Author(s) Androuet du Cerceau, Jacques
Livre d’architecture...
Imprint Paris, B. Prévost, 1559
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Masson 647
Subject Castles, Gardens


     Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder, architect, drawer, engraver and editor, at first settled in Orleans as head of an engraving workshop, published his first works from 1540 to 1550, the Petites habitations (c. 1540) and the Moyens temples (1550). In these two collections of engraved plates, he had assembled architectural inventions in no particular order and with no educational plan in mind. At the end of the 1550s, he organized much more methodically an editorial project of an entirely different intellectual and commercial impact. In 1559, he published a first Livre d'architecture, adding a supplement in 1561, the Second livre d'architecture. Then, after having finished the edition of the Plus excellents bastiments de France (1576-1579), an anthology without its equal at that time in Europe, he completed the series of the books of models in 1582, publishing a third Livre d'architecture.
The first Livre contains fifty models of residences (the third Livre, thirty-eight) for all classes of society and for all pocketbooks. The designs are progressively classified according to the cost of their construction: the collection is organized according to an economic logic. It is the general measurements which govern the sequence of the models, the development of the plan and not the building's footprint, which explains the apparently random order of certain plates. As for the Second livre, it proposes the motifs useful for the decoration of the interior and exterior parts of the houses, appropriate for combining with the models of the first and the third Livre.
These are practical books. They are small in format, to be easily carried by the client to the building site. In each one, the introduction is purposely brief, puts forth its aim and the way to use it. The etching plates (a technique in which du Cerceau excelled) give the plan and elevation in plane view or in bird's eye view, and, more rarely, sectional elevations or floor plans, on the same leaf for the small models and on several leaves for the large ones. The distribution is carefully elaborated and labelled: captions allow one to follow it in its variety at the different levels. The text enclosed with the drawing comments on the model technically. The description of the house is metrological, the only kind that would interest the mason and the owner, both careful to keep costs down. The topographical data differ according to the books. These data are practically nonexistent in the first Livre; most of the models are atopic since they are removed from the ground. Except for the first plates, obviously small urban houses, it is necessary to refer to the text to know whether the house is destined to be built in town or in the country. In the third Livre, on the other hand, the topographical program is clearly set forth. All the suggested models are to be built in the country; moreover they are "situated" in the middle of a garden.
The Livres d'architecture are intended for the widest audience possible. The range of models is restricted, utopia is held to prosaic limits, except for the last models of the first Livre, and even more for those of the third. To be accessible to all, the books were written in French. However, the captions of the first Livre are in Latin which allowed du Cerceau to reuse the coppers for the Latin edition, intended for the international clientele.
The 1559 Livre had an avowed aim. Du Cerceau – apparently impressed and influenced by the demonstrative rigor of the manuscript of Serlio's Book VI (1547/54) – wanted to take advantage of that moment of doctrinal effervescence to be part of the editing world at the right moment, communicate a new strength to French architecture, warn possible competitors and eliminate foreign architects from the national market. He declared it in these terms in his dedication to the king. He had in his sights Serlio and his handwritten treatise, which could at that date always be published. The 1582 Livre came out in similar circumstances. But, beyond his commercial interests, du Cerceau also defended scientific objectives, the heuristic activity of the drawing- and notably of the design in perspective.
The house models proposed in the Livres d'architecture are not the pure fruit of the author's imagination. Beneath this exercise of a variation on the theme of the residence appear principles of composition allowing one to locate groupings of shapes. On the one hand du Cerceau invents according to principles of composition particular to each of the two collections; on the other hand he makes a model of the real. Androuet, one of the best connoisseurs of architecture of his time, uses the documentation gathered locally or from architects and owners, to work out his models, quoting it or interpreting it. There is not a plate in the Livres in which one does not find a reference to the past and at the same time new suggestions. The client who could find in such a model the obviously up-to-date comfortable study, covered by a dome at the top of the stairs, the pride of the neighboring manor house, or else, near the fireplace, the placing of the bed identical to his grandfather's in the family château, was truly convinced that this Livre was going to be indispensable to him. And, as a matter of fact these two works had considerable success, as can be seen by their presence in all the good libraries of the 16th and 17th century gentlemen which still remain in existence. It is necessary to go back to the Livres d'architecture to understand how they were used and interpreted. They nourished the imaginations of owners and builders, architects and masons for a long time.

Françoise Boudon (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris) – 2004


Critical bibliography

J. Androuet du Cerceau, Les trois livres d’architecture : Paris, 1559, 1561, 1582, (facsimile edition), Ridgewood N. J., Gregg Press Inc., 1965.

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

F. Boudon, "Les livres d’architecture de Jacques Androuet du Cerceau", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 367-396.

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

D. Thomson, Renaissance Architecture. Critics Patrons Luxury, Manchester/New York, Manchester UP, 1993.

D. Thomson, "Les trois Livres d’architecture de Jacques Ier Androuet Du Cerceau, à Paris en 1559, 1561 et 1582", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 449-450.