ANDROUET DU CERCEAU, Jacques (the elder) (c. 1520-1586)
Le Premier [-Second] volume des plus excellents Bastiments de France
Paris: The author, 1576-1579. Folio; two volumes bound in one. (16 1/8 x 11 1/8"). 8 ff. (letterpress title dedication, description of 15 buildings), 63 double-page engraved plates; 8 ff. 61 double-page engraved plates.
Seventeenth century vellum, raised bands, red morocco lettering piece, sprinkled red edges. Within a gray cloth slipcase.
"One of the most beautiful series of engraved plates of monumental structures to appear in the sixteenth century" (Millard).
An unparalleled graphic documentation of French architectural and garden designs. "In some cases Androuet du Cerceau's engravings are among the few surviving sources of information on the monuments, including two 'fantasy' palaces of Verneuil and Charleval, the Maison Blanche at Gaillon, and the interesting wood Grande Salle du Palais in Paris. In other cases, the illustrations give a wealth of information on monuments now ruined, altered, or dispersed" (Millard). Without exaggeration the beginning of the definitive French Renaissance style begins with the year of the publication of the above work. This French Renaissance architectural tour-de-force has no equivalent anywhere else in Europe at this time. It presents the residences of the King and his company, with extremely valuable views of important buildings and gardens that have long disappeared. Androuet du Cerceau, who travelled in Italy in the early 1530s, was largely responsible for introducing Italian Renaissance architecture and decoration to the French court. But historians do not always agree on the "meaning" of the Plus excellents Bastiments de France. Some have argued that it was a "mere" tribute to the most exalted patrons in France, a giant volume of celebratory engravings disguised as an academic architectural essay. Nonetheless, the scale of the work was unprecedented, and it took Androuet du Cerceau more than twenty years to realize the project. Such an undertaking as this required teams of architects, draftsmen and engravers. The project was actually begun in 1550 but was made impossible during the French religous wars. The project progressed glacially through periods of uneasy peace (1563-1566 and 1570-1572). Modern scholars can discern various interpretations and artistic reinterpretations of the subject, but nonetheless the Plus excellents Bastiments de France remains the richest primary source of information on French Renaissance gardens and architecture.
Berlin Katalog 2456. Mortimer, French 23. Fowler 24. Millard French 8 (with vol. II belonging to the second edition); Brun, p.188; Destailleur, pp.26-27; H, von Geymüller, Les Du Cerceau (1887) pp. 202-207, 336-337.