BIBLIO — Writings 2010-present

Writings on Villard de Honnecourt, 2010-Present


HOLCOMB, MELANIE. Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), H-France Review, vol. 10 no. 29 (2010), pp. 144-147.

Praises (p. 144) Barnes’s facsimile edition as being “tremendously useful” and (p. 145) that “the color plates [of cover and folios] are a revelation.” Holcomb lauds several aspects of Barnes’s effort as thorough and well organized, she but chides the author as being too conservative in his approach to Villard and for professorial finger-wagging in his insistance that the Villard assemblage be called a “portfolio” and (p. 146) his denouncing those who claim that Villard was an architect.

Holcomb’s full review can be accessed at:


DAVIS, MICHAEL T. Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), The Medieval Review, vol. 10.05.14, pp. numbers unknown.

Not so much a review of Barnes’s publication as an essay on Davis’s feelings about Villard as an artist. Davis says nothing of the organization of Barnes’s book, nothing of its arguments, nothing of its new discoveries, for example, that there were at least eight hands who composed the various inscriptions on the leaves.  He likewise says nothing about the glossary or the iconograpic index of subjects. The black and white text illustrations or the black and white plates are not mentioned, either for their quality or their appropriateness. Of the color plates he writes that Barnes’s “meticulous descriptions of the portfolio’s pages refocuses appreciative attention on his [=Villard’s] ‘extraordinary skills’ as a draftsman.” Davis notes that Barnes “retires Villard de Honnecourt as a professional builder and through a disciplined pruning of the thickets of speculation to insist that, at present, Villard is unknowable.”


ROSTÁS, TIBOR. Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), in Budapesti Könyvszemle, vol. 22 no. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 127-133.

In Hungarian, now being translated into English.


KIDSON, PETER. Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 152 (October 2010), pp. 679-680.

The author notes that Barnes has been obsessed with Vilard for many years and writes (p. 679) of Barnes’s book that “for the foreseeable future his perceptions are unlikely to be displaced at the centre of the debate about Villard.” Kidson then takes Barnes to task for not being bolder in attempting a more detailed portrait of Villard in his “Minimalist Biography” chapter, all the while admitting that “chances of arriving at a definitive solution are slim.” Kidson then offers two new speculations about Villard.

First, that if ‘Magister One’ (Barnes’s Hand I) was Villard hmself, he was a superb calligrapher which suggests that he learned to draw and write in a scriptorium, where he could have obtained his parchment scraps. Kidson does not acknowledge Barnes’s suggestion that Villard may have dictated his thoughts to a professional scribe.

Second, that Villard may have been higher up in the social order than a mere lay representative of the cathedral chapter at Cambrai, and whether he was gentry or not, he might have been employed by the Andechs-Meran family, in which case “he was moving, in whatever humble capacity, among the highest echelons of European society.”

Reproduces fol. 12r with erased drawings from Barnes’s book.


S.H. (Sylvia Huot), Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), in Medium Aevum, vol. LXXIX (2010), pp. 167-168.

A remarkably thorough summary of the contents of Barnes’s book considering the brevity of the review. The author characterizes (p. 168) Barnes’s study as a “volume [that] contains extensive notes and commentary that will undoubtedly guide Villard studies for a long time to come” and as “… a rich and informative volume, and a great scholarly achievement.”

Huot claims that Barnes made an error in assuming that the Jehanne Martian whose name appears on fol. 33v was a man rather than a woman. The claim that Jehanne Martian was a woman appears to be unique in Villard literature (cf. Hamon, 2007.3).


DESBOS, ALEXIA. “Stereometric Studies from the Villard de Honnecourt Portfolio and their Use in the Archaeology of Construction,”AVISTA Forum Journal, vol. 20 (2010), pp. 50-56.

An analysis of several of the stereometric drawings found on fols. 20r, 20v, and 21r which the author concludes (p. 50) are not by Villard but must be called “Villard’s drawings.” The author admits that it is now unknown who added these drawings to the portfolio and that he may not have been an architect. His purpose seems to have been to show shortcuts for masons, most notably how to use a single template (molle) for designing voussoirs for arches with different widths and heights.

Desbos gives an excellent overview of the conficting interpretations of these drawings going back to the mid-19th century, and proposes (p. 53) that despite different interpretations of these drawings, they may have had as a goal “economy of construction.”

She accepts Barnes’s claim (1989.4) that Villard was not an architect.

Reproduces details of fols. 20v, 21r, apparently after illustrations in F.VIII.


MURRAY, STEPHEN. Review of Barnes, The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (F.XII), in Speculum, vol. 56/1 (January 2011), pp. 160-162.

The author comments briefly on Barnes’s book, writing “Professor Barnes is to be thanked warmly for this, the first color facsimile of a little book of drawings from the grand age of Gothic (1220s-1240s). His careful work on the codicology and translations, the new glossary and bibliography, and his insightful analysis and contextualization of the drawings themselves make this new critical edition indespensable to all students of thirteenth-century cultural production.”

Murray criticizes Barnes’s designation of the Villard assemblage as a portfolio,” claiming (pp. 161-162) “The designation “portfolio” freezes the continuing creative transformation of the Villard Enterprise at the putative time (weeks, years?) when the unbound folios (all or some?) were, perhaps, carried around by the author in a leather pouch.”

Murray concludes (p. 162) that scholars should stop trying to figure out Villard’s profession and concentrate on the character of Villard’s work as imagier, “one who made images of objects to which he was compulsively attracted and which he wished to possess and collect—objects of desire.”


BARNES, CARL F. JR. “An Essay on Villard de Honnecourt, Cambrai Cathedral, and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary,” New Approaches to Medieval Architecture, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 77-91.

This is an expanded version of Barnes’s article 2007.2 with additional illustrations.


BORK, ROBERT. “Villard’s Laon Tower Drawings and the Visual Transmission of Architectural Ideas,” New Approaches to Medieval Architecture, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 159-167.

A careful and persuasive argument that Villard’s drawings of the plan and the elevation, for all their dissimilarites, both demonstrate that Villard understood, however vaguely, the geometry behind the design of both the plan and the elevation.

The analysis of the plan drawing is rather straightforward and traditional, but Bork is the first author to discover the geometric basis of the elevation rendering, which is a combination of a geometric scheme and visual observation: (p. 163) “Villard’s exterior view of the Laon tower at first appears to be distorted and impressionistic, but closer examination reveals that its geometrical structure has a surprising amount in common with the actual tower structure.”

The author offers, for the first time, a possible explanation of the large hand Villard drew on the right side of the tower but of which there is no physical evidence of it having existed. Bork proposes (p. 164) that the hand was a “geometrical marker” indicating the midpoint of the first square of the generating design.

Reproduces small black and white images of Villard’s plan (fol. 9v) and elevation (fol. 10r) with geometric overlays.


DAVIS, MICHAEL T“‘Ci poes vos veir’: Technologies of Representation from Drawing to Digital,” New Approaches to Medieval Architecture, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 219-233.

A brief overview of architectural rendering from the stele of Ur-Nammu (2113-2096 BCE) to today’s computer modeling, with discussion (pp. 222-227) of Villard’s drawings of Cambrai, Laon, and Reims. Davis believes that Villard’s drawings of the Laon tower plan and the Cambrai chevet plan were based on his having seen comparable drawings in the workshops of those projects. He quotes (p. 222, n. 12) a personal communication from Robert Bork (see 2011.3 immediately above): “I am quite convinced that Villard was copying workshop drawings when he made things like the Laon tower plan or the … Cambrai plan; he coudn’t have done those just from observation.”

The author proposes (pp. 224-225) that Villard’s drawings of Reims are more than simply visual recordings of architectural or structural details and that they “foreground its visual character that transcends the mechanics of construction.” In short, “Villard’s achievement was not merely technical; it was also conceptual.” Davis makes no reference to Hearns’ persuasive analysis (1990.4 ) of Villard’s aesthetic interest in Reims.

The “Ci poes vos veir” in the author’s title is from fol. 32r of the portfoio, and translates as “Here you can see” piers of Reims.

Reproduces fol. 30v from a black and white negative in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.


HISCOCK, NIGEL“The Enigma of Arcade Design in Benedictine and Cistercian Churches: How Regular did Pier Spacing have to be?,” New Approaches to Medieval Architecture, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011, pp. 129-145.

Villard is brought into the issue (pp. 142-144) because his plan (fol. 14v) of a Cistercian church of squares (une glize desquarie) is akin to the plans of Cistercian abbey churches at Waverley and Byland. The square schema is also seen in the Cistercian church at Fontainejean, completed in 1240.

Hiscock asks, but does not answer, the question “Was the original of Villard’s sketch … an attempt to rationalize the laying-out of such projects?” See also 2004.10.

Reproduces a detail of Villard’s plan of a Cistercian church of squares on fol. 14v after a black and white negative in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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