Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Besson and du Cerceau

Ramelli appears to have used his own engraver and his own printing press. He was a one-man shop. Besson, however, seems to have had plenty of help. Jacques Androuet du Cerceau was his engraver and the very elusive Barthelemy Vincent was his printer. I've had very little success in gaining a bibliometric toehold on Vincent but Androuet's story may give us more of a back story on Besson's work.

According to the International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture, Jacques Androuet was the head of an entire family of architects. His sons went on to work on various building projects throughout Paris and France. Jacques, however, was primarily an engraver and print maker. His magnum opus--Les plus excellents bastiments de France-had a dramatic influence on future architects and print makers.

Androuet was born in Paris c.1520. He traveled through Italy in the early 1540's with George d'Armagnac, the French ambassador to Rome. At the end of that decade, he opened an atelier in Orleans, where he perhaps met Jacques Besson. Although contemporaries referred to him as an architect, Androuet's output was primarily engravings of designs that reflected the Italian baroque tradition. These engravings were to later influence French trends in ornamentation and furniture design.

By 1559 Androuet was in Paris and published his Premier livre d'architecture. Dedicated to Henry II, the purpose of the book was to elevate French architecture and relegate the work of foreign architects. The livre served as a technical handbook for several generations of masons and other artisans. The success of this work as a technical handbook indicates Androuet's prowess as a designer and technician. Perhaps he should get more credit for Besson's work than he commonly garners.

In 1565 du Cerceau fled to the chateau of Montargis. This important Hugenot refuge later became the subject of a series of prints in Des plus excellents bastiments du France. Keen to demonstrate features of both the interior and exterior of the chateau, du Cerceau used the uncommon convention of cutaways (Boudon & Jacobsen, 1994). While this technique certainly wasn't typical in architectural drawings, du Cerceau and Besson had used it to great effect in the theatrum instrumentorum.

Du Cerceau's work demonstrates a practical bent. Instead of producing merely theoretical work, he endeavored to combine aesthetic, technical, and practical information. While his engravings appealed to a wide variety of different artisans, du Cerceau sought and attained patronage from the wealthiest people in France including Henri II, Charles IX, and Catherine de Medici. He was even awarded the title "architecte du roi". Given his prominence, it's difficult to determine the relationship between du Cerceau and Besson or what his lifestyle may have been like.

Lyon was an active center for the production of prints during the middle of the sixteenth century, although Paris had the most active market for prints due to its population of 350,000. Du Cerceau likely belonged to no guild. As a young trade, printmaking was not a strictly regulated craft. Lacking long family tradition, du Cerceau very likely came from a non-printmaking family. He probably served as an apprentice for four years for which he may have received very little payment or for which his family may have had to pay a fee. As a journeyman, du Cerceau may have been paid yearly, monthly, daily, or perhaps by the piece. Eventually, he settled in Orleans.

In his shop, du Cerceau likely employed one or two apprentices and a variety of other helpers. In addition to his engraving materials, he may have had a few printmaking presses in addition to presses for book-binding. If he was unable to purchase the required material, there was an active rental trade for presses, plates and blocks, and stencils.

Blocks and plates served as a sort of legal tender among printmakers. They could be sold or exchanged. Often, the sale of plates did not necessarily include printing rights. For example, an engraver could sell plates to a printmaker in a foreign country for the creation of foreign editions of a particular work. These printers did not, however, have the right to publish in the original language.

It seems likely that Besson and du Cerceau were involved in some sort of partnership. They likely had a detailed contract that specified the terms of the agreement. Besson, for example, may have had to procure the royal privilege and be responsible for distribution while du Cerceau managed printed and production. It's also possible that Besson only commissioned the plates from du Cerceau.

Printmakers were, in general, a very modest profession (Grivel, 1994). Tax rolls indicate that printmakers made very little while marriage certificates demonstrate that printmakers generally lived insular lives, maintaining relationships only with those in their immediate community. Similarly, they chose wives from all social classes and died with relatively little in the way of luxuries or furnishings.

The business of du Cerceau's colleages was likely dominated by biblical and religious subjects. The church commissioned religious prints to make the bible more accessible to parishioners. Another common type of print consisted of portraits of kings and queen's, and important courtiers. Maps and city-views also became quite popular. The work of du Cerceau and Besson, however, seems to be in a different class entirely.


"Du Cerceau Family." International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture. St. James Press, 1993. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

Boudon, F., & Jacobsen, K. (1994). The French Renaissance in prints from the Bibliotáeque nationale de France. [Los Angeles]: Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, University of California, Los Angeles.

Grivel, M. (1994). Printmakers in sixteenth-century France. In K. Jacobsen (Ed.), The French Renaissance in prints from the Bibliotáeque nationale de France (pp. 35-58). [Los Angeles]: Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, University of California, Los Angeles.


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