[Architecture - French Renaissance] [16th-century Illustrated Books - France]

Philibert De l'Orme,

Le Premier Tome de l'Architecture.

Paris: Fédéric Morel, 1567.

$8,600   INQUIRE

Text in French; illustrated with 205 fine large woodcut illustrations, including 74 full-page and 7 double-page blocks, and a magnificent woodcut title-border.

FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, dated 1567 on title; the example offered here is very large (39 x 24½cm) and with the two additional unnumbered leaves at the end (present in very few copies). RARE THUS!

The first and only published volume of a projected monumental encyclopedia of architecture, De l'Orme's Le premier tome de l'architecture is, arguably, the most influential and most lavishly illustrated handbook of French Renaissance architecture! A second volume was planned by the author but never completed.

Dumoulin cites this edition of De l'Orme as the finest work printed by Morel's press (see Joseph Dumoulin, Vie et oeuvres de Frédéric Morel, p.41-4).

"Of the three leading early French architectural writers, de L'Orme is the most interesting and original. [...] [He] has been called the first modern architect. [...] [The book's] purpose was to provide a system of architectural design and construction for French building. In nine books de L'Orme presents an impressive synthesis of architectural theory and practice, incorporating traditional and modern, French and Italian, Gothic and Renaissance approaches to architecture. The spirit of the book and the general organization is Vitruvian." (Millard Architectural Collection: French Books, I, 105)

"De l'Orme's text systematically traces the process of building, from the choice to the smallest decorative details. In addition, this work is a major source for biographical information on De l'Orme. His style is as much personal, as theoretical, and his comments on relations between patron and architect or on the practical problems involved in certain structures are based on his own experience. The second volume of the Architecture proposed by De l'Orme at the end of the dedication and again at the end of the text, was never published." (R. Mortimer, Harvard College Libr. Cat.: French 16th-century Books, no.355)

Describing the illustrations of this splendid volume, Mortimer writes: "Among the buildings shown in detail are the château of Anet, built by de L'Orme for Diane de Poitiers, in his capacity as royal architect to Henri II, and de L'Orme's own house in Paris. It is characteristic of de L'Orme's approach to his subject that he should include among the illustrations three allegorical woodcuts concerned with the figure of the architect and the philosophy of a profession for which de L'Orme himself was the first French spokesman. [...] A device on leaf i3v depict[s] the architect as a learned man, relying for support on serpent-twined compasses as he moves cautiously from a cave of contemplation to a palm tree symbolizing the honor of his profession. At the end of the volume this idea is developed further in a summary of the attributes of the architect based on two full-page woodcuts on leaves Eee1r and Eee3r. The first represents the incompetent architect as a figure without hands and eyes, in a harsh landscape setting. In the second cut [...] the good architect, with three eyes and four hands, is speaking to a young apprentice in a garden, with classical buildings in the background." (ibid.)

The work consists of nine books which deal with construction as a whole.

"At that time, such complete treatises were rare. De l'Orme obviously wanted to compete with Alberti and Serlio, whom he no doubt was aware of surpassing, in that he integrated technical developments in his remarks, particularly on the art of constructing vaults, entirely unknown to the Italians. He had multiple sources: daily contact with the building sites provided him with all the science necessary to dominate the most concrete aspects of the art of building. His trip or trips to Italy allowed him to amass the most sophisticated artistic references, while the time spent in the humanistic milieus, in Rome and in Paris, provided him with a distance necessary for good "digestion" of that protean culture. Numerous representations from antiquity in the book, [...] the allusions (deliberately critical) to contemporary Roman architecture, and also the scholarly quotations sprinkled through the work, testify to it. [...]

"De l'Orme did not have the time to write the Second tome he promised several times, in which he would have presented his own works and put forth his doctrine of the "Divines proportions". No doubt aware that he would not have the time to carry his work through to a successful conclusion, Philibert tried to integrate the planned-for material in the last books of the Premier tome, which makes its structure rather confused sometimes.

"There are also few such innovative treatises. Far from limiting himself to copying Serlian forms, like Goujon or Bullant, De l'Orme reduces these models (presented as vitruvian) to small illustrations, reserving the full pages either for models from antiquity, which are thus ranked as paradigms, or for his own inventions." (Yves Pauwels)

The book is dedicated to Catherine de' Medici (1519 - 1589), who at the time of the publication of De l'Orme's book was the powerful regent of France, and mother of the current King Charles IX, and before had been Queen consort of France as the wife of King Henry II from 1547 to 1559.

Physical description:

Royal Folio; text block measures 39 cm x 24.5 cm; very large example (Harvard copy described by Mortimer is 37.1 cm tall; Vershbow copy measures 38.1 cm). Bound in 19th-century 1/4-vellum over marbled boards. Flat spine decorated and lettered in gilt. Edges gilt.

Foliation: [9], 283 [i.e. 282], [2] leaves (including 5 folded double-leaves, counted as single).
Signatures: ã4 ê6 [-ê6 blank] a-n6 o4 p2 q6 r4 s-v6 x4 y-z6 A-C6 D2 E-M6 N4 O-V6 X5 Y6 Z4 Aaa6 Bbb4 Ccc-Eee6.

Collated and COMPLETE. Without the blank ê6 (as usual), but including the two unnumbered leaves at the end: Eee4 with "Quelques advertissements aux lecteurs" on recto and errata on verso, and Eee5 with a second privilege statement on recto (verso blank). Eee4 and Eee5 are rarely present (the Harvard copy described by Mortimer, as well as the Vershbow copy sold at Christie's, NY, April 2013 for $35,000, both lack these leaves).

Five leaves (x1,3, X1 and Bbb1,2) are folding double leaves (though counted as singles in foliation); also, leaf I4 slightly taller than the rest of the textblock (to accommodate a tall column woodcut) with about 2 cm section at top folded in.

Title page within magnificent architectural allegorical woodcut border in the form of a tablet with a broken pediment and cherubs above, with four geometrical diagrams at corners and four further diagrams printed outside the border. Illustrated with 205 fine large woodcut illustrations, of which 74 are full-page and 7 are double-page blocks. Allegorical full-page illustrations of the good and bad architects on Eee1r and Eee3r. Superb large woodcut head-pieces and large decorative (floriated and grotesque) woodcut initials.

Preliminaries Include Royal privilege statement on verso of title, author's dedication to Catherine de' Medici (leaves ã2r-4v) and a table of contents (ê1r-5v), which is followed by author's preface to the reader (a1r-5v).

The Extraict du Privilege appears again, with minor variations, at the end of the volume (Eee5r). "The privilege on the verso of the title-page is dated Sept. 15, 1561, but is virtually the same as that printed at the end of [l'Orme's] Nouvelles inventions, with the title of the work and the date of printing (here Nov. 29, 1567) changed to apply to this text. The same privilege, with the title beginning 'La premiere Partie [...]' rather than 'Le premier Tome [...]' and Aug. 27, 1567 as the date of printing, occurs on leaf [Eee5]r." (Mortimer)

Bibliographic references:

Mortimer French 355; Brunet, Supple. I, 888-9; Fowler Architect. coll. 99; Clouzot, Philibert de l'Orme, pp. 90-107; Berliner Ornamentstichkatalog 2362; Pettegree, French Vernacular Books 15434; cf. Adams L 1513 and Millard French I, 105 (citing 1568 2nd issue).


Manuscript acquisition note (to bottom margin of Eee4v) in French by marquis Pierfrancesco Palmucci [de Pellicani], dated 1740. Palmucci was an 18th-century Italian aristocrat, jurist and antiquarian from Macerata (in Marche region), who superintended the publication of an essay on medieval bronzes "Delle Tessere cavalleresche di bronzo tenute al collo" (Florence, 1760).

A diminutive ex-libris (to front pastedown) of Count Giacomo Manzoni (1816 - 1889), a prominent Italian book-collector and bibliographer, author of several bibliographical works including Annali tipografici torinesi del secolo XV, Studii di bibliografia analitica, etc. Manzoni's engraved bookplate (Gelli, 3500 Ex Libris Italiani, p.240, fig.441) is remarkable for being "one of the smallest ever regularly used as a book-plate. It belonged to an Italian book collector, Jiacomo Manzoni, who, at the time of his death in 1889, left a library of 25,000 volumes." (The Bookman, Vol. 43 (1916), p.400)


Very Good antiquarian condition. Binding rubbed with some wear to extremities. Complete, with 2 additional unnumbered leaves (Eee4,5) at the end present, though second privilege (Eee5) trimmed close to text and laid down on the final blank Eee6 (without loss). A few leaves with some early manuscript marginalia; title-page with a couple of early ownership signatures inked out, An 18th-century ownership inscription to bottom margin of the errata page (Eee4v). Occasional light browning and some soiling (mainly marginal), a few minor ink-smudges. Some leaves slightly browned; a few with light marginal damp-staining. Several marginal repairs (not affecting text), mostly very minor; leaf O3 with a tear slightly affecting the bottom of woodcut on verso, but without loss, repaired in blank portion of recto. In all, a nice, genuine example of this rare work, exceptionally tall with very wide margins, and with fine provenance.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.