From 24 January 2017 through 12 March 2018, the Archives Nationales at the Hôtel de Soubise in Paris staged the exhibition Dessiner pour bâtir: Le métier d'architecte au XVIIe siècle (Drawing to Build: The Profession of the Architect in the Seventeenth Century). The catalogue published to accompany the exhibition explores the social, cultural, and artistic contexts that shaped the evolution of the architectural profession in France during the Grand Siècle and includes reproductions of the two hundred objects—drawings, documents, models, and drawing instruments—displayed in the exhibition, some for the first time. The book features an ingenious system of cross-references that highlights the many relationships among different drawings, indicating where earlier works served as sources of inspiration for later studies. At the same time, the cross-referencing system reveals the numerous familial, professional, and institutional networks that linked architects with their collaborators. An index is also provided, as well as a valuable bibliography that includes dissertations and forthcoming books.
About half of the objects presented at the exhibition came from the rich holdings of the Archives Nationales, while public and private collections furnished approximately one hundred additional items. Among these were the first “mathematical kits” (sets of architectural drafting instruments), which became common in the middle of the seventeenth century. Often made of precious metals such as silver or gold, these prestigious objects attested to the scientific pretensions of their owners, mirroring the ascendant social status of the architect during the reign of Louis XIV (cat. 28a–d). The exhibition also featured an exceptional series of drawings lent by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and restored especially for the exhibition. These works are held in the Nationalmuseum's Tessin Hårleman Collection and Cronstedt Collection, which together contain some fourteen thousand drawings, a third of which are by French artists. These documents are invaluable for clarifying attributions of architectural projects, delineating their evolution, and mapping their construction (cat. 68). The recent digitization of these two collections has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of early modern European architecture by enhancing access to the drawings.
One of the most stimulating aspects of the Dessiner pour bâtir catalogue is the holistic approach adopted by the coauthors, who also served as cocurators of the exhibition: Alexandre Cojannot, chief curator at the Archives Nationales, and Alexandre Gady, professor of early modern architectural history at Sorbonne University. Breaking with the tradition of monographic shows such as the 1997 exhibition at the Archives Nationales dedicated to François Mansart (1598–1660), Gady and Cojannot instead emphasize the collaborative nature of the art of building in seventeenth-century France. As they stress in their introduction, this novel interpretive strategy was made possible by the publication since the late 1980s of many monographs on seventeenth-century French architects, including those on Pierre Le Muet (1991), Claude Perrault (1988 and 2000), François Mansart (1998 and 2016), Louis Le Vau (1999 and 2012), Augustin-Charles d'Aviler (2003), Jacques Lemercier (2005), Jules Hardouin-Mansart (2008 and 2010), and François Blondel (2010), as well as many recent articles and dissertations (including studies of Pierre Bullet and Étienne Martellange).1 Gady and Cojannot draw upon this research to determine how architects worked and what they knew. Rather than attempting to elucidate the particulars of specific architects' careers, they explore how the architects and other individuals collaborated and intervened in the construction process. Without discounting the importance to contemporary practice of the king's First Architects—as attested by the spectacular 1644 portrait of Jacques Lemercier (1595–1654) by Philippe de Champaigne, featured prominently in the exhibition (cat. 1)—the authors bring to light the little-known draftsmen, master masons, and building contractors who also played crucial roles in the building enterprise.
Cojannot and Gady's attention to architectural collaboration also highlights the absence of legal statutes regulating the architectural profession in early modern France. Until the end of the ancien régime, any building professional could claim to be an architect, with no requirements of age, experience, or social affiliation. Indeed, architect was an umbrella term that encompassed several types of workers, from those possessing mere graphic or technical skills to the documented experts of the construction industry. Because of the vagueness of who was considered an architect (with the exception of the royal First Architects and the architectes-experts, whose status was codified in 1690), the authors examine the contributions of figures with widely disparate skills. Their approach to their study of archival documents and drawings is to emphasize collaborations between individuals of different profiles and expertise. One may regret, however, that Cojannot and Gady did not choose to include in their study the contemporary architectural networks operating at Versailles. Although they claim that Versailles represented “a world in itself, too rich and specific” to be considered in their investigation (13), a true “Versaillaise atmosphere” pervades the entire catalogue, as demonstrated in particular by the drawings of Louis Le Vau and Augustin-Charles d'Aviler. It is difficult to justify the exclusion of Versailles, since any comprehensive examination of the architecture of the Grand Siècle must consider the unitary concept that then governed “the city and the court.”
With its three main parts, the layout of the catalogue matches that of the exhibition. The first part, titled “Le métier: Être architecte,” or “The Profession: Being an Architect,” examines how architects became progressively empowered as professionals. In addition to the customary apprenticeship contracts, such as that of François Mansart (cat. 6), the catalogue features lesser-known documents, such as the 1702 “Petition for Abdicating the Profession,” in which Pierre-Alexis Delamair (1676–1745) sought to relinquish his work as master mason to “focus on the study of architecture” (cat. 11). Such documents illustrate emerging tensions between traditional building “masters”—members of professional guilds, generally masons or carpenters—and architects, who worked outside the guild structure. The founding of the Royal Academy of Architecture in 1671 further reinforced this divide. Numerous architectural treatises and manuals included in the exhibition document this emancipation from traditional building hierarchies and attest to the critical role of contemporary texts that codified oral know-how and techniques, and that made transfers between manual art and intellectual knowledge possible.
The second part of the catalogue, titled “Le dessin: L'expression du projet,” or “The Drawing: Expression of the Project,” is devoted to the development of architectural drawing in seventeenth-century France, still very much dependent on the model provided by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau I (1515–85) a century earlier. While the practice of architectural drawing tended to be more professional and technical in France than it was in humanist Italy, it remained no less ambitious. Cojannot and Gady painstakingly identify the authors and subjects of the drawings, underscoring the graphic mastery of designers such as Jacques Lemercier (cat. 74–77), François Mansart (cat. 80–84, 91), and Louis Le Vau (cat. 84–88). These drawings also reveal the multiple actors who were involved in the design process. Some of them, such as those created by Guillaume Feuillet (ca. 1650–1700), a “theater carpenter” (cat. 90), and Charles Chamois (ca. 1610–84), a master builder and probably also a master mason (cat. 99), testify to growing architectural skills in the building trades. Expanding the known corpus of seventeenth-century architectural drawings, including some new works of breathtaking quality, the catalogue also revisits the collaborative process that characterized the design and construction of early modern French buildings. The evolution of building schemes, often documented in drawings, demonstrates the levels of trust that architects established with their close collaborators. The contributions of early modern architectural draftsmen were not well documented until 1692, when First Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646–1708) established an office of draftsmen paid directly by the king.
The investigation of shared skills continues in the third part of the catalogue, titled “Le chantier: À pied d'œuvre,” or “The Site: On the Job.” This section considers the “places of coincidence” where architects, contractors, and workers met. Once again, the catalogue presents documents such as building estimates, contracts, and large- and small-scale construction drawings (cat. 134–45) to illustrate the workings of a collective system enabled by drawing and model making. To show the dynamics at play on seventeenth-century construction sites, the authors devote an entire section to the building of the Collège des Quatre-Nations in Paris. They present here several discoveries, such as an exceptional bird's-eye view of the first project for the college from a private collection (cat. 150). Following this research, they are able to assign François d'Orbay (1634–97) a major role in the project's elaboration (cat. 170–72).
At the same time the Dessiner pour bâtir exhibition was taking place, another show, titled L'art du chantier: Construire et démolir du XVIe au XXIe siècle (The Art of the Building Site: Construction and Demolition from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century), was also being held in Paris, at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine. Curated by Valérie Nègre, professor at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, this exhibition presented material that enriched Cojannot and Gady's exhibition, and the two exhibitions' catalogues are also complementary.2 Tracing the rise of the architect as a building professional in seventeenth-century France, these books chart new avenues for future research into the deeply collective nature of early modern architectural practice.
Claude Mignot, “Pierre Le Muet architecte” (PhD diss., Université Paris-Sorbonne, 1991); Antoine Picon, Claude Perrault, 1613–1688, ou la curiosité d'un classique (1988; repr., Paris: Picard, 2000); Jean-Pierre Babelon and Claude Mignot, eds., François Mansart: Le génie de l'architecte (Paris: Gallimard, 1998); Claude Mignot, François Mansart: Un architecte artiste au siècle de Louis XIII et de Louis XIV (Paris: Le Passage, 2016); Hilary Ballon, Louis Le Vau: Mazarin's Collège, Colbert's Revenge (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999); Alexandre Cojannot, Louis Le Vau et les nouvelles ambitions de l'architecture française (Paris: Picard, 2012); Thierry Verdier, Augustin-Charles d'Aviler, architecte du roi en Languedoc, 1653–1701 (Montpellier: Les Presses du Languedoc, 2003); Alexandre Gady, Jacques Lemercier, architecte et ingénieur du roi (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2005); Bertrand Jestaz, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, vie et œuvre (Paris: Picard, 2008); Alexandre Gady, ed., Jules Hardouin-Mansart, 1646–1708 (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2010); Anthony Gerbino, François Blondel: Architecture, Erudition, and the Scientific Revolution (London: Routledge, 2010); Juliette Hernu-Bélaud, “De la planche à la page: Pierre Bullet et l'architecture en France sous Louis XIV” (PhD diss., Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2015); Adriana Sénard-Kiernan, “Étienne Martellange (1569–1641): Un architecte visiteur de la Compagnie de Jésus à travers la France au temps de Henri IV et de Louis XIII” (PhD diss., Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès/Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2015). See also Alexandre Gady, ed., Jules Hardouin-Mansart: Le chantier infini (Paris: Le Passage, 2020).
See Valérie Nègre, ed., L'art du chantier: Construire et démolir du XVIe au XXIe siècle (Ghent: Snoeck, 2017).