Francart, Jacques
Michel Lasne (engraver)

Title Premier livre d’architecture...
Imprint [Bruxelles, s.n., 1617]
Localisation Bruxelles, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, VB 5.321 C 1 (RP)
Subject Gates


     The Premier livre d’architecture... Contenant diverses inventions de portes… en trois langues by Jacques Francart is made up of an introduction and eighteen models of doors for civil architecture (pl. I-V, VII-XIX). They are illustrated in scale drawings, elevations and in profile ; the author adds a few measurements. Three plates are devoted to additional details : plate XX shows four examples of leaves of doors, plate VI shows the details of the Doric order : bases, capitals and entablatures, with their proportions, and lastly plate XXI has four cartouches. In most cases, the engravings are accompanied by a few lines in Latin ; the back of the preceding page has a longer annotation in French and in Dutch.
Michelangelo’s influence is obvious in the ornamental vocabulary. Six models in the Premier livre refer directly to works by Michelangelo, carried out or left as projects. Although endowed with a very correct Doric order, Porte II takes the segmentary half-pediments terminating in volutes and linked by a swag from the Porta Pia in Rome ; Porte VIII borrows the wide rectangular consoles which bear the entablature and the shell decorating the pediment from the side bays of the Roman edifice. The consoles with glyphs of Porte VII evoke those of the lower-level niches on the south façade of Saint Peter’s in Rome, and in a smaller measure, the windows of the third story of the courtyard façade of the Farnese Palace. A few details of Porte XI, the patarae and the projections of the moldings inside the pediment, might have been borrowed from the niches above the doors in the corners of the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence. The annotation commenting on the niched columns of Porte III mentions Michelangelo explicitly. According to Francart, the artist apparently found the idea in an antique sepulchre on the via Appia in Rome (Ottenheym 2007). The four cartouches (XXI) can be compared to illustrations in the Cent tablettes et escussons d’armes, a series published by Francart in Brussels in 1622. They are characterized by very heavy stucco decoration, very coiled, mixed in some cases with mascarons, dolphins or other figures.
Thus Francart’s collection testifies to the importance in the former Low Countries of the late mannerist style strongly influenced by Michelangelo and Vignola. This tendency had a lot in common with a much longer-lasting phenomenon, with origins in the 16th century mannerist style in Antwerp, of which Hans Vredeman de Vries was one of the protagonists. Several artists of the southern Low Countries at that time contributed to spread this Michelangelesque ornamental style, in particular the architects at the Brussels court under the archdukes (1598-1635), the first among them being “the architect-general” Wensel Cobergher (1557/61-1634), Francart’s brother-in-law. Trained in Italy, they were also painters. Francart spent the years between 1591 and 1608-1610 in Italy. An edition of Vignola’s Regole delle cinque ordini enlarged by plans of doors by Michelangelo and Vignola himself came out in Rome in 1602, with plates showing the Porta Pia, the entrance of the Palace of the Conservators on the Capitol and the door at the second level of the Farnese Palace at Caprarola. Reissued in Amsterdam in 1617, this version of the Regola was widely distributed in the former polities in the Low Countries.
As for the list of forms, one can also make a parallel with the l’Architectura moderna ofte bouwinge van onsen tijt, published in Amsterdam in 1631. This collection displays the work of Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621), a master-architect and sculptor of Amsterdam, and in particular the "ornate and rare inventions, which illustrate the exceptional creativity of the master" ("vercierlijcke en seltsame vindinghe, waerin de sonderlinge vindelijckheyd des Meesters te mercken is", the text of plate XXV). We can probably attribute the annotations accompanying the plates to the publisher Cornelis Danckerts van Sevenhoven, or to one of De Keyser's sons, Pieter or Thomas. The doors of the "master in antiquities" ("stads antyc meester"), illustrated in the collection, are just as Michelangelesque as Francart's; several have survived, as for example the entrance to the cemetery of the Zuiderkerk (c. 1615) and the portal of the Walloon church in the Hoogstraat (1616). The work of De Keyser and of certain contemporaries, like Lieven de Key, active in Leyden and Haarlem, in fact belong to the mannerist current mentioned above. In the former polities in the northern Low Countries, the phenomenon was nevertheless interrupted by the birth of a classicism inspired by Scamozzi, in other respects already indicated in the preface of the Architectura Moderna, attributed to the painter-architect Salomon de Bray of Haarlem (1597-1664).
As a demonstration of the creative power – mannerist inventio – of its author, Francart's Premier livre has a great deal in common with Serlio’s Extraordinario Libro. However, as in that case, it set up two groups of models: refined doors and rustic doors, with the rustic being the more numerous whereas they were less numerous in Serlio’s book. In addition, its engraved title page is quite similar to the one added to the Italian editions of the Libro estraordinario, and it could be interpreted as a modernized version of the Serlian original. The book also responded perfectly to the practical necessities of the Low Countries at that time: the entrance very often constituted the only modern element (that is, in the “antique style”) of the architecture of civil construction which was otherwise traditional. In his treatise De architectura, completed in 1599 and left in manuscript form (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Brussels), Charles De Beste, master-mason from Bruges, had already devoted a whole chapter to "portals or else entrances to Protestant churches" (ch.V) without however providing examples of secular architecture. Jesuit architectural practice profited in particular from Francart’s Premier livre. Several studies of an entirely Michelangelesque style in the collections of Jesuit drawings kept in Flandres (the so-called Promptuarium pictorum, volume II, Archives des Jésuites flamands, Heverlee) attest to this. There one also recognizes the trace of other collections of contemporary models similarly inspired by Michelangelo. In 1619, hardly two years after Francart, Bernardino Radi, a stone mason and Carlo Moderno's assistant, dedicated the series of fifty engravings of doors, entitled Vari disegni di architettura ornata de porte (without text) to Cardinal Scipion Borghese. One could also mention the collection of doors by Alexandre Francine, a Florentine engineer in the service of the king of France, published in Paris in 1631 and reissued in 1640 (Livre d’architecture contenant plusieurs portiques...).
Unlike the examples quoted, the Premier livre nevertheless has a lot in common with a more extensive theoretical development, since it should have been followed by (at least) three other volumes which remained unpublished or in rough drafts. The brief comments in the annotations suggest that the second volume would have dealt with problems of proportion (and of the necessary optical corrections), and the fourth would have treated the principles underlying the new forms, such as projections and broken arch pediments.

 Krista De Jonge (Catholic University of Leuven)
Annemie De Vos (Antwerp city museums) – 2011


Critical bibliography

A. De Vos, "Le Premier Livre d’Architecture de Jacques Francart, à Bruxelles en 1617", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 487-489.

A. De Vos, Jacques Francart, Premier Livre d’Architecture. Studie van een Zuidnederlands modelboek met poortgebouwen uit de 17de eeuw, Brussels, Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 1998.

K. Ottenheym, "Architectura Moderna. The Systemization of Architectural Ornament Around 1600", K. De Jonge & K. Ottenheym (ed.), Unity and Discontinuity. Architectural Relationships between the Southern and Northern Low Countries (1530-1700) (Architectura Moderna, 5), Turnhout, Brepols, 2007, pp. 111-136.