Author(s) Mauclerc, Julien
Boyvin, René
Title Le premier livre d’architecture...
Imprint La Rochelle, J. Haultin, 1600
Subject Orders
Consult in image mode


     In 1599 Le premier livre d'architecture had come out as an "édition à l'essai" without a name or place of publication, but attributable to the printer from La Rochelle Jérôme Haultin. Only one copy of it is known today. The 1600 edition is almost as rare, for only two copies remain of this edition : one at the British Library in London (61.g.6) indicated by Louis Desgraves in his addition to the bibliography of the Haultins (pp. 314-315), and the other at Avery Library at Columbia University in New York (AA531 M45 M451F). The name and press mark of Jérôme Haultin (the "Religion Chrestienne" in one of its variations) appear on the title page, reset for the circumstance ; a dedication to the King was added.
Such as it is, this Premier livre, which was not to be followed by a second one, is obviously imperfect. In its title as in the “proème” the author sets out a plan for a much more ambitious project than the one before us. In fact he promises to treat the orders of columns and also architecture in general, the Serlian categories being a pretext to classify models of entrances, windows, dormer windows, sepultures and even fortresses – not to mention the Archimedes’ screw. But in the word to the reader which concludes the work he suggests that he will not have the time to finish this vast enterprise, and gives a few rather confused instructions to the good souls who would like to pick up the torch after him.
This nearly universal program reminds us of the more successful ones of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau or of Hans Vredeman de Vries, with which Mauclerc must have been acquainted through his extensive library. For our gentleman from Poitou was a cultured amateur. The introductory pieces of the work are studded with erudite quotations from Empedocles, Apollonius of Rhodes and Flavius Josephus. He must also have read more “scientific” authors, for he refers to the Commentarium in astrolabium of Juan de Rojas Sarmiento (Paris, Vascosan, 1550), to the famous Tractatus de sphœra mundi by Jean Dubois and to its commentary by Father Clavius which came out in Lyon in 1593. Nonetheless, the exclusive use of French for the quotations allows one to wonder if he mastered Latin ; as for Greek, it seems that someone writing “le pistille” for “l’épistyle” must have been ignorant of it. Furthermore, the supposedly philosophical texts, which are meant to explain the allegories in the frontispiece, do not shine with conceptual rigor, and the “proème” is not a model of clarity. The specifically architectural knowledge is fairly wide : as well as Vitruvius, of course, he refers to Alberti and Philandrier, and quotes Serlio’s Terzo libro precisely. His use of certain terms (“strix” for example) allows one to think that he was acquainted with the French translation of Sagredo. But he does not own up to the main borrowings. In fact the text was inspired by Hans Blum's treatise, published for the first time in Latin in 1550 in Zurich (Quinque columnarum exacta descriptio...), of which at least two editions in French existed at the end of the 16th century, one coming out in Antwerp in 1551 and the other in Lyon in 1562. Mauclerc followed him faithfully, even repeating the legend which makes the Tuscan giant Tuscus the ancestor of the Teutscher, that is to say the Germans- a legend which must have appeared very exotic in the country of the Sieur du Ligneron. As for the plates, they repeat in a remarkably exact way the German's. Much remains to be said about Blum’s influence on the theory of architecture in France. Jean Bullant also drew inspiration from his method of presentation founded on a simple clear system of rules and of sections of circles, very effective, as Mauclerc says, for the “pauvres simples artisans qui n'ont été nourris aux lettres”. But Bullant had adapted and developed it for his own models, more directly Serlian in profile. In Mauclerc’s work, the plagiarism is more obvious, for the shapes he proposes for the orders are Blum’s, exactly. His plans are still very valuable, for Boyvin’s engraving shows great virtuosity and admirable precision.
If Blum was the principal source, it was not the only source. Mauclerc borrowed portal XIV from Serlio’s Extraordinario libro. Adapted and decorated for the circumstance, he used it as frontispiece, framing a portrait of the author whose pose is obviously that of Vignola on the title page of the Regola. He took the Corinthian column of the temple of the Dioscuri from the Libro appartenente a l’architettura of Antonio Labacco (Rome, 1559, p. 21). He took from the same book the composite column from a temple situated between the Capitol and the Quirinal (p. 37) ; let us remember that these two plates had already been used by De l’Orme for the Premier tome of 1567 (ff. 194 v° and 206). Moreover Philibert also inspired our author, since the superb acanthus at the end of the book is a reinterpretation of the model proposed by De l’Orme in folio 214 v° of his treatise.
In spite of this undeniable culture, Mauclerc’s text is not that of a first-class thinker. The forms he describes have nothing new about them, and his paraphrase of Blum is limited to a rather repetitive and fastidious exposé on the proportions and the “membres particuliers” of the orders, with the traditional anecdotes on their origins. The most original aspect of the account is the idea of presenting not five but seven orders of columns, by giving two versions of the Ionic and Corinthian, with and without pedestal, but again, Mauclerc does no more than take up Blum's presentation again, which moreover suited him perfectly, because it made for seven different plans for his fortresses (circle, triangle, quadrangle, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon and octagon), and the seven categories function perfectly for his presentation “en ordre” of the whole of architecture. Perhaps he was confirmed in this idea in reading Philibert De l’Orme, who speaks very highly of an ideal architecture consisting of seven parts (although it is not a question of orders), which in its perfection he integrates into the system of seven planets.
The term “plagiarism” which one is tempted to use to describe Mauclerc’s procedures must not be taken in the derogatory sense which one gives to it today. In fact, these borrowings became habitual during a period when inventiveness, in the field of the orders, was exhausted. De l’Orme was no doubt the last one to propose new forms. In the 17th century very little invention came about. Like Mansart in real architecture, the theoreticians were satisfied to parallel the forms of Palladio, Scamozzi and Vignola, choosing those which suited them best, or, like Perrault, trying to synthesize an already acquired formal repertoire. In such a way that Mauclerc, in the contents of his architectural culture, may appear as the last of the Renaissance theoreticians and as the first of those of the 17th century in the eclecticism of his method.
We find no trace of the treatise : Louis Savot did not mention it in 1624 in his “bibliography”. The privilege of the second edition in 1648 points out that “Pierre Daret, notre graveur ordinaire en tailles-douces, nous a fait très humblement remontrer que depuis trois ans en ça, il a recouvert les planches d’un livre in-folio, intitulé L’architecture de Mr Julien Mauclerc, gentilhomme poitevin, composé de cinquante planches en taille-douce, avec les explications d’icelles, qui n’a encore été mis en lumière et par lui augmenté, lequel livre, pour l’utilité publique, ledit Daret désirerait mettre en lumière par notre permission qu’il nous a fait supplier lui accorder”. Daret wrote himself that he had “recouvré depuis quelques années un ouvrage d’architecture”, as though the book had been lost. The rarity of the work can perhaps be explained by the printer's death on November 16, 1600. His heirs, who continued printing from 1601 to 1622, issued no more copies of it.

Yves Pauwels (Tours, Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance) – 2006
Note revised in 2008

Critical bibliography

L. Châtenay, La vie intellectuelle en Aunis et Saintonge de 1540 à 1610, La Rochelle, Éditions du Quartier Latin, 1959.

L. Desgraves, L’imprimerie à la Rochelle, Les Haultin (1571-1623), Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 34-2, Genève, Droz, 1960.

L. Desgraves, "Corrections et additions à la bibliographie des Haultin", Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance, Travaux et documents, 28, 1965, pp. 304-317.

J. Levron, René Boyvin, graveur angevin du XVIe siècle, Angers, Petit, 1941.

M. Marrache-Gouraud, "Cabinets et curieux du Poitou, aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles", P. Martin & D. Moncond'huy (ed.), Curiosité et cabinets de curiosités, Neuilly, Atlande, 2004, pp. 93-108.

Y. Pauwels, "Hans Blum et les Français, 1550-1650", Scholion. Meitteilungsblatt der Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, 6, 2010, pp. 77-88.

D. Thomson, "Architecture et humanisme au XVIe siècle. Le Premier Livre d’Architecture de Julien Mauclerc", Bulletin monumental, 158, 1980, pp. 7-40.

D. Thomson, "Le Premier Livre d’Architecture de Mauclerc, à La Rochelle, chez Jérôme Haultin en 1600", S. Deswarte-Rosa (éd.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, p. 471.