Author(s) Androuet du Cerceau, Jacques
Title Leçons de perspective positive
Imprint Paris, M. Patisson, 1576
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1171
Subject Perspective


     The author tells us that the Leçons de perspective positive was published in 1576, as a sort of accompaniment to the collection of the Plus excellents bâtiments de France. They are made up of sixty lessons set out on twelve pages and a plate of illustrations for each one. A second known edition, dated 1676, apparently was printed as a reissue of the first, no later than the last years of the 16th century. This work was not widely circulated during its period, or during later ones. It was translated only into English, by John Thorpe, during the first half of the 17th century; and at that it remained handwritten. Egnatio Danti mentions the author among those who wrote about perspective, under the Italianised name Andreotti, but does not take advantage of the subject matter of his work.
The author dedicates his labours to Catherine de'Medici and he hopes that "[son] œuvre […lui] sera agréable et de plaisir". What could be more strange for a book on perspective, a subject which was often rebuffed by the artists themselves! Nevertheless he considers, as for several of his other treatises, that his book has a didactic reach and would allow "par soi et sans autre maître que ce livre, [d'] apprendre aisément les principes de cet art". Thus he hopes to set out the "principes et leçons familières de l'art et secrets de perspective", making no mention of the geometric and Euclidian foundations of its practice. Moreover the Leçons contain no summary of the notions of geometry used and in fact the terms employed are not always mathematical ones. He also expresses his desire to explain publicly the method used for the illustrations in the Plus excellents bâtiments coming out then. It is not easy to determine the text's public: it is a text of workshop practices but whose publication seems to be necessary due to the impossibility of learning these practices in workshops, or in some workshops.
The architect du Cerceau intends that perspective should be used for drawing and for figurative arts in general. For him, it does not have much application in the domaine of practical architecture even if there "y a une grande affinité entre ces sciences d'architecture et de perspective", which he does not demonstrate otherwise. Perspective is in fact the "vrai truchement et juge de l'œuvre de portraiture", and it permits the painter to come to the end of his idea, to verify the conformity of his work. It offers the painter the occasion to "observer la raison et ordonnance de perspective". It "n'est pas un miroir […qui] fait les choses[…] meilleures ou pires qu'elles ne sont mais seulement représente au vrai […] les choses telles qu'elles apparaissent à l'œil". Du Cerceau does not clam the scientific character of perspective, on the contrary he affirms its positive, therefore practical, aspect; he uses its verifiable character and therefore judges that it serves to gauge the appropriateness of the work with the mimetic dogmas in force at that time.
The method presented, for here there is only one, that of the "tiers-points" is a universal method which would permit its readers "ayant bien entendu ce petit livret, [d’avoir] l’intelligence de tous les livres de ceux qui en ont écrit". We owe it to Egnatio Danti in his opinion, still very widespread today, that the methods put forth by Androuet du Cerceau and Jean Cousin come from Serlio who apparently learned them from Baldassare Peruzzi. It is true that Serlio shows a "pratique" using two "tiers points" equidistant from the principal point on the horizon. However, Viator seems to be the most immediate source. Du Cerceau also borrows a good part of his vocabulary from him. The interest in the little collection of perspective plates of Toul continued, moreover, in the French milieus, as the translation of père Martellange (Paris, BnF, Fr. ms. 19065), published in 1626, attests. He attaches considerable importance to the point of view and puts forth his methods of representation according to what he calls "l'assiette", that is, eye level: "haute, moyenne et basse, ainsi nommées au respect de l'oeil du spectateur". He shows the objects in four views: straight on, a side view, a right angle, a left angle. In his vocabulary one will also take note of the appearance of the term "fuyant" (22 to 25 and 50 to 53). In translating Serlio, Jean Martin had used the expression "figure fuyante" as a simple synonym of "figure en raccourci".
Androuet du Cerceau is also well known for having been among the first to apply a method of formulating parallel perspective. It is found particularly in the plates of the Plus excellents bastiments de France in the overhead view of the estates which introduces each illustrated description. But he says nothing about this method in his treatise on perspective. Even the last lesson, devoted to "dessins de bâtiments et paysages" makes use of the central perspective developed all through his remarks. Let us finally notice that Serlio had outlined its main features in 1545 (Book II, f. 38).

Pascal Dubourg-Glatigny
(Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Centre Koyré, Paris) – 2004

Critical bibliography

J. Androuet du Cerceau, Les plus excellents bastiments de France..., Paris, D. Thomson (ed.), Paris, Sand & Conti, 1988 (Documentary chronology and general bibliography, pp. 310-316).

J. Androuet du Cerceau, Lecciones de perspectiva positiva, translated by L. Casado, Madrid, Xarait Ediciones, 1980.

H. von Geymüller, Les Du Cerceau. Leur vie et leur œuvre d’après les nouvelles recherches, Paris/London, Rouam/Wood & Co, 1887, pp. 162-176.

K. J. Höltgen, "An unknown manuscript translation by John Thorpe of du Cerceau’s Perspective", E. Chaney & P. Mack (ed.), England and the Continental Renaissance, Essays in honour of J. B. Trapp, Woodbridge, Boydel Press, 1990, pp. 215-228.