The first page of François Blondel’s treatise “Cours d’architecture” already contains a lot of information that can be useful for understanding and interpreting its content. The second sentence indicates that the Books are a collection of the lessons Blondel taught at his Architecture school. At the Bottom of the page, we find the words “with royal approval and privilege”, which tells us that this book is of royal importance. How does this help us put the Book into a historical context?
In the 17th century architects in France are in a conflict about how French architecture should develop in the future. The Italian baroque is rejected by many people and architects in France. This triggers the question of the importance of ancient models and ancient theories in architecture. With King Louis XIV’s new form of government, the absolutism, there is a lot of change and hence insecurity of how to apply a new sense of discipline and order to the practice of building.
The goal of Blondel’s Treatise is therefore to provide architects with a very structured and reliable guide on how French architecture is supposed to look like. Francois Blondel is at this time the Leader of the “Académie d’architecture”, a school that was founded to create a consistent institutionalised architecture and to make it part of the reigning system. The authorisation of his Books by the King shows us that architecture has become a field of royal importance and that it plays an important role in demonstrating and emphasizing royal power.
The first page is followed by a short editor’s note and a preface before we find a very thorough table of contents, which immediately helps the reader to get an overview of the books. The first Book contains six chapters, each of them split up in many subchapters, reminding of a keyword directory. If the reader wants to read about Tables or Niches, he or she can navigate to the right page very easily.
The first six volumes of the treatise consist strictly of text. The Images are held separate in the books number seven and eight. Nonetheless are they essential for understanding Blondel’s theory, which is why in the table of contents we also see to which drawing or illustration he is referring in each subchapter.
The large extent of topics which are discussed and the division in many small chapters which give clear advice come across not unlike an encyclopaedia. This is a good example for the reaction to the struggles and the earlier debate on how architecture should develop. Blondel creates a very extensive and unambiguous guidebook and therefore provides French architects with the desired clarity and structure.
Guide-book, Encyclopedia, France