Author(s) Du Breuil, Jean
Title La perspective practique...
Imprint Paris, M. Tavernier/F. Langlois, 1642
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Gonse 53
Subject Perspective
Transcribed version of the text


     The Perspective practique necessaire à tous peintres, graveurs, sculpteurs, architectes, orfèvres, brodeurs, tapissiers & autres se servans du dessein was published in 1642 with a privilege dated February 1639, granted to the very esteemed Parisian printer Melchior Tavernier who would share that privilege in October 1641 with François Langlois, his partner and successor.
The book does not give the author’s name, indicating only that he is a “monk of the company of Jesus”. However, for his contemporaries, there was no doubt about the identity of the author. Abraham Bosse, in a published letter (Lettres écrites au SR Bosse... Avec ses réponses..., Paris, 1668, p. 13), mentions the Perspective pratique du F.D.B.I., the initials of “Frère Du Breuil Jésuite”. Jean Du Breuil (1602-1670), keen on mathematics and whose writings (or copies thereof) on perspective, architecture and the art of building fortifications, seem to have been spread rather freely, was part of a well-known family of booksellers. The trade association registered him as a bookseller in 1622. He left that profession to join the Society of Jesus, then after a few positions, directed the novitiate in Dijon.
The book’s dedication, written by Tavernier, dated November 10, 1640, as indicated by the new edition of 1651, is addressed to Louis de Bourbon, duc d’Enghien, the future Grand Condé, then nineteen years old. He was not yet the illustrious conqueror of Rocroi, but governed Burgundy and had already distinguished himself at the siege of Arras. Above all, he was a protégé of Richelieu. Brought up as the possible future king, he was an unusually well-educated young man. It is likely that Jean Du Breuil’s writings contributed to the prince’s mathematical education. One sentence of this dedication would seem to point this out: “The original of this Book was made with others for his use, by a Religious person of the Company of Jesus, entirely devoted to his service”.
In 1642, this book was presented as a complete work, but in his preface the author already indicates his desire to add to it with the study of other areas of perspective. It was to be actually completed with the two treatises of 1647 and 1649. The Perspective pratique is a very good collection of the many treatises already in existence. Moreover, it was the good fortune of “La perspective des jésuites”, especially in England, to become a manual of reference for more than a century. The author quotes his sources: Georges Reich, Viator, Dürer, Jean Cousin, Barbaro, Vignole, Serlio, du Cerceau, Sirigati, Salomon de Caus, Marolois, Vredeman de Vries, Guido Ubaldi, Pietro Accolti, Vaulezard, Desargues and Niceron. Although his name was mentioned, Desargues did not refrain from triggering a furious controversy as soon as the book came out. Yet Du Breuil had been completely clear about his project: “taking from here and there what could be useful for my subject, and then making a general restitution of petty thefts, which I have mixed a little with mine in order to link them and follow an order which they had forgotten to keep”. Thus it was a question of creating a pedagogical clarification of the various methods which were known and used in creating perspective (double projection, use of distance points, Dürer’s perspective device, Arguesian scales, etc.).
Du Breuil divided his book into five parts:

  1. Definitions and elements of geometry. Definitions of the main terms used in perspective and the principles of that science.
  2. Drawing plans. Going from the geometral to the perspectival plan in various regular plane figures. The use of various methods of foreshortening.
  3. Drawing elevations. Perspectival drawing of simple figures in space and simplified elements of architecture.
  4. Measurements and proportions of different figures depicted in a single painting.
  5. Practices for finding natural shadows, caused both by sunlight and by torches.

If the first three parts do not really pose any problems, the last two include many errors. In the fourth part, (p. 118), we find “a universal method for drawing in perspective, without placing the distance point outside of the painting or the field of the work, brought up to date by Sire G.D.L.”. The initials obviously stand for Girard Desargues Lyonnais. This is a borrowing from Desargues’ 1636 text, without his authorization. Du Breuil did not master this new and very mathematical way of putting elements in perspective. His book incorporates errors which do a disservice to Desargues’ method, thus its author’s anger. As for the last part, Poudra judged it this way: “Therefore we see that he did not understand this determination of shadows [...]. He is so thoroughly persuaded of the parallelism of his shadows in perspective, that, on page 140, he describes an instrument called a bevel square (fausse équerre) or sliding T bevel (sauterelle), in order to draw these parallels” (Poudra 1864, p. 227).
In spite of these inadequacies, which were partially rectified in 1651, Du Breuil’s manual is a remarkable effort to provide several building trades with practical knowledge of the art of perspectival drawing. The book’s fame would go beyond that of its modest and wise author.

Jean-Pierre Manceau (Tours) – 2011

Critical bibliography

S. Bertière, Condé le héros fourvoyé, Paris, De Fallois, 2011.

M. Le Blanc, D’acide et d’encre, Abraham Bosse (1604-1676) et son siècle en perspectives, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2004.

A. M. Lottin, Catalogue chronologique des libraires et des libraires-imprimeurs de Paris, Paris, Lottin, 1789, Seconde Partie, p. 55.

N.-G. Poudra, Histoire de la Perspective ancienne et moderne, Paris, Corréard, 1864.

N.-G. Poudra, Œuvres de Desargues, Paris, Leiber, 1864, 2, pp. 221-226.