Carl F. Barnes, Jr., “What’s in a Name? The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt,” AVISTA Forum Journal, 12/2 (2001), pp. 14-15.
One of the problems presented by the assemblage of thirty-three parchment leaves with drawings, recipes, and geometric formulae shelved as MS Fr 19093 in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is what to call it. It has had, and continues to have, numerous appellations for two reasons. The first is that no one knows what its actual purpose was. The second is that different authors have named it depending on what they wanted it to be.
Whatever the designation given, it universally includes the name Villard de Honnecourt, overlooking (or worse, knowing but ignoring) the fact that the assemblage contains inscriptions by at least four different scribes, geometric formulae by at least two different hands, and drawings by an indeterminable number of contributors.
What did Villard de Honnecourt himself term this ensemble? For him, it was a book (livre). As I have demonstrated elsewhere,(1) Villard thought of it in bibliographic terms, given his references to pages (pagnes) and leaves (feuilles). Today, no one or virtually no one refers to the assemblage as a “book.”
What, then, should it be called? What designation can be found that is both accurate and neutral? One can begin to find the proper term by the process of elimination. The most misleading designation, by far, is Hans Hahnloser’s Bauhüttenbuch or its equivalents in French, livre de chantier, and in English, “lodgebook” or “shop manual.”(2) These terms do not describe the physical composition of the assemblage but, rather, they define what Hahnloser believed its purpose to have been. Those who followed his lead made the assemblage much more formal than it actually is, using such terms as “treatise” while referring to its “chapters” and its encyclopedic character.(3)
Anyone who holds to the Bauhüttenbuch-treatise-encyclopaedia designation should memorize the following words from that great encyclopedist, Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc:
Le carnet (de Villard de Honnecourt) n’est…ni un traité, ni un exposé de principes classés avec méthode, ni un cours d’architecture théorique et pratique, ni le fondation d’un ouvrage (sur l’architecture).(4)
French authors have traditionally used one of two designations, album or carnet, the latter currently being in vogue. According the Petit Robert, an album is “un cahier ou classeur (=portefeuille ou meuble à compartiments qui sert à classer des papiers) personel destiné à recevoir des dessins, photos, des autographes, des collections diverses,” and acarnet is defined as “un petit cahier (=assemblage des feuilles de paper cousues, agrafées ou pliées ensemble et munies d’une couverture) de poche destiné à recevoir des notes, des renseignements.” In a literal sense, the Villard assemblage is not now and never has been an album because it is not divided into pockets or sections. The term carnet is preferable as an accurate and neutral description of the assemblage as it now exists, although when the assemblage left Villard’s possession the leaves were not stitched together.(5)
American and English authors have favored the designations “manuscript,” “modelbook,” “notebook,” and “sketchbook,” the latter being the most commonly used.(6) The Villard assemblage was handwritten and hand-drawn, thus is technically a “manuscript.” However, to most medievalists, the word “manuscript” conjures up an image of a formal production, such as a sacramentary or a book of hours. The Villard assemblage may have been intended as a modelbook or aide-mémoire, but neither that intention nor its eventual use as such can be proven. “Notebook” and “sketchbook” are not acceptable because each connotes a bound assemblage of blank leaves, such as one might now buy in an office supply store, awaiting sketches and/or text. This was not true of the Villard assemblage; to imply so is inaccurate and misleading.
What term should be used in English? I propose “portfolio,” drawing in part from the French definition of album. At the Thirty-fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo in May 2000, I served as organizer and presider of an AVISTA (Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Science, Technology, and Art) session. In doing so, I insisted that the speakers in my session uniformly use the designation “portfolio.” Speakers in other sessions variously used “manuscript,” “modelbook,” “notebook,” and “sketchbook,” although some used “portfolio.” In questions following the papers presented in my session, a member of the audience asked why the speakers used the term “portfolio,” commenting that to him it was too formal a designation, suggesting the august credentials of a diplomat.
If “portfolio” had only the sense of “the office or post of a cabinet member or minister of state,” the word would not apply to the Villard assemblage (unless he went to Hungary as ambassador plenipotentiary from the court of France). A more basic and more-widely understood definition of “portfolio,” as given in the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a portable case for holding material, such as loose papers, photographs, or drawings” or “the materials collected in such a case, especially when representative of a person’s work.”
This describes precisely what the Villard assemblage was and is, even though the leaves have now been stitched into the leather cover. One of the problems is that most people who write about the contents of the Villard assemblage have not seen the original. Most people know the drawings only from one or more of the eleven facsimile editions and these publications are all rather formal productions. They conceal the reality that the Villard assemblage is a small (± 6-1/2 x 10-1/2 in.) portable object that Roland Bechmann called a “pocket book.”(7) It was carried about in a pocket in Villard’s garments, and the leather cover served to protect the parchment leaves during Villard’s travels.
If there is any group, anywhere, whose members should at all times strive for accuracy in every aspect of their dealings with and studies of the Villard assemblage, it is the Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Science, Technology, and Art. For Avistonians and all others who concern themselves with Villardiana, a start towards such accuracy would be to adopt the term “portfolio” to designate the Villard assemblage accurately and without prejudice.
1. Carl F. Barnes, Jr., “A Note on the Bibliographic Terminology in the Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt,” Manuscripta, vol. 31 (1987), pp. 71-76.
2. Hans R. Hahnloser, Villard de Honnecourt, Kritische Gesamtausgabe des Bauhüttenbuches ms. fr 19093 der Pariser Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, 1935; 2nd rev. ed. Graz, 1972. Hahnloser was followed in his interpretation by his student, François Bucher, in “The Lodgebook of Villard de Honnecourt,” Architector, the Lodgebooks and Sketchbooks of Medieval Architects, I, New York, 1979, pp. 15-193.
3. For example, John H. Harvey, “The Education of the Mediaeval Architect,” Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, vol. 53 (1945), pp. 230-234, esp. 232, where the Villard assemblage is characterized as a “practical encyclopaedia of building arts and crafts compiled for the permanent ‘lodge’ of a great church…”
4. Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, “Album de Villard de Honnecourt, architecte du XIIIe siècle,” Revue archéologique, n.s. vol. 7 (1863), pp. 103-118, 184-193, 250-258, 361-370, esp. 104.
5. Carl F. Barnes, Jr. and Lon R. Shelby, “The Codicology of the Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, MS Fr 19093),” Scriptorium, vol. 47 (1988), 20-48.
6. For example, Theodore Bowie, The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, Bloomington, IN, 1959; 2nd ed. 1962.
7. Observation made by Roland Bechmann during the question period after the session.