Fréart de Chambray, Roland
Errard, Charles

Parallèle de l’architecture antique et de la moderne...
Imprint Paris, E. Martin, 1650
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1545
Subject Orders


     The Parallèle de l'architecture antique et de la moderne, collection of the finest antique and modern orders for architects to use had been ordered by his cousin François Sublet de Noyers, when he was the powerful Superintendant of the King's Buildings, to put architecture on the right path. The book is made unusual by the clarity of the presentation, the beauty of the plates attributed to Charles Errard and the standardization of the illustrations through the choice of a single module (the half-diameter of the column, divided in thirty parts), inspired from Vignola, which facilitates the comparison among the various designs.
The Parallèle is made of two parts: the first, and the most developed, gives preference to the Greek orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), the second, more succinct, deals with the two Latin orders, Tuscan and composite. The presentation is the same for each of the Greek orders: Chambray begins with three prestigious antique examples, and follows them with theoretical models of the ten leading authors who had written on the subject, presented in five pairs: Palladio and Scamozzi, Serlio and Vignola, Barbaro and Cataneo, Alberti and Viola, and finally Bullant and De l'Orme. A fourth antique example comes after the modern models of the Greek orders. For the Latin orders, considered "supernuméraires et presque inutiles", only three remains were kept (one for the Tuscan, two for the composite) and the models of Palladio and Scamozzi, of Serlio and Vignola. The aim of the parallel was to proclaim the superiority of the Ancients over the Moderns, but a second parallel establishes five ranks of authors in the middle of which is superimposed a third: in each pair the authors are opposed "en paragon l'un de l'autre". The first one quoted wins over the second: thus Palladio, who managed to free himself from Vitruvius and take inspiration from the best antique models, is superior to Scamozzi whose designs were less precise…
Thus the Parallèle is not a treatise on the orders in the traditional sense: the asserted superiority of the Ancients over the Moderns, the primacy of the Greek orders, the rank and finally the choice of the modern authors confer a polemical and innovating aspect to the book. To rediscover the principles of the Ancients, Chambray proposes as models the most beautiful constructions of antiquity, "qui ont le consentement et l'approbation universelle de tous ceux de la profession". In order to come back to a natural architecture, in which the order expresses the architectonic structure of the building, one must adopt the Greek orders, the expression of the only three ways to build, "le solide, la moyenne & la délicate", of which some remarkable Roman edifices can give an idea, and only use with the greatest discretion the two Latin orders, Tuscan, unworthy to represent great civil and religious edifices because of its rusticity, and especially the composite, a hybrid order which was unfortunately the delight of modern architects.
The impeccable presentation of the antique and modern orders in the Parallèle makes one forget that the choices are arbitrary. In fact few antique edifices find favour with Chambray. Only ten monuments were selected: the Arch of Titus, the Trajan Column, the Pantheon, the Temple of Fortuna virilis (Temple of Portunus), the Theater of Marcellus, the Baths of Diocletian, the "Frontispiece de Nero" (Temple of Serapis), in Rome; then the Doric ruins at Albana, the Mausoleum of Terracina and the Porta Leoni at Verona. Even more biased was the vision of the modern orders imposed by the Parallèle. The reader who looks through the pages of Errard's engravings might believe he has before him single models of the great masters of the Renaissance. Not at all. Chambray was not satisfied to reconstitute the whole order by reducing the measurements to a common standard. He corrected Palladio's and Scamozzi's orders, leaving out the plinths carved in cavetto because they were in his opinion unorthodox. For the theoreticians who provide two examples of orders like Serlio or Bullant, he retained the most regular model. In the case of Alberti he purely and simply invented orders of which the man from Florence did not have an overall concept during the Quattrocento. Because the princeps edition of the De re ædificatoria (1485) was not illustrated, Chambray was compelled to construct Alberti's "orders" from the description he gives of the three Greek capitals (VII, 8), of the corresponding entablatures (VII, 9), and of only two bases, the Attic base which he attributes to the Doric and the "ionique"- in fact Corinthian (VII, 7), and of the plates engraved for Cosimo Bartoli in 1550. Errard took his inspiration from them, most likely through the medium of Jean Martin's French edition which copied the Italian engravings on the orders, but also, without knowing it, the initiatives Bartoli took himself in the illustration (the decoration of the gorgerin of the second Doric capital, two versions of the Attic base, the foliage of the Corinthian capital). If it is rather simple to choose between two models of a Doric capital of the most regular antique inspiration, or between two versions of the most Vitruvian Attic base, and to combine them with the entablature, on the other hand it is more questionable to attribute the second version of the Attic base to the Ionic order. In the case of Philibert De L'Orme, who did not draw complete orders but elements (capitals, bases…), or offered lists of details of antique examples, the assembly is even more random. If Chambray could reproduce a Doric order from three plates (base, capital, entablature), moreover inspired by Serlio, for the Ionic order he associated independent illustrations which represent the base of the Tuileries, an antique capital and an entablature according to the "Divines proportions"! As far as he was concerned, the Corinthian order is an admitted combination between two antique styles, an unidentified base whose decoration he erased, the entablature of the temples of the Pantheon and a capital model. Carried away by his own system and by his convictions, Chambray cheated, but the picture he imposed acquired force of law. This was no doubt the astounding success of the Parallèle but also its great danger.
As in the Idée de la perfection de la peinture Chambray deplored the decadence in the two arts which Greece had brought to the highest degree of excellence and wished to see them recover their primitive purity thanks to the fundamental principles he recommended in the name of the "Intelligents" or the "Vertueux". Thus the book was the occasion to criticize openly the mannerist extravagance of the architecture of his period. In France, the edifice which crystallized passions and best symbolized the stakes of the years 1630-1640 is the church Saint-Louis of the Jesuit convent, (presently Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis). The luxurious ornamentation, the multiplication of the supports, the projections of the entablature, the broken arch pediment, the use of the composite with another order, criticized in the Parallèle, could only arouse thunderbolts from the "Intelligents", whose spokesperson was Chambray. But the origins of this architectural dissoluteness were to be found across the mountains. According to his brother Chantelou, Chambray condemned irrevocably Borromini's "extravagante" architectural realizations, and most of all those of Michelangelo which he had seen during his Italian trips. For the one truly responsible for the decline was none other than the most inventive of the artists of the Renaissance, the creator, according to Vasari, of the modern composite order. Never mentioned by name in the Parallèle, unlike in the treatise on painting, he was clearly indicated by Chantelou in Le journal de voyage du cavalier Bernin as one of those "qui a introduit le libertinage dans l'architecture par une ambition de faire les choses nouvelles et de n'imiter aucun de ceux qui l'ont précédé". Thus Palladio, who advocated an architecture imitated from nature in which the order expresses the architectonic structure of the building, appeared to be the perfect antidote to Michelangelo. Chapter XXXVI of the first part of the Parallèle in which Chambray criticizes examples of contemporary extravagance is moreover directly inspired from the chapter of the Quattro libri, entitled "Degli abusi" (I, 20), where the spokesperson of the "Intelligents" finds the perfect expression of his own conception of architecture.
Chambray did not have the time to implement the "régulière" architecture that Sublet de Noyers desired. In any case one must point out the virtual manifest that was the Jesuit Church of Novitiates, rue Pot-de-Fer (destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century), which Sublet had financed himself. The "Intelligents" praised it unanimously, with its sober façade decorated with superposed Doric and Ionic supports, enlivened by a discreet projection. With its sober decoration, its bare panels, it had become the emblem of the new regular architecture that the austere and devout Superintendant of the King's Buildings. Sublet's disgrace followed by his death carried away the Fréart clan. Chambray did not see his work published by the Royal printing presses; nonetheless they were widely diffused. Less well-known today by the public at large than his brother Chantelou, in a few years he published works on painting and architecture that were fundamental for the theory of art in the 17th century. He was called upon as expert for the plans of the Louvre because of his competence in architecture. The Parallèle was widely read in England (there were five editions between 1664 and 1733), and was the inspiration for an anonymous treatise in Italy, but didn't have the impact of the Idée de la perfection de la peinture. The French practitioners, attached to a long national tradition, were often charmed by influences coming from the other side of the Alps. They did not relinquish the composite order. Worse, some architects even considered creating a sixth order, which would have been the French order. Palladio's theoretical supremacy, the governing idea of the book, did not correspond to practice. The Doric orders used by Le Vau confirm the success of the Vignola forms. Even if eclecticism stayed in place, (Vignola's Doric was often combined with Palladio's Ionic), the Regola, more concise and more practical than the Quattro libri, won fervent partisans early on.
It was rather in theoretical debates that Chambray's ideas found a response: the Academy of Architecture, whose task it was to reinstate the fine architecture, devoted its first books to examining various treatises. The Academy did this according to the order of the Parallèle, and thus began with Palladio's treatise of which Chambray had published the first integral translation. But all the Academicians were far from sharing in unconditional praise of the Italian. However, and it is not the least of the paradoxes surrounding the Parallèle, in spite of, or because of its artifices, the book was regarded as an anthology on the antique and modern orders and easy to use. Abraham Bosse, Claude Perrault, François Blondel all quoted Fréart de Chambray and the ten Moderns he pointed out. As proof of its up-to-date quality, the book was reedited in 1689, at the presses of François Jollain the elder, in a version enlarged by pedestals of each order. The presentation of the forms, as arbitrary and inexact in detail as it is, often allowed one to dispense with reading the authors themselves. The theoreticians' commentary, often quoted side by side as in the Parallèle, reveals the importance and the role of this document as to the very perception of theory in the 17th century. In the 18th century it enjoyed a certain vogue since it was republished in 1702 and in an enlarged version in 1766. In any case at that time there was a real infatuation for Greece. The most innovative aspect of Chambray's doctrine, the affirmation of Greek superiority, without its equivalent in literature, was taken up again by Abbot Laugier, who defended a natural architecture founded on the three Greek orders in his treatise, but he hardened his words since the order, in the name of a nature re-examined by the Enlightenment, was reduced to the column without a pedestal, the entablature and the pediment. It was the reign of the colonnades.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2006

Critical bibliography

R. Fréart de Chambray, Parallèle de l'architecture antique avec la moderne (Paris, 1650), Critical edition F. Lemerle, followed by the Idée de la Perfection de la peinture compiled by M. Stanic, Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 2005.

P. Fréart de Chantelou, Journal de voyage du Cavalier Bernin en France, M. Stanic (ed.), Paris, Macula, 2001.

F. Lemerle, "Fréart de Chambray : les enjeux du Parallèle", XVIIe siècle, 196, july-november 1997, pp. 419-453.

F. Lemerle, "Une querelle des Anciens et des Modernes en architecture: Fréart de Chambray", Travaux de Littérature, 12, 1999, pp. 37-47.

F. Lemerle, "Fréart de Chambray et Alberti", Albertiana, 3, 2000, pp. 261-273.

F. Lemerle, "L'Accademia di architettura e il trattato di Palladio (1673-1674)", Annali di archittetura, 12, 2000, pp. 117-122.

F. Lemerle, "À l’origine du palladianisme européen : Pierre Le Muet et Roland Fréart de Chambray", Revue de l'art, 178, 2012-4, pp. 43-47.

F. Lemerle, "Le Parallèle et l’Idée", E. Lavezzi (éd.), Lectures de l’Idée de la perfection de la peinture, forthcoming.

C. Mignot, "Palladio et l'architecture française du XVIIe siècle", Annali di architettura, 12, 2000, pp. 107-115.

A. Palladio, Les quatre livres de l’architecture d’Andrea Palladio, Translated by R. Fréart de Chambray, Introduction by F. Lemerle, Paris, Flammarion, 2002 (1rst ed.: Paris, Flammarion, 1997).

Y. Pauwels, Aux marges de la règle. Essai sur les ordres à la Renaissance, Wavre, Mardaga, 2002, pp. 165-176.