Author(s) Mollet, Claude I
Theatre des plans et iardinages...
Imprint Paris, C. de Sercy, 1652
Localisation Paris, Binha, 4° KO 807
Subject Agriculture, Astrology, Gardens


     At the end of 1651, the king granted a privilege to Charles de Sercy, a printer and bookseller since 1649, a privilege to “imprimer un manuscript intitulé : Le théatre des plans et iardinages, composé par Claude Mollet, nostre premier jardinier”. The volume bears a final printing date of January 22, 1652 and does not mention the author’s name on the flyleaf. It includes a dedication signed by Charles de Sercy addressed to Nicolas Fouquet, alluding especially to “ces superbes jardins de Vaux le Vicomte, où vous faites agréablement combattre l’art avec la nature, et où vous adjoustez tous les jours de nouvelles beautez et de nouveaux enrichissemens.”
Today we are acquainted with two manuscripts of this treatise. For a long time specialists have dated them at approximately 1615. The first manuscript is in the Staatsbibliothek in Munich (Cod. Gall. 496, in folio, 116 ff.). The second has been at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC (rare rbr O-2-5 Mollet, 42 cm., 188 ff.) since it was acquired in London in 1956. It opens with a dedication to Louis XIII, in which the author presents his work as the fruit of more than fifty years of experience serving his king and his father, and that he is then seventy-nine years old. Claude I Mollet was probably born in 1557, since it is said he was ninety years old when he died in Paris on May 23, 1647 (according to a document recently indicated by Emmanuel Lurin). This manuscript would therefore have been put in its final form before 1636. A recent study by Ada Segre (2006) points out that the texts of the two manuscripts and of the printed work are essentially the same, in structure and in content (outside of the dedication), whereas the illustrations are all different. The Munich manuscript includes three ink drawings of the plans for an octagonal labyrinth (fol. 57), an elaborate embroidery parterre (fol. 58-59) and a rectangular parterre with “carreaux rompus” and circular motif (fol. 60); blank pages (fol. 61r-68v) meant for twelve illustrations of garden layouts and the text of chapters 32-35 indicated in the table of contents. On the basis of the archaic writing style, the historian proposes to consider that this manuscript, a fine, almost final copy, provided with corrections, is the oldest. Written by a different writer, the Dumbarton Oaks manuscript is posterior to the one in Munich; we find in it the same absence of chapters indicated in the table of contents, and thirty-two engravings in folio format. Lastly, two clues permit us to estimate the date of writing. On the one hand, as we will see further, Claude I Mollet declares that forty or fifty years have gone by since the fashion, then passé, for the flower beds illustrated in the Maison rustique (1583), which would indicate an approximate range between 1623 and 1633. On the other hand, mentioning the year 1620 in the princeps edition (p. 128) provides a terminus post quem for the completion of the manuscript which was printed by Charles de Sercy in 1652; the text of that edition does not include the style corrections, the missing chapters were deleted from the table of contents and the numbering of the following chapters was modified.
This posthumous publication of the Théatre des plans et iardinages followed that, the preceding year, of Le jardin de plaisir, written by the most famous of Claude I Mollet’s sons, André. In it André had paid tribute to his father, famous for having “acquis par experience et travail la qualité de premier jardinier de France”, and had inserted his portrait in it, engraved by Michel Lasne, perhaps initially conceived to illustrate the Théatre des plans et iardinages. The precise reasons for which Claude’s treatise had to wait thirty years to be published after it was written, at a moment when André Mollet was still living in Sweden, have not been clearly elucidated.
The organization of the work, which has been called “quelque peu confuse” (Le Dantec 1996), joins the tradition of general manuals of agronomy and rural economy, notably represented by Olivier de Serres’ Le théatre d’agriculture et mesnage des champs (1600), in which moreover parterres executed by Claude I Mollet had been published. The very notion of “théâtre” which ties together the titles of the two treatises, goes back in fact to an encyclopedic ambition to bring together all knowledge, acquired both from books and from experience (“des secrets et des inventions”) that the author wishes to transmit to his fellow gardeners- as suggested by the conclusion to the work in the absence of a foreward-, and not to the landowners to whom de Serres addressed himself. Still in connection with the title, it is fitting to clear up a lexical ambiguity which has not yet been sufficiently noted. The words “plan” and “plant” were often spelled identically in the language of the beginning of the 17th century; thus the Thresor de la langue française by Jean Nicot (1606) defines “plant” as “un dessein en assiete sur rez de chaussée d’un bastiment qu’on veut eslever, Ichnographia. Ainsi Plant aussi se prend pour le fondement d’un bastiment soit de pierre soit de bois, comme le plant et assiete du bauffroy est de telle largeur en tous sens. Plant aussi est une quantité de jeunes arbres plantez à la ligne, Plantatio”. If Mollet sometimes uses the second of these three meanings (that is, the spatial arrangement on the ground, for example, p. 199), he generally means “plan” in its vegetal sense, while he refers to graphic representations by the terms “pourtrait” and “dessein”. In fact the whole first half of the book treats what we would call horticulture, the subject being mainly divided by species and varieties. Thus we would be wrong to expect from the title a collection of engraved models, of the same sort for example as Le Thresor des parterres de l’univers by Daniel Loris (1629), with a text in Latin, French, German and English : Claude I Mollet’s work essentially constitutes an encyclopedia of what one plants and gardening methods.
Olivier de Serres had carefully divided his treatise in six parts and distinguished, in the one devoted to gardens, four types: the vegetable garden, the flower garden, the medicinal garden and the fruit garden or orchard. Claude I Mollet’s account is certainly less systematic but nevertheless presents a certain coherence in the grouping of his fifty-six chapters into different sequences.
The author first treats the preparation of the ground, evoking the different sorts of soil, plowing and manuring (chapters 1-3). He then devotes many pages to reviewing the varieties and methods of cultivating fruit trees, beginning with pear trees (4-14). Next he addresses the “arbres agrestes” or “sauvages” (in other words present in forests), such as the oak, the chestnut and the lime-tree, used in planting allées and to create palisades, arbors, and groves or cabinets (15-16). Mollet explains how to reproduce these species of fruit trees and wild trees in the nursery, how to graft them and how to plant tall specimens (17-19). One section is devoted to the vegetable garden, in which Claude I Mollet – as does Olivier de Serres – suggests dividing it into one part for the summer and another for the winter, and distinguishes the crops in three categories: “racines”, “herbes” or “feuilles”, and “fruits” (20-23). The following section evokes flowers, whether it is a matter of flowering trees and bushes, of tall or short flowers, or even of bulbs (24-28). Mollet specifies that he is not dealing with medicinal plants (p. 186): in fact, this part of the treatise begins to touch on what Olivier de Serres called “jardin bouquetier ou à fleurs”, and which Claude I Mollet describes as “jardin de plaisir”, a term used as the title of his son André’s book.
The following section (29-33) shows how to imagine the order, in other words the layout, of this “pleasure garden”; this is the part which has attracted the most attention on the part of scholars, for it deals with spatial composition and documents the development of embroidery parterres at the beginning of the 17th century. It is to be noted that Mollet, in accordance with common usage at the end of the 16th century and equally found in de Serres, calls “compartiment” what we would define as “parterre” (surface or ensemble of open spaces planted in ornamental designs), and uses the word “parterre” more rarely (for example p. 193: “jardins tant parterres que potagers”), in a more generic sense such as found in the Maison rustique by Estienne and Liébault (“jardin à fleurs”) and in the dictionary by Nicot (“la partie du jardin où n’y a nuls arbres, et où sont les quarreaux de fleurs et d’herbes entourez de bordures, Horti olitorium”). There are twenty-two plates in these chapters, (inserted between pages 202 and 203), signed by Claude I Mollet’s sons, André, Jacques and Noël. The first twelve plates show embroidery parterres (these plates are mentioned on page 191: “j’ay fait faire par mes enfans une douzaine de compartimens de nouvelle invention en broderie, lesquels n’ont point encore esté mis en lumière”): eight square designs with a center fountain, and four oblong ones for smaller spaces. On the other hand the ten other plates are not described in the text. Two of them represent parterres planted in knot gardens (pl. 13-14), rather traditional since at least the 1580s. Plate 16, signed by André Mollet, illustrates a parterre of broken pieces which seems to be a harbinger of the “compartimens de gazon” about which he was to theorize in Le jardin de plaisir. Plates 17 and 18, signed by Claude – probably the author’s son – Claude II Mollet -, represent groves with arbors and cabinets. The last four show labyrinths or “dédales” (plates 19-22). It is to be noted that plate 15, showing only one quarter of a square embroidery parterre, is not signed but may be attributed to André Mollet when compared to the corresponding engraving in the Dumbarton Oaks manuscript. All these figures, that Claude Mollet calls “desseins et pourtraits”, are provided with a scale of measurement (“en toises”) so as to be able to use the drawing in the field. In addition, the text (p. 196) mentions seven other plates illustrating architectural shapes (palisades, arbors, porticoes, hedges), absent from the printed book as from the manuscripts.
In the most frequently quoted passage of the book, Mollet explains that “le temps passé, il y a environ quarante ou cinquante ans qu’il ne se faisoit que des petits compartiments dans chacun quarré d’un jardin de diverses sortes de desseins, qui se representent encores à present au livre de la Maison rustique” (p. 199), an allusion to Charles Estienne’s treatise, translated and enlarged by Jean Liébault. This treatise was known through various editions from 1564 on. The 1583 edition contains the first engraved examples of garden layouts, illustrating in particular “compartiments à carreaux rompus” (see L’agriculture, et maison rustique, Lyon, 1583, fol. 145r-154v). Mollet goes on, mentioning his very close collaboration with the architect Étienne Dupérac, (he was Claude I Mollet’s only witness at his marriage in 1597, and the godfather of his daughter Marie in 1600, according to the documents found by Emmanuel Lurin), “après son retour d’Italie, qui fut en l’année mil cinq cens quatre vingts deux” (p. 200 ; the date of Dupérac’s return was in fact 1578). Mollet was in service to Charles de Lorraine, duc d’Aumale, and especially at Anet –the garden where his father Jacques Mollet was already working (p. 186)– ; “iceluy sieur du Perac prit la peine luy-mesme de faire des desseins et des pourtraicts de compartimens, pour me monstrer comme il falloit faire de beaux jardins; de telle maniere qu’un seul jardin n’estoit, et ne faisoit qu’un seul compartiment my-party par grandes voyales [allées]. […] Ce sont les premiers parterres et compartimens en broderie qui ayent esté faits en France, c’est pourquoy j’ay tousiours continué depuis de faire des grands volumes, parce que l’experience monstre la verité; de sorte que je ne me suis plus arresté à faire des compartimens dans des petits quarrez” (pp. 200-201). The author adds that in order to create these embroidery parterres he was led to use boxwood – a bush his predecessors ill appreciated because of its odor – used in 1595 for the royal parterres at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (illustrated by the way in Olivier de Serres’ book), at Monceaux and in the jardin de l’Étang at Fontainebleau. In fact, this new category of embroidery boxwood parterre was popular from 1600-1630, as has been confirmed by the planting contracts recently discovered by Aurélia Rostaing (2006), in which the expression parterre “en grand volume”, a phrase used by Mollet, sometimes appears. The main ornaments in the formal vocabulary of the embroidery parterres would be codified precisely (branches, flower-like designs, cartouches…), and of decorative elements (rosaries, becs de corbin, dents de loup, feuilles de refend, nilles simples ou doubles) and principles of composition (bases) in the publications of Louis Liger (Le jardinier fleuriste et historiographe, 1704, and Le nouveau théâtre d’agriculture et mesnage des champs, 1713).
Chapters 34 to 39 cover vine-growing. Chapters 40 to 51 make up the “traicté d’astrologie” mentioned in the title. In them Mollet includes general facts coming under meteorology in the classic sense – that of Aristotle’s Meteorologica –, evoking the four elements, the different areas of the atmosphere and the main meteorological phenomena. Chapter XLV points out in particular certain signs allowing one to predict the weather. Mollet also explains how to garden according to the lunar months and also according to other astral cycles which influence the climate; he divulges the main lines of the geocentric system and lists the different winds. This concern to popularize knowledge having to do with what was called ‘natural philosophy’ during the Renaissance should astonish noone; it can also be found at the beginning of the Traité du jardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l’art by Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie (posthumous publication in 1638).
The subject then returns to more concrete considerations. Claude I Mollet explains how to measure (“toiser”) lengths, surfaces and volumes of earth, then how to establish levels and alignments (LII-LIII). Chapter LIV concerns water: the author presents the different doctrines on the origin of springs (“fontaines”), a debate open from Antiquity up to the consecration of the pluvial origin in Pierre Perrault’s De l’origine des fontaines (1674). He shows empirically how to find springs and lingers on the construction of pipes and hydraulic networks. On the other hand, he doesn’t touch on the “embellissemens et artifices qui se peuvent faire” (p. 338), the domaine of the fountain maker and not the gardener, contrary to Boyceau who had devoted several chapters to these ornaments (canals, flowing brooks, grottoes…). The book finishes with two long chapters on subjects characteristic of the rustic economy: silkworm cultivation and beekeeping (LV-LVI). Claude I Mollet had been along with Olivier de Serres one of the artisans developing silkworm breeding under Henri IV, planting the first white mulberry trees at the Tuileries; in 1606 he participated in the treatise to found a nursery of 50,000 white mulberry trees in each diocese and concluded a deal to plant mulberry trees in the whole kingdom with other associates. His text does allude to fruitful experiments he conducted in this sector during the same year (p. 340).
The Théâtre des plans et iardinages came out in three new editions from the same printer , in 1663, 1670 and 1678. The beginning of the title was then simplified to Théâtre des jardinages. Whereas the author’s name is now mentioned, the dedication to Fouquet is deleted because of the superintendant’s disgrace. The astrological part also disappears, no doubt considered obsolete at a time when heliocentrism is triumphing.

Hervé Brunon (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre André Chastel, Paris) – 2007

Critical bibliography

M. Conan, "Postface", A. Mollet, Le Jardin de plaisir, Paris, Éditions du Moniteur, 1981, pp. 99-115, republished : « Le Jardin de Plaisir d’André Mollet », M. Conan, Essais de poétique des jardins, Florence, Olschki, 2004, pp. 135-168.

M. Conan, "Claude Mollet (v. 1563-v. 1649) et sa famille", M. Racine (ed.), Créateurs de jardins et de paysages de la Renaissance au XXIe siècle. I. De la Renaissance au début du XIXe siècle, Arles/Versailles, Actes Sud/École nationale supérieure du paysage, 2001, pp. 23-31.

J.-P. Le Dantec, Jardins et paysages. Textes critiques de l’Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, Larousse, 1996, pp. 100-102.

S. Karling, "The Importance of André Mollet and His Family for the Development of the French Formal Garden", E. B. MacDougall & F. H. Hazlehurstin (ed.), The French Formal Garden, Washington DC, Dumbarton Oaks, 1974, pp. 3-25.

M. Laird, "Parterre, Grove and Flower Garden : European Horticulture and Planting Design in John Evelyn’s Time", T. O’Malley & J. Wolschke-Bulmahn (ed.), John Evelyn’s « Elysium Britannicum » and European Gardening, , Washington DC, Dumbarton Oaks, 1998, pp. 171-219.

E. Lurin, "La belle vue de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Nouveaux documents sur les jardins en terrasses construits sous le règne d’Henri IV", Bulletin de la Société des Historiens de l’Art Français, 2003 (2004), pp. 9-31.

A. Rostaing, "La bêche ou le compas ? Le métier de jardinier dans la première moitié du XVIIe siècle", G. Farhat (ed.), André Le Nôtre, fragments d’un paysage culturel. Institutions, arts, sciences et techniques, Sceaux, Musée de l’Île-de-France, 2006, pp. 74-87.

A. V. Segre, "De la flore ornementale à l’ornement horticole. Transferts de techniques et structures géométriques", G. Farhat (ed.), André Le Nôtre, fragments d’un paysage culturel. Institutions, arts, sciences et techniques, Sceaux, Musée de l’Île-de-France, 2006, pp. 188-203.