Cotte, Frémin de

Title Explication facile et briesve des cinq ordres d’architecture...
Imprint Paris, F. de Cotte, 1644
Localisation Paris, BnF, Res V-1998
Subject Orders


     Frémin de Cotte (1591-1666), son of a stonemason and grandfather of the well-known Robert de Cotte, practiced as an entrepreneur and master mason in Paris and in Île-de-France from the 1620s to the 1650s and was an expert recognized as “juré du roi ès œuvres de maçonnerie” starting in 1634. In particular he was the foreman at the Oratoire in 1621 under Clément Métezeau’s direction, then Jacques Lemercier’s the following year. In 1635 he worked on the stables at the hôtel de Soissons and met up with Lemercier again on the building site of the hôtel de Liancourt (1635-1642). More than 50 years old, he published an opuscule on the five orders of architecture, probably the result of his experience, intended for all those wanting to have an accurate idea of those orders and master their configuration, perhaps painters, draftsmen looking for models, but also sponsors. At that time in the refined salons, architecture, columns, capitals, etc. were frequent subjects of discussion.
     The ten folio copperplates making up the book were printed at the author’s shop (the engraver is unknown). The frontispiece showing the Mesmes arms (1) in the shape of an altar framed by double Corinthian columns, in line with models published in 1633 by Jean Barbet and Pierre Collot, is particularly meticulous. It is followed by the dedication (2) to Jean-Antoine de Mesmes (c. 1598/1600-1673), advisor to Parliament and Master of Requests for which he worked, the word to the reader (3-4), the folding sheet on the five orders (5), the explanation of the detailed plates (6-7), Tuscan/Doric (8), Ionic/Corinthian (9), and “composite” (10).
     This treatise could pass as an original, in the style of the Reigle by Jean Bullant (1564) which was reissued in 1619, and the Premier livre d’architecture by Julien Mauclerc (1600), very much inspired by Hans Blum. Nothing of the sort. Actually, without saying anything, Frémin de Cotte abridged Vignola’s Regola whose theory he understood perfectly, putting the Vignolesque orders in correct order on the first plate. The plate appearing in the Italian pirated edition (1573, posthumous), constantly reprinted, inspired by Serlio, did not recognize this order. The translation of Vignola recently printed by Firens toward 1620 and the very personal one by Le Muet in 1632 very probably still stayed too difficult to understand, kept for highly qualified professionals. Moreover it was after these publications that Frémin wrote this opuscule, criticizing its preceding publishers and more widely the theoreticians in the word to the reader .
     It is not insignificant that Frémin de Cotte chose Vignola, while Palladio and Scamozzi had their admirers. The “Explication des cinq ordres d’architecture” emphasizes the two moments in constructing the orders very clearly, distinguishing what is shared by all, namely the distribution of the overall height, from what is specific, that is, the dispositions peculiar to each one. Reduced here to its simplest expression, the plate on the five orders, and a model with a pedestal for each order, Vignola’s Regola became “intelligible” from then on. Unlike Vitruvius, Vignola in fact determined the module starting from the total height of the column: 19 parts for the order with a pedestal. His doctrine, not expressed explicitly in the initial treatise, was based on a constant ratio among the three fundamental parts of the order, whatever it may be: three for the entablature, twelve for the column (base and capital included), four for the pedestal. So, the height being the same, the entablature of each order is always equal to one-fourth of the column, the pedestal equal to one-third. What changes from one order to another is the diameter of the column, as shown correctly in Frémin de Cotte’s plate 4. What remains is to determine the radius used as a module and to subdivide it in 30 parts, in order to create all the parts and constituent elements of the order. Even though he was not interested in the decoration of the orders, Frémin de Cotte seemed to address practitioners wanting ornamental models less than a cultivated public caring very little for traditional treatises and their authors but intending to master an unavoidable aspect of the architectural language of that period. In fact Frémin de Cotte provided here the first graphic translation of Vignola’s Regola, something that no other edition of Vignola would do before the 18th century. Thus this small unknown treatise takes an entirely remarkable place in the history of architectural theory.

Frédérique Lemerle – 2016
(Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CESR, Tours)

Critical bibliography

A. Gady, Jacques Lemercier, architecte et ingénieur du Roi, Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2005, pp. 331-333.

A. Gady, “De l’église au temple de l’Oratoire”, Philippe Braunstein (ed.), L’Oratoire du Louvre et les protestants parisiens, Geneva, Labor et Fides, 2011, p. 32.

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.

F. Lemerle & Y. Pauwels, Architectures de papier. La France et l’Europe, suivi d’une bibliographie des livres d’architecture (XVIe-XVIIe siècles), Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 107-110.

C. Thoenes, “Vignolas Regola delli cinque ordini”, Römisches Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, 20, 1983, pp. 345-376 (Ital. transl.: “La Regola delli cinque ordini”, Sostegno e adornamento. Saggi sull’architettura del Rinascimento: disegni, ordini, magnificenza, Milan, Electa, 1998, pp. 77-107).

C. Thoenes, “La Regola delli cinque ordini del Vignola”, J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 269-279.