Author(s) Boyceau de la Barauderie, Jacques
Title Traité du jardinage...
Imprint Paris, M. van Lochom, 1638
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1536
Subject Gardens
Transcribed version of the text


     Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie (1560-1633?) was a native of Saint-Jean d’Angély near La Rochelle. Stemming from minor nobility, a Huguenot and warrior, he was first awarded for his military feats and diplomacy with the post of “trésorier garde général” in the artillery. After he won Henri IV’s confidence, the king awarded him the title of “gentilhomme ordinaire de la Chambre du roi” in 1602. With the war over, Boyceau entered into a career as landscape architect serving Jacques-Nompar de Caumont, duc de La Force, Maréchal de France and who was a survivor of the Saint Barthélémy massacre. After the assassination of Henri IV, while his first patron put himself at the head of the Protestant revolt in Montauban, Boyceau was the foreman of the garden at Marie de Medicis’ palais du Luxembourg. In service to Louis XIII, he redesigned the parterres at Château-Neuf in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, at the Louvre and at the Tuileries. When around 1620 Louis XIII decided to transform his hunting chalet at Versailles, the creation of the first garden was entrusted to Boyceau who joined forces with his nephew Jacques de Menours to finish the task successfully. His nephew and heir summarized Boyceau’s two-stage career in this way : “ [...] as he had used the first and most robust part of his life in service to the King Henri le Grand, of most glorious memory, in matters of the greatest importance, he believed he was also obliged to devote the last part of it to Your Majesty’s pleasures in the embellishment of his gardens”. We are unfamiliar with the nature of his collaboration with Claude I Mollet, the king’s gardener, who does not mention him in the Theatre des plans et jardinages (1652).
Jacques Boyceau was almost sixty years old when he obtained the office of “Intendant des jardins du roi”. Starting with that date, or ten years earlier according to some, he wrote the Traité du jardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l’art, published posthumously in 1638 with the help of Menours and reissued in 1640, 1688 and 1689. On the back of the frontispiece signed by the engraver and bookseller Michel van Lochom is a famous head and shoulders portrait of the great man. In this engraving by Grégoire Huret (1609-1670) after a painting by Adrien de Vries (1545-1626), Boyceau, elderly and wearing a skullcap, appears in an ornamental compilation, allegorical and evoking antiquity. A cornucopian profusion of flowers and fruits surrounds the oval painting, crowned by a rather heavy grimacing mascaron, festooned with flowers.
Written in a clear style, the Traité is divided into three books, introducing theories and ideas for the conception, implementation and the upkeep of great aristocratic gardens. The first book tackles the problem of knowledge of agro-climatic factors (climate, seasons, soils, phases of the moon...), the second one deals with vegetal engineering (graftings, taking of cuttings, transplanting...) and the last one is an architectural approach (the relation of the building to its site, forms, grottoes, parterres...). The book follows on from the writings published in Europe in the wake of the De re hortensi libellus (1535) by Charles Estienne. Compared with these first texts, which, in spite of their rarity, show the diversity of the theories and structures developed starting with Greco-Latin exegesis, Boyceau’s book shows the excellence of the garden art which flourished under the first Bourbon kings.
We have stressed the modern thinking of the superintendant of the royal gardens, whereas Boyceau, in making use of his experience, did no more than promote and clarify one stage of an art based on the architectural knowledge which had been renewed during the humanists’ period. Indeed, the plan was ambitious, for in the knowledge of a “modern” gardener, mathematics occupied a predominant position, since with it he was able to construct terraces and use perspective in attaining geometrically unified and articulated theatrical spaces. And yet this creation of space in the garden is adapted from Vitruvius’ scenic system in proscenium and frons scaenae. Moreover, the imaginative world on which the decoration of the parterres depended was also aligned with a tradition of the art of the Renaissance. The pattern of the parterres was influenced in fact by Androuet du Cerceau’s work, and more widely, by the idea of an art founded in mimèsis whose productions are being transformed perpetually. Indeed, the idea of a varietas without bounds pledged to a unified and ordered whole is ubiquitous : “[the parterres] are made of borders of several shrubs and bushes of various colors, laid out in different ways, of compartments, of foliage, braiding, moresque work, arabesques, grotesques, guilloches, rosettes, ‘gloires’, shields, cartouches decorated with arms, monograms and emblems. Or else made of borders joining in perfect forms, or similar ones, in which one uses rare plants, ‘rieurs’ and grasses planted in order, or making thick lawns of one of several colors, like a carpet”. The fantastic repertory of the “French-styled arabesques” whose naturalist and germinative abundance evokes grotesque art, corroborated in the parterres of André Mollet’s treatise, was founded on a creative copy of the Greco-Latin decoration (inventio/elocutio). Boyceau concluded his treatise with a clear description of the two main types of gardens : useful gardens and pleasure gardens. This nomenclature, whose origin goes back to the Liber ruralium commodorum (towards 1300) by Pietro de Crescenzi, is also hybridized since the kitchen garden can be decorated with “labyrinths and guilloches”.
Even if very much linked to Renaissance artistic culture, the appearance of Boyceau’s gardens evolved nonetheless ; the square compartment of the former “beds” merged from then on in extensive fields in which the abundant curves of naturalistic foliage flow and spread in relief. This transformation, which does not imply a deep epistemological rupture but a new “effect”, came at the same time as the change in the ruling dynasty. With no real connection with the text, approximately seventy-five embroidery parterres are assembled at the end of the treatise. One will notice that the varied vegetal graphic designs in relief of the border decorations and of the triangular tailpieces of the chapters correspond exactly with those of the parterres. On the other hand, the dropped initials are grotesques- anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, etc. Thus by analogy, one image calls up another one ; the shapes making up the space of aristocratic rituals are continually decorative, whatever the scale. Plate 1 on the “Great parterre of the Queen Mother’s garden at Luxembourg ” illustrates the art of this linguistic virtuosity according to one of the three practical details of geometric arrangement : a square of four squares. In this case it is a square parterre of four identical compartments which are divided up symmetrically by the lines of Marie de Medicis’ monogram surmounted by a crown. The area of the compartments is covered with immense twists and turns of acanthus and stylized flowers in bundles starting in the center. In the perimeter the parterre is surrounded by a frieze border decorated with scrolls of arabesques, divided up into compartments by paths forming a medallion with the queen’s monogram. (This parterre is described in a letter by John Evelyn dated April 1, 1644). Patterns 2 to 6, 12 to 14, 27 to 29 and 38 are made on this same model ; the monograms, bands and the borders sometimes disappear. One version comprises a coat of arms (plate 6) ; another is of arabesques springing out of vases (plate 14). One model is also framed by friezes on the interior and exterior edges (plate 11). One will notice that the artist reduces the possibilities by drawing squares that are different but similar. In addition, some of the squares are not laid out in compartments, but decorated with a vast scroll of budding and flowering foliage (plate 10) or two large arabesques facing each other (plate 9). Proposal 7 and 8 comprise a central square all in one piece (trefoiled in plate 8) with two extended rounded borders, placed symmetrically next to the central square. Similarly, a parterre can be a single square, or an oblong, without compartments (plates 15a, 15b, 19a, 19b, 19c and 19d). A single square or oblong is also compartmentalized with broken interlaced bands terminating in scrolls (plates 16, 17a and 17b, 18a, 18b, 31b, 32a and 32b, 35a and 35b). In fact, a parterre of four rectangles (plates 20a, 20b and 21) and parterres of two squares (plates 24a, 24b) are made according to the same principles. The end of the series includes designs brought together in this way, to which medallions of turf or flowers are added, more or less notched or trefoiled (plates 33, 34b, 36, 37, 40, 41, 42, 43a, 43b, 44a, 44b and 45b). Finally, the composition of the friezes located in several places in the series brings in all the combinations (plates 22, 23a, 23b, 25a, 25b, 26a, 26b, 30a to 31, 34a, 34b, 34c, 39a and 39b).
The parterres bearing royal insignia were allocated to royal gardens, while most do not have a coat of arms. The same constructive fragments were useful for assembling all these arabesques which resemble those that Daniel Rabel published eight years earlier in the Livre de differants desseings de parterres (1630) : abnormally long arabesques and acanthus foliage, wavy and flowery, as well as broken interlaced bands rolling together in scrolls at their extremities. Boyceau’s embroideries were attributed to Claude II Mollet, the son of the king’s gardener. Nevertheless, the drawings signed by Claude II illustrating the Theatre des plans et jardinages (1652), the first posthumous edition of his father’s treatise, differ clearly from the ones in Boyceau’s and Rabel’s books. Some authors have also associated the parterres of the first Versailles which are in Boyceau’s treatise with those of Mollet I, published by Olivier de Serres in the Theatre d’agriculture (1600). But in truth there is little foundation for this connection, for as Aurelia Rostaing stated, “the general organization of Serre’s parterres recalls that of Liebault’s broken squares”. Indeed, the same very new tendency toward the design of naturalistic ornaments with varied relief characterizes the models of Theatre d’agriculture (1600) and of the Traité du jardinage (1638), but the first have an entirely “inlaid” appearance and the second are largely decompartmentalized.
For some authors, the bundles of scrolled foliage in the parterres of the Traité du jardinage show progress toward simplicity and abstraction, whereas for others these shapes demonstrate the rather weak pomposity of a “renaissance after the Renaissance”. Without going into this debate, let us note that revitalization and improvement of shapes often go along with totally new constraints. In this case Boyceau’s contemporaries immediately perceived the loss of the fragrant and presumably prophylactic properties of the vegetation due to planting boxwood in the place of herbs as a disadvantage. Similarly, the fact that these decorations did not fit very well in small spaces was probably one reason for the numerous reissues of the series La maison rustique (1583) and of the publications of its Italian, British, German, etc. equivalents. Moreover Boyceau extols the vitality of the embroideries that he creates, without demanding that 16th century compartments be abandoned even though he found them boring. Besides, comparable embroideries exist alongside squares of knot motifs and broken squares in the plan of the Hortus palatinus (1620) by Salomon de Caus. Finally, we will notice that there arises the question of the implementation of the capricious flow of the most complex arabesques in the Traité du jardinage, for these models could depend on a French Renaissance tradition of the imaginative parterre tradition.

Laurent Paya (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours/
Artopos, Jardin et Paysage, Montpellier) – 2012


Critical bibliography

M. Conan, “Une nouvelle génération de ‘jardiniers’ : Boyceau et la famille Mollet”, F. Collette & D. Péricard-Méa (ed.), Le temps des jardins, Seine-et-Marne, Côté jardin, 1992, pp. 472-475.

D. Garrigues, Jardins et jardiniers de Versailles au Grand Siècle, Paris, Champ Vallon, 2001.

F. H. Hazlehurst, “Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie, intendant des jardins du roi”, Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de l’art français, 1962 (1963), pp. 157-176.

F. H. Hazlehurst, Jacques Boyceau and the French formal garden, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1966.

F. H. Hazlehurst, “Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie (v. 1562- v. 1634)”, M. Racine (ed.), Créateurs de jardins et de paysages en France de la Renaissance au début du XIXe siècle, Paris, Actes Sud, 2001, pp. 32-37.

S. Karling, “The Importance of André Mollet and His Family for the Development of the French Formal Garden”, E. B. MacDougall & F. H. Hazlehurst (ed.), The French Formal Garden, Washington D. C., Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University, 1974, pp. 3-25.

T. Mariage, L’univers de Le Nostre, Bruxelles, Mardaga, 1990.

A. Rostaing, André Le Nôtre dessinateur de jardins et les jardins français du XVIIème siècle. Doctoral thesis under the direction of Bertrand Jestaz, École pratique des Hautes Études, Section des sciences historiques et philologiques, Paris, 2004.

K. Woodbridge, Princely Gardens : the Origins and Development of the French formal Style, London, Thames & Hudson, 1986.