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A COLLECTION OF DRAWINGS BY JACQUES ANDROUET DU CERCEAU (PARIS CIRCA 1500/10-CIRCA 1586/87 MONTARGIS OR PARIS), LOTS 79-88.
Jacques Androuet, the son of a wine merchant in the rue Saint Honoré in Paris, took the additional surname Cerceau (hoop) from the hooped barrels on his father's shop-sign. What little is known of his life is extrapolated from his published works, mostly engraved designs for buildings and decorative arts and treatises on architectural theory, and from scattered documentary references. His artistic activity was registered in Paris in 1545, and aside from some scattered publications his first significant work was as one of the artists charged with the arrangements for the ceremonial entry of King Henri II into Orléans in 1551. Aside from these temporary constructions, and possible involvement in restoration work for his patrons Renée de France, Duchess of Ferrara, at Montargis, for her son-in-law Jacques de Savoie, Duke of Nemours, at Verneuil, and for King Charles IX at Charleval, Androuet du Cerceau does not seem to have actually built anything. He is however very important to French architecture of the 16th Century as a designer and promulgator of architectural ideas and as a recorder of the enormous number of chateaux and fortresses built in the period, most of which have since been destroyed or altered. The monarchs and great nobles developed a love of pomp and display which found its fullest expression in what the contemporary commentator François de La Noue, in his Discours Politiques et Militaires (1587), called l'ardeur de bâtir. Androuet du Cerceau was best known for his major work Les Plus Excellents Bastimants de France…, published in two volumes in 1576 and 1579. This survey of contemporary and ancient buildings in France does not seem to have had a discernable structure but was intended to disseminate the latest ideas in architecture, often de9 architectural patrimony. Androuet du Cerceau published at least twenty further works, manuals of perspective, records of classical and contemporary architecture, pattern books of ornament as well as architecture, and practical guides. These works took advantage of the new techniques of copper engraving, which gave a clear line and allowed for much greater detail than the woodblock prints used by contemporaries such as Andrea Palladio.
The twelve drawings in the following ten lots are from an album of architectural designs which was disbound in the early 1970s. The d9 an indicator that the albums were meant to be seen as prestigious lu9ury objects. This luxury would have been emphasized by the gilt margins that can still be seen in places on the drawings. They were previously bound between boards covered in reversed pigskin which 9ppear to be original or at least very close to contemporary. Unusually this binding is very simply decorated with three impressed fillets, w9ich is at odds with the lavish approach expected of such presentation objects. Each vellum page has a prominent central vertical fold, suggesting that they would have been folded in half, although this is not reflected in the binding. Other albums of designs of this type are mounted on a central vellum 'strap' bound in to the spine leaving the drawings folded in the binding, a structure that suggests that the presentation of this group was perhaps left unfinished. There is no indication of provenance other than a sequence of fragmentary wax seals on the binding impressed with an as yet untraced crest composed of a heart above wings overlaid on an anchor surrounded by a partly illegible legend.
The most closely comparable album of drawings by Androuet du Cerceau is one formerly in the collection of Cardinal Barberini and now in the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana Cod. Barb. Lat. 4398; I. Toesca, 'Drawings by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder in the Vatican Library', The Burlington Magazine, 1956, pp. 153-57). That album contains 50 drawings, of which the first nine show real buildings, the remainder, like the present group, show plants a plaisir (plans drawn for pleasure), including triumphal arches, façades, porticoes, imaginary circular buildings shown in elevation and plan, chateaux drawn with multiple axes of symmetry perhaps to illustrate a theoretical point, and elaborate fountains. This remarkable similarity of arrangement between the two albums suggests that they served the same purpose, namely as albums of ideas and theoretical possibilities that a wealthy patron or connoisseur could ponder at leisure, perhaps as a prelude to a discussion with his own architect or simply with likeminded friends. As David Thomson notes of Androuet du Cerceau's own writings 'il insiste si infréquemment sur le fait que son oeuvre est destinée avant tout à offrir à ses lecteurs royaux, nobles ou pas, quelques moments, quleques heures peut-être, de plaisir, que nous devons le prendre au mot' (D.A. Thomson ed., Les Plus Excellents Bastimants de France par J.A. du Cerceau, Paris, 1988, p. 12).
Perhaps as many as 2000 drawings are known, almost all in public collections.The most important group is the set of 116, closely related to the Plus Excellents Bastiments de France and very similar in handling to the present group, bought by Consul Smith for the library of King George III and now in the British Museum. A number of smaller gatherings are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, mostly from the Calvet and Destailleur collections formed in the 19th Century. One particular group, described by the great 19th Century Androuet du Cerceau partisan Baron Heinrich von Geymüller as 'Receuil N', of 24 leaves measuring 455 x 655 mm., is particularly similar to the present group (H. von Geymüller, Les du Cerceau, Paris, 1887). There are also smaller groups at Chantilly, the Pierpont Morgan Library (derived from Palladio), the Petit Palais, Eton College Library, the Escorial, Munich and Harvard University Library. In addition to these finished presentation drawings there are two important 'notebooks' of much sketchier drawings, perhaps du Cerceau's preliminary ideas for his designs, one now in the Louvre (sold Christie's Paris, 17 March 2005, lot 334) and the other in the Ecole Nationale Superieur de Beaux Arts (E. Brugerolles and D. Guillet, The Renaissance in France, exhib. cat., Paris, E.N.S.B.A., and elsewhere, 1994-95, no. 54).
As David Thomson notes 'Occaisonally it is possible to point to one or a number of sources for an Androuet drawing, but the great majority remain without an explanation or context.' (D. Thomson, Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder: a profile of a French architectural 'vulgarisateur' of the sixteenth century, PhD thesis, London University. 1975, p. 145, note 10). Equally, although he often treated similar themes in his drawings and engravings, it is very rare to find the same image replicated without significant alterations both in detail and general arrangement. For example the elaborate arch (lot 79) is related, although not directly connected, to a plate showing a reconstruction of the arch in the Forum of Trajan from Androuet's Livres des Arcs (1560; Geymüller, op. cit., p. 145), while several of the façades show similarities with Jacques de Savoie's chateau at Verneuil, illustrated in the Plus Excellents Bastimants de France.