graphic indicators, (graduated rulers and curves), which permit one to visualize the proportional relationships of the parts of the whole without having to refer to the text. Serlio hardly did this, nor did Sagredo except in a few plates added to the second French edition published in 1539. On the other hand, this procedure, very handy for specialists, was systematized by Blum, German, in his Quinque columnarum exacta descriptio which came out in Zurich in 1550, and whose French translation was published in Antwerp in 1551.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2013

Critical bibliography

A. Corbet, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Antwerp, De Stikkel, Coll. Maederlandtbibliotheek 21, 1950.

K. De Jonge, “Anticse Wercken: la découverte de l’architecture antique dans la pratique architecturale des anciens Pays-Bas. Livres de modèles et traités (1517-1599)”, M.-C. Heck, F. Lemerle et Y. Pauwels (ed.), Théorie des arts et création artistique dans l’Europe du Nord du XVIe au début du XVIIe siècle, Lille, PUL, collection UL3 Travaux et Recherches, 2002, pp. 55-74.

K. De Jonge, “Die Inventie der colommen de Pieter Coecke à Anvers en 1539”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, p. 481.

K. De Jonge, “Les éditions du traité de Serlio par Pieter Coecke van Aelst”, Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 263-267.

H. De La Fontaine Verwey, “Pieter Coecke van Aelst en zijn boeken over architectuur”, H. Verwey (ed.), Uit de wereld van het boek I. Humanisten, dwepers en rebellen in de zestiende eeuw, Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1975, pp. 51-68.

G. Marlier, La Renaissance flamande. Pierre Coecke d’Alost, Brussels, Finck, 1966.

J. Offerhaus, “Pieter Coecke et l’introduction des traités d’architecture aux Pays-Bas”, J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 443-452.

Y. Pauwels, “L’introduction des ordres d’architecture dans les Pays-Bas: entre Italie et Espagne”, R. Dekoninck (ed.), Relations artistiques entre l’Italie et les anciens Pays-Bas. XVIe-XVIIe siècles, Brussels/Rome, Institut historique belge de Rome, 2012, pp. 53-59.