The posthumous publication of Anne-Marie Sankovitch's PhD dissertation (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1991) on the Parisian church of Saint-Eustache is a gift for those architectural historians interested in the complex panorama of early French Renaissance architecture and, more generally, in the architecture of late medieval and early modern Europe. Sankovitch's study is preceded by a series of short essays by Krista de Jonge, Jean Guillaume, Étienne Hamon, and Marvin Trachtenberg, the volume's editor, that help to contextualize the author's pioneering contributions within the abundant recent literature in the field.1 Sankovitch's original bibliography has been updated to include the most relevant recent publications.
The book is beautifully illustrated with 354 photographs, the vast majority of which Sankovitch took herself. The care taken by the editor and publisher in arranging and scaling the photographs is exemplary: not only do readers have visual access to Saint-Eustache through an abundance of high-quality, full-page images, but also the grouping of scaled sets of architectural details (for instance, figs. 52–59) eloquently supports Sankovitch's compelling analysis of the building.
The volume is organized into seven chapters that focus on the conception, design, and early construction phases of Saint-Eustache, from 1519 to approximately 1545. Chapter 1, “A Critical Historiography of Saint-Eustache,” provides an intellectual map to the chapters that follow. It reviews the literature on the church, starting with Gilles Corrozet's sixteenth-century Paris guidebook and working its way up to Anthony Blunt's assessment of Saint-Eustache as a building of both “great importance” and “bastard design” (10). In her characteristically clear prose, Sankovitch states the central issue concerning Saint-Eustache: the building's supposed “stylistic duality” (11) and the historiographical tradition that—by applying binary interpretive categories such as French Gothic versus Italian Renaissance and medieval structure versus classicizing ornament—has effectively prevented scholars from grasping the building's complexities. In the chapters that follow, Sankovitch tackles different aspects of this issue, thus turning an ambitious project about Saint-Eustache into a broader study of French architecture at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the decision to build. In the former, titled “Problems of the Site and the Struggle to Enlarge the Church,” Sankovitch carefully situates the early history and planning of the current building within the context of urban developments in the neighborhood of Les Halles between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Chapter 3 deals with patronage and convincingly brings Saint-Eustache under the umbrella of King Francis I's ambitious urban projects of the late 1520s, along with Pierre Lescot's design for the new Louvre and Domenico da Cortona's interventions at the Hôtel de Ville. Sankovitch establishes a connection between Francis I and Saint-Eustache through the prevôt de Paris, Jean de La Barre, a representative of the king, who was directly involved in the financing and planning of the new church. Through a comparison of Saint-Eustache and Notre-Dame, she also draws a symbolic connection between the urban projects of Francis I and those of the Capetian king Philippe Auguste (1165–1223), who first established Paris as capital city.
Titled “A Revised Building History, the First Master, and Serlio,” chapter 4 presents a close analysis of the building's architectural features; this ninety-page chapter, which features 199 illustrations, constitutes the core of the volume. Here, Sankovitch details the chronology of the building's first construction campaign and provides a meticulous visual analysis of the architecture and decorations that characterize its different phases. She identifies the publication of Sebastiano Serlio's Book IV (1537) as a defining event for the project of Saint-Eustache, after which the classicizing vocabulary of its decorative apparatus took an “orthodox” turn.
Chapter 5 deals with the identity of the building's architect. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the design of the church has been attributed to, in turn, Domenico da Cortona, Pierre Lemercier, and Jean Delamarre. Given that the archival record has proved insufficient to confirm a name, Sankovitch's aim is not to establish who designed the church but rather to create a “stylistic profile for the architect” (135). This approach, which brings the author into discussions of a variety of relevant buildings—including Saint-Maclou in Pontoise; Saint-Merry, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, and Saint-Victor in Paris; Saint-Martin in Triel; Saint-Pierre in Caen; and the churches of Villiers-le-Bel and Momtargis—thus resituates Saint-Eustache in the landscape of early Renaissance architecture in France. Sankovitch makes a compelling argument for attributing the building to Delamarre, and she also sketches a possible career trajectory for him. As Étienne Hamon points out in his response, her hypotheses have been supported—if not definitely confirmed—by recently discovered documentation on Delamarre's work in Paris in the 1510s.
The book's final two chapters consider the design choices made at Saint-Eustache and the principles regulating the project. Chapter 6, “The Presence of the Past at Saint-Eustache from Cluny to Pavia,” explores a variety of sources that help to situate the design among French Romanesque and High Gothic buildings. Sankovitch paints a complex picture of the relationship between Saint-Eustache and other Flamboyant buildings—a picture that has since been enriched by the recent contributions already noted on Flamboyant architecture in Paris and beyond. Chapter 7, “Gothic and Late-Gothic Strategies of Architectural Composition,” examines the design methods employed by the architect of Saint-Eustache. Sankovitch identifies two operative methods: first, the “repetition of the same form at a varied scale and proportions” (207), and second, the “decorative variety within the same or similar forms” (213). She then proceeds to illustrate how these principles were applied in the church's composition, thus providing the reader with a clear analytical framework for comprehending its complexity.
It would be unfair to linger on the imperfections of a dissertation that was not intended to be published “as is,” but the editorial choice of not translating into English the numerous quotations from French literature seems questionable, as it prevents many nonspecialist readers from fully appreciating the subtleties of Sankovitch's reasoning. This shortcoming, however, does not reduce the overall quality of a text that reads well, is supported by solid documentation, presents compelling arguments, and brings forth a theoretical approach that stands strong almost three decades after it was devised. The corrections that Hamon suggests in his response (xi–xiii) are of a chronological rather than a theoretical nature, and they do not undermine the validity of Sankovitch's work. The Church of Saint-Eustache in the Early French Renaissance is an authoritative reference on Saint-Eustache and a fundamental contribution to the literature on late medieval and early modern European architecture.