Writings on Villard de Honnecourt, 1666-1849
FÉLIBIEN [des AVAUX], ANDRÉ. Entretiens sur les vies et les ouvrages des plus excellents peintres anciens et modernes. Paris: Sébastien Mabre Cramoisy. **2nd ed. 1696.
The first (1666) edition of this work probably contains the earliest published reference to Villard’s drawings, although Villard is not specified by name. Félibien states (vol. 1, p. 520), “Il m’est tombé depuis peu entre les mains un vieux livre en parchemin d’un Auteur François, dont les charactères et le langage témoignent être du douzième siècle. Il y a quantité de figures à la plume qui font connoistre que le goust de desseigner estoit alors aussi bon [en France] que celuy d’Italie l’estoit du temps de Cimabue.”
As the Villard portfolio was in the possession of the Félibien family in the late 16th century, it is reasonable for Félibien to have had it “fall into his hands.”
André Félibien (1619-1695) was court historian to Louis XIV and secretary to the royal Academie de l’architecture in Paris. His analysis of Villard’s drawings, which he misdated to the 12th century, may have been sincere, although it has unmistakably chauvinistic overtones. Frankl (1960.6 , p. 35) notes that Félibien was a “confirmed classicist [who] scarcely had the right perspective to appreciate Villard’s book fully.”
WILLEMIN, NICOLAS X., and ANDRÉ POTTIER. Monuments français inédits pour servir à l’histoire des arts depuis le XVIe siècle jusqu’au commencement du XVIIIe [siècle]. Vol. 1. Paris: Chez Mlle. Willemin, p. 62 and p1. 102.
Contains the first published Villard drawings, an engraved composite by Willemin of the leaf-face on fol. 5v, the seated couple on fol. 14r, and the man mounting a horse on fol. 23v. According to Willis (F.II ), Pottier wrote his commentary on the basis of Willemin’s engravings and did not examine the portfolio itself.
Despite the incorrect late dating of the drawings and his interest in them only as examples of costuming, Pottier left an important legacy to French scholarship because he was the first to term the portfolio an album, considering it to have been a notebook.
This one-page work is more significant than might appear, since it brought the Villard portfolio to the attention of Quicherat (1849.1 ).
QUICHERAT, JULES [ETIENNE JOSEPH]. “Notice sur l’album de Villard de Honnecourt, architecte du XIIIe siècle.” Revue archéologique, 1st ser., vol. 6, pp. 65-80, 164-88, 209-26, and pls. 116-18.
The first serious study of the Villard portfolio, brought to Quicherat’s attention by the publication of Willemin and Pottier (1825.1 ). Villard scholarship may be said to have begun with this study by Quicherat (as he himself claimed; see Quicherat, 1876.1 ). It prompted the increased attention to the portfolio in the second half of the 19th century, including publication of the Lassus facsimile edition (F.I) nine years later.
Quicherat’s study remains a major source on Villard, partly because of his analyses, but mainly because of his classification of the portfolio’s subject matter. This first attempt at classification is still the most widely used. Quicherat’s classification (p. 72) is: (i) mechanics, (ii) practical geometry and trigonometry, (iii) stone-cutting and masonry, (iv) carpentry, (v) design of architecture, (vi) design of ornament, (vii) design of figures, (viii) furniture, and (ix) materials foreign to the expertise of the architect or designer.
The two shortcomings of this classification are immediately apparent: category nine is an uninformative throwaway; and the entire scheme depends on the belief that Villard was an architect.
While Quicherat was interested only to a limited degree in Villard as an architect, he was the first author to term him one, starting a tradition that persists today. Quicherat attributed (p. 69) the design of the choir of Cambrai, 1230-1243, to Villard and established (pp. 70-71) the idea that Villard was so well-known as an architect that he was called to Hungary between 1244 and 1247 to build one or more unspecified churches after the expulsion of the Tartars from that country.
While these and other undocumented assumptions or outright errors (e.g., misattribution to Villard the statement that the tower of Laon was “la plus belle tour qu’il y ait au monde”) stem from Quicherat, his principal interest was in Villard’s “engines” and his use of geometry in design. In this connection, Quicherat terminated (p. 226) his study with the famous quotation from Vitruvius’ (De Architectura, bk. 1, chap. 1, sec. 3) about the areas of expertise required by the architect. Despite his warning about the differences between the Vitruvian Age and that of Villard, this is the basis for the tradition of referring to Villard as the “French Vitruvius.”
Quicherat redrew thirty-one of Villard’s figures to accompany his text, and provided three plates of drawings from the portfolio: 116 (Saracen tomb on fol. 6r), 117 (seated nude on fol. 22r; sleeping apostle on fol. 23v), and 118 (horologe on fol. 6v; lectern on fol. 7r; man in chlamys on fol. 29v). These plates were engraved by Ch[arles?] Saunier after drawings by Quicherat. Quicherat correctly designated materials in the portfolio by folio. See Quicherat, 1886.1 .