Author(s) Serlio, Sebastiano
Coecke, Pieter (translator)
Title Des antiquités...
Imprint Antwerp, P. Coecke, 1550
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1744

Ancient buildings


     Pieter Coecke van Aelst, the painter, entrepreneur and bookseller to the Emperor, undertook to publish Sebastiano Serlio's five books in French, Dutch and German. Book III came out first in French in 1550, the year he died. The translation is faithful to the Dutch version, published in 1546, whose typographical format differs slightly from that of the Italian editions (1540 and 1544), without the preface by Coecke which was not translated. Indeed one single page one finds brief annotations and illustrations of the temple of Bacchus (church of Saint Constanza) (f.8v°), the temple of Peace (f.10) and the Spello gate (f. 33v°), perhaps out of a concern for coherence or out of a less lofty desire to avoid wasting paper. The order of the monuments included from folio 36 to folio 51 does not respect the original presentation; it even creates a certain confusion. Thus it is curious to find the Septizodium which appeared in the Italian edition between the temple of Serapis on the Quirinal and the port of Ostia, placed between the amphitheater of Verona and that of Pola. The various units of measurement used in the illustrations were added to the annotations. Lastly, it was logical to remove the headword which terminates the work, alluding to Francis I and French patrons (Guillaume Pellicier, Georges d'Armagnac). But the development on the wonders of Egypt, deleted from the 1546 Dutch version, was reinstated, and a few errors of measurement were corrected.
The plates are the same as those in the Dutch translation, faithful copies of the Italian edition, even if the shadows and the hatching are sometimes heavier and more accentuated. Only the fleurs de lys which crowned the monuments (Tempietto, a plan of dome by Bramante for Saint Peter's, a plan for a villa, etc.) were replaced by the two-headed imperial eagle. In the Dutch version Coecke had taken the liberty of adding the Porta dei Borsari (intentionally left out for its "barbaric" aspect) to the Veronese arches of triumph (Porta Leoni, the arch of the Gavii). This plate, presenting half of the elevation taken from Giovanni Caroto's engraving for the work of Torello Sarayna (De origine et amplitudine civitatis Veronæ, Verona, 1540), was eliminated from the French version.
The translation enterprise was not easy; P. Coecke was confronted with the same linguistic problem that Jean Martin had had in translating Serlio's Books I, II (1545) and V (1547). As in Book IV which spread the Vitruvian vocabulary in 1542, he had to invent a new lexicon which would give an account of antique monuments and their decoration. These luxurious publications not authorized by Serlio, whose name never appears on the frontispieces, were intended for the humanist milieux already familiar with Vitruvius and Alberti. Book III, printed with the modern characters of the Roman alphabet, brought indispensable antique culture to all those who could not travel to Italy to become acquainted with the finest antiquities inside and outside of Italy (Pola). Book III also contained the main achievements of the Rome of Jules II, added by Serlio because he considered them worthy of being considered with the finest antique buildings: the villa of Poggio Reale, a series of projects for Saint Peter's, the Belvedere and the Tempietto by Bramante in San Pietro in Montorio or the plan of the villa Madame in accordance with Raphaël's plans. The translation of Book III followed (as in Italy) that of Book IV, precisely devoted to architectural detail, founded on the five architectural orders, and was completed with the same concern for effectiveness. In it architects found what they needed to provide material for their projects. We know what role Serlio played in architecture in Northern Europe. While Book IV had imposed rules of language, Book III provided a certain number of models, which were taken up in particular in the Joyous Entries that Charles V and the future Philip II made into Ghent and Antwerp in 1549, perhaps less in the actual temporary structures put up for the ceremonies than in the festival books and engravings published on those occasions, records which remained the only witnesses to spread abroad those models once the memories had faded.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2011

Critical bibliography

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 & Y. Pauwels (eds.), Théorie des arts et création artistique dans l'Europe du Nord du XVIe au début du XVIIe siècle, Lille, PUL, 2002, pp. 55-74.

K. De Jonge, "L'édition de la traduction française du Livre III par Pieter Coecke van Aelst à Anvers en 1550", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, p. 283.

H. de la Fontaine Verwey, "Pieter Coecke van Aelst and the Publication of Serlio's Book on Architecture", Quærendo, 6, 1976, pp. 166-194.

W. Kuyper, The Triumphant Entry of Renaissance Architecture into the Netherlands. The Joyeuse Entrée of Philip of Spain into Antwerp in 1549, Renaissance and Manierism Architecture in the Low Countries from 1530 to 1630, Alphen aan den Rijn, Canaletto, 1994.

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, "Propagande architecturale et rhétorique du Sublime: Serlio et les ‘Joyeuses entrées’ de 1549", Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 137, May-June 2001, pp. 221-236.

Y. Pauwels, "Fête, propagande et image imprimée: les ‘Joyeuses entrées’ de Gand et d'Anvers (1549)", R. Crescenzo (ed.), Espaces de l'image, Nancy, 2002, Université de Nancy 2, pp. 167-188.

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-XVIIIe siècles. Bilan et perspectives, Brussels/Rome, Institut historique belge de Rome, 2012, pp. 53-59.

M. Vène, Bibliographia Serliana. Catalogue des éditions imprimées des livres du traité d'architecture de Sebastiano Serlio (1537-1681), Paris, Picard, 2007, pp. 75-76.