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Jacques Androuet du Cerceau
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Annecy, France
Sixteenth-century French architect, author, printmaker and draftsman Jacques Androuet du Cerceau was famous during his lifetime and is remembered today for his many volumes of architectural plans describing buildings, from surviving Roman monuments and French Renaissance structures to plans intended to provide ideas for the patrons and builders of his day. While his contemporaries referred to him as an “architect,” modern scholars think of him as an author, printmaker and draftsman. The catalog accompanying a 2010 exhibition of his works attributed about approximately 1,700 prints and 1,200 drawings to du Cerceau. The prints are primarily etchings, with engraving or burin work. Rather than preparatory sketches, the drawings are mostly presentation drawings intended as luxury items for his wealthy clientele. While some scholars contend that du Cerceau did not build any buildings from his designs, others believe that he designed a few grand structures that were built. These include the Château of Verneuil near Sinlis (north of Paris) commissioned in 1568 by Philippe de Boulainvilliers and (attributed on stylistic grounds) the Maison Blanche on the grounds of the Château de Gaillon in Normandy, begun in 1566. Du Cerceau’s outstanding achievement was the Château de Charleval near Rouen, begun 1570 as hunting lodge for Charles IX. Its huge scale, excessive ornament and symmetrical design were were later echoed by Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. Du Cerceau was born Jacques Androuet around 1511 in Paris. His father Yves Androuet (d. 1546) was a wine merchant, a trade the son later pursued in addition to architecture. No documentation has been found on his early life, although he may have studied under Étienne Delaulne (1519-1583) in Paris or Léonard Thiry (d. 1550), a Flemish engraver who was active in France. Du Cerceau’s first prints date from the 1530s. He may have made a trip to Italy either in the 1530s or in the 1540s, the latter with Cardinal Georges d’Armagnac (1501-1585), the French ambassador to Rome from 1539 to 1544. The first documentation of du Cerceau’s life is the 1545 royal copyright privilege granted by King François I (1494-1547) for a compilation of engravings, essentially a model book (pattern book) of architectural subjects. By 1546 he enjoyed the patronage and protection of Marguerite d’Angouléme, Queen of Navarre (1492-1549), the sister of King François I. Documents show him living in Tours and Orléans from 1546 to 1557. He adopted the surname “du Cerceau” from a circular ornament on his home in Orléans. His first published model book was “Exempla Arcuum,” 25 imaginary triumphal arches, issued in Orléans in 1549. Du Cerceau created real triumphal arches in 1551 for the entry of King Henri II (1519-1559) into Orléans. He went on to publish several volumes of architectural plans and drawings while living in Orléans. Du Cerceau probably moved to Paris in May 1558. The following year he published his Premier Livre d’architecture, dedicated to King Henri II. Depicting 50 town houses, it was a handbook for patrons and their builders, with plans, elevations, measurements, materials and estimated expenses. He followed with his Second Livre d’architecture two years later, with more townhouses, dedicated to Charles, Duc d’ Orléans, later King Charles IX (1550-1574). The Troisiéme Livre d’archtecture appeared in 1572 with 38 country houses. All of de Cerceau’s plans in these books were influenced by the domestic architecture works of Italian architect and painter Sebastiano Serlio (1475-ca. 1554), then working in France. In 1563 Catherine de' Medici (1519-1589), acting as regent for her son Charles, promulgated the Edict of Amboise, which granted certain religious freedoms to France’s Protestant Huguenots, but limited Protestant services in Paris. An admirer of John Calvin’s (1509-1564) Reformation views, de Cerceau may have prompted by the Edict to move in 1564 to Montargis, some 130 kilometers south of Paris, where his patron Marguerite de Navarre gave Protestants refuge. He stayed in Montargis until at least 1581, living under the protection of Renée de France, Duchesse de Ferrare (1510-1574) after Marguerite’s death. While living there, du Cerceau published his magnum opus, the two volumes “Les plus excellent bastiments de France” (“The Most Excellent Buildings in France,” 1576-1579). In addition to detailed plans of thirty royal and private châteaux, the books described the buildings’ histories, locations, building materials, decorations and architectural significance of them all, providing the best surviving record of French Renaissance architecture. Although he may have stayed in Montargis, no documents have been found that show where du Cerceau lived from 1581 to 1586. He must have died by February 1586, when his children in Paris divided his possessions. Where he died is also uncertain, but probably he died in Annecy, in the French Alps near Geneva, Switzerland. (TNB 11/2017) Selected bibliography: Guillaume, Jean, ed. "Jacques Androuet du Cerceau : 'un des plus grands architectes que se soient jamais trouvés en France.' " Exhibition catalog. Paris: Picard: Cite de l’architecture et du patrimoine, 2010. Yarwood, Doreen and Suhail Butt. "Du Cerceau Family," in "International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture." 2 vols. Detroit: St. James Press, 1993.