Aviler, Augustin-Charles d’

Title Les cinq ordres d’architecture...
Imprint Paris, J.-B. Coignard, 1685
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1726
Subject Orders
Transcribed version of the text


     Book VI on the orders takes up half of the second part of the Idea della architettura universale which groups together books 6-8 (172 pages out of 370, not counting indices). This tells us of its importance to Scamozzi, its author. In fact it is the book which was translated the most often. Augustin-Charles d’Aviler specifies this in the preface of the French translation: “It is the subject matter the most widely used and which is practiced the most by architects”. The French version was nevertheless relatively late, for as early as 1640, Dancker Danckerts had published the first Dutch translation in Amsterdam (reprinted in 1658 and 1661). A French version was essential, all the more since Scamozzi remained the only one “of the three architects holding first place in the doctrine of the orders among the Moderns” who had not yet been translated into French (Preface). Vignola had been translated starting in 1631-32 by Pierre Le Muet, and Palladio’s book I had been translated by the same Le Muet in 1645. Roland Fréart de Chambray had translated Palladio’s whole treatise in 1650. In any case the 1685 publication was not the first edition of Scamozzi. In 1646 Jean Boisseau had published an opuscule with Scamozzian orders taken from book VI and a brief anthology of plans and elevations of palaces and villas borrowed from book III.
The 1685 book is not an integral translation, but a slightly abridged version. It is relieved of everything that falls outside the province of architecture (histories, fables, geographical, physical and moral reflections), for it is intended more for “workers, who look at the illustrations more than at the fine words, not for those who are only attached to theory” (Preface). Scamozzi is too wordy a writer to be published as is: Fréart had called him a “big talker” in his Parallèle (1650). In any case the edition is still faithful: the text was respected to the letter, since the translator did not have to “search for its meaning only and make other fine words”, doubtless an allusion to the treatment that Le Muet had given Palladio’s book I (1645). The book begins with a plate on the five orders and the “Epistle” by d’Aviler to Jules Hardouin-Mansart, chief architect and Superintendant of royal buildings. His preface, the table of contents and the translation of the Italian words engraved on the plates come next. Thirty-five chapters with the original illustrations follow. Only a few figures were changed.
This edition is especially interesting because the original plates are reproduced (Preface), as Fréart had also had the unhoped-for luck to do during his period in the treatise by Palladio (1650). The plate of the Corinthian entablature which should have concluded chapter 33 varies from copy to copy (it is at the beginning in the Ensba copy and in chapter II after page 4 in others). It was probably originally forgotten: since chapter 33 comes directly before the following chapter on the same page, it was not possible to include the plate, hence its status as a loose sheet. The plate of the Ionic arch without a pedestal found two times in the 1615 Italian edition was deleted.
The book was always attributed to d’Aviler (Verdier 2003, p. 120). Now if d’Aviler put his name on the “Epistle” and the preface, it must be pointed out that he never claimed to be its translator: “I consider myself fortunate”, he wrote to Jules Hardouin-Mansart, “that you have allowed me to present this translation to you”. And according to the extract of the privilege, the authorization “to print, sell and distribute the Idée de l’architecture universelle by Vincent Scamozzi” was granted to the printer-bookseller Jean-Baptiste Coignard for twelve years. No mention of the translator, concealed in the impersonal “on”: “One has decided to give to the public”, “the encounter that one has had with the original plates”, “one has believed that our architects would not have been unhappy to see translated into French the one who was missing among the three architects who have the highest standing for the doctrine of the orders among the Moderns”, “one has followed the author word for word” (Preface). Now in 1673 in his annotated edition of Savot, François Blondel alludes to the translation of the sixth book “published separately” and specifies in fact that they are working on the whole translation (p. 347). And in the second edition in 1685 he affirms that he himself translated the third and sixth books “which are ready to be given to the public” (1685, p. 348, note b). Thus it was precisely that year, on October 1st that the translation of book VI came out. D’Aviler, who had been one of the very first students of the Academy, might have had the responsibility of publishing the work of his teacher Blondel, who died a few months later, on January 21, 1686. But then why silence Blondel’s name ? Probably one explanation is the change in direction; the unexpected death of Colbert on September 6, 1683, resulted in the naming of his enemy Louvois as Superintendent of buildings. His close collaborator, Charles Perrault, had been obliged to resign from his post as controller general, giving way to Michel Hardouin-Mansart, whereas Jules, chief architect and Superintendent of royal buildings, had risen high in society when he was awarded letters patent of nobility in 1682. The king’s printer probably though it was prudent to place his new book under the patronage of the powerful Hardouin-Mansart, a favorite of the king and at court. In the dedication, d’Aviler, for a long time lacking work, expressed his gratitude to Mansart who had taken him on in October of 1684 as a draftsman in the Administration of the king’s buildings. The probable eclipse of Blondel came at his death, after which Robert de Cotte, Mansart’s own brother-in-law took the direction of the Royal academy of Architecture, marking the end of an era.
The translation of Scamozzi fits in the framework of the prestigious books supported by those in power, the translations of Vitruvius by Claude Perrault (1673, 1684) and his Abrégé (1674), his Ordonnance des cinq especes de colonnes selon la methode des Anciens (1683), the Principes de l’architecture, de la sculpture et de la peinture by André Félibien (1676), and the Édifices antiques de Rome by Antoine Desgodets (1682). Scamozzi’s treatise was appealing because it was more recent than those of his elders, Vignola and Palladio. In the eyes of the “classiques” he had the special merit of founding his architecture “on the most likely natural reasons, on the Vitruvian doctrine and on the examples of the most excellent buildings of Antiquity” (Preface), in spite of the reputation of having a dry manner arising from the quantity of moldings in his profiles” (an abundance of round moldings, a lack of variety in their placing) which Fréart de Chambray had already pointed out in the Parallèle and François Blondel in his Cours d’architecture. Blondel, like the good mathematician that he was, had indicated the disarray in the measurements, but according to d’Aviler it sufficed to keep in mind the two systems used by Scamozzi: the module or diameter of the columns divided in 60 parts for the whole, and the common denominator for the details of the moldings and their projections, taken from a particular member to be subdivided or multiplied. In spite of d’Aviler’s opinion we are far from Vignola’s efficacy. Moreover this book was not as successful as the Cours d’architecture which he published a few years later.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2014

Critical bibliography

J. Randon de Grolier, A.-C. d’Aviler, Mémoire de l’École du Louvre, 1963.

F. Lemerle, “Le XVIIe siècle français et l’Idea dell’architettura universale (1615) de Vincenzo Scamozzi”, Revue de l’art, 188, 2015-2, pp. 49-55.

F. Lemerle & Y. Pauwels, Architectures de papier. La France et l’Europe, suivi d’une bibliographie des livres d’architecture (XVIe-XVIIe siècles), Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 88-89, 110-112.

T. Verdier, Augustin-Charles d’Aviler architecte du roi en Languedoc 1653-1701, Montpellier, Les Presses du Languedoc, 2003.