Ideal – guideline – commentary
The book “Parallèle de l’architecture antique et de la moderne” is a selected collection of texts by ancient and modern writers. The author uses the text to express his subjective opinion. It is an idealisation of the old masters with the claim to absolute perfection. The Greek examples in particular are considered the ideal. In this sense, the work can be read as a textbook to influence the generally prevailing opinion. Presumably the author wrote the book with the intention of creating an architectural guideline, although the author claims that he wrote the book primarily for reasons of self-gratification. This can be understood, as the author shares his thoughts openly, sometimes almost sketchily.
The structure of the book is clear. The different orders are described in detail. Different architects and authors are discussed. Examples of existing buildings are also given, e.g. the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. In a next step, the orders are presented visually in the form of sketches. Referring to the use of the Corinthian order in Solomon’s temple, he declares it to be the “flower of architecture and the order of orders”. For Fréart de Chambray, Vitruvius and his translators were without reproach. Various texts are quoted with the commentary of Roland Fréart de Chambray. The comments are often interpretative and judgmental. Aversion to certain orders is also expressed; this often concerns the Roman orders.
The technical drawings play a central role in the book, they convey a visual impression and support the written text. Without these drawings, the reader would not be able to follow the author’s statements in this way. After reading the text, one can visually check one’s findings and compare them with each other. The drawings usually depict the columns or the entablature, but there are also exceptions, e.g. depicting the ornamentation on the temple. The drawings are meticulously precise copperplate engravings that are depicted two-dimensionally as views or three-dimensionally as perspectives. The spatial illusion is further enhanced by cast shadows. The copper engravings are often provided with measurements in order to reproduce the proportions depicted if necessary.
Books such as “Parallèle de l’architecture antique et de la moderne” promote discussion among architects. A discussion of architectural theory, which includes both the past and the present, can emerge. Many architects and authors were certainly not of the same opinion as Roland Fréart de Chambray and spoke out in their own way or perhaps even responded with their own work on architectural theory.