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BLONDEL, Jacques-François

De la distribution des maisons de plaisance et de la décoration des édifices en général

Paris, Charles-Antoine Jombert, 1737




FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, with the errata of the first volume and half-title, Traité d’architecture dans le goût moderne, deleted in the second limitation

2 volumes 4to (290 x 212mm)

Dedicated to Michel-Etienne Turgot (1690-1751), provost of merchants, with his arms engraved on the first vignette. Cochin fleuron, headpieces, vignettes, tailpiece and dropped initials

CONTEMPORARY FRENCH BINDINGS. Green morocco, large decor of gilt lace-work tooling and dentelle à l'oiseau, arms on sides and corner, arms at the bottom of the spines, end pages in Augsbourg paper, gilt edges

PROVENANCE : Daniel-Charles Trudaine, marquis de Montigny, arms [Ollivier-Hermal-de Rotton, 1194, tool 3] -- Grigori Alexandrovitch Stroganov (1823-1878 ; ex-libris), grand son of Count Grigori Alexandrovitch Stroganov (1770-1857) who put together one of the greatest collections of Imperial Russia, worthy of the Tsars with a sumptuous library of 22,000 volumes that his grandson gave to the University of Tomsk in Siberia since the Stroganovs possessed enormous interests in the region – the University of Tomsk, with its stamp ; the Stroganov books were sold at auction during the famous sales of the Soviets in the 1920s – Bemberg collection (undoubtedly acquired in the 1920s by J. Bemberg's father)

Jacques-François Blondel (1705-1774) belonged to a dynasty of Parisian architects that had already been distinguished by his uncles : first of all Jean-François Blondel (1683-1756) who was the mentor of the young Jacques-François, and then especially François Blondel (1618-1686). The great theorist of classical architecture, author of Cours d’architecture (1675), had long been opposed to the theories of the modern Claude Perrault as well as the theories of the advocates of Italianate Baroque style. Colbert who had just created the Académie d’architecture in 1671, appointed François Blondel to the management where he taught his Cours from 1675 to 1683. His nephew Jacques-François produced several works especially in the provinces like Metz or Strasbourg.

In this Traité d’architecture dans le goût moderne of 1737-1738, rapidly known by its title which remained famous : De la distribution des maison de plaisance, Blondel proposed a turn-key architecture which allowed the European aristocracy to choose sumptuous country houses from a plan, according to their means. If the German Prince wanted a château with a façade of “fifty toise” (about 100m), he would take the one described in the first part ; if he could only afford a façade of 45 toise (87m), he would take the second one, etc.

Blondel was less inspired by construction than by its teaching. In 1739 he created a school of architecture, l’Ecole des Arts (1743), on rue de La Harpe, entirely focused on the grammar of the orders rather than on urbanism. His colleague Pierre Patte said : “before 1740, there was no school in Paris where a young architect could train and learn everything he needed to know… he would have to go successively to various Masters to learn each subject, which lengthened his studies considerably”. Blondel soon found himself short of funds and the Ecole des Arts shut down twice (1747) and (1754) then reopened before going bankrupt in 1754.

De la distribution des maisons de plaisance is not a rare book ; however there are no known fine copies. The Guide de l’amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle does not list a fine copy in simple morocco and even less so with arms, even though Henry Cohen and Seymour de Ricci, between the two of them and their various editions of the Guide, cover nearly fifty years of market (1870-1912) during which the trade of fine books of the 18th century was particularly flourishing. This copy with Trudaine's arms had remained legitimately unknown to them since it owes its reappearance to the famous 1920s Soviet destocking when fine copies emerged from prestigious Russian sources.

But this copy does not bear the arms of Daniel-Charles Trudaine (1703-1769) by chance. This perfect model of a senior French civil servant, enamored with the Enlightenment, was first of all the son of Charles Trudaine (1660-1721), provost of the merchants of Paris - like Turgot to whom the volume is dedicated. Denis-Charles Trudaine, Councilor in the Parliament of Paris in his youth, Master of Requests (1728), Intendant of Auvergne (1730), State Councilor in 1734, intendant of Finances in October 1734 and member of the Académie des Sciences in 1743. That same year, he was chosen by the Comptroller General Orry to supervise the service of Civil Engineering, in his quality as Intendant of Finances. His first concern in 1744 was to create a Paris bureau of draughtsmen whose mission was to draw up and maintain plans for major roads of the Kingdom. In 1747, a decree of the council of the King transformed the "bureau" into a school and entrusted Jean Rodolphe Perronet (whose portrait by Van Loo is at the Louvre) with the establishment of specific training in plans and maps for surveyors and draughtsmen. In 1749, Trudaine was appointed Manager of Trade, a significant function since he would rule over all the intendants of trade in France. In 1750, Trudaine created the engineering body of the Ponts et Chaussées and in 1775, the school would take its definitive name. A great administrator, Trudaine gave impetus to a number of major projects : the bridges of Orleans, Moulins, Tours, Joigny… some 10,000 km of gravel roads linking Paris to the borders and principal seaports. This road network known to go from “bell tower to bell tower” is considered one of the best in Europe. It still links up in the French countryside, where these old "royal routes” dominate, as rectilinear as possible, 60 feet (19,40 meters) wide, once lined with trees provided by the royal nurseries and ditches maintained by residents' duties. Trudaine also accomplished a very precise mapping of twenty-two generalities known as Atlas de Trudaine, which were never engraved and whose manuscript maps are preserved at the National Archives.

Despite its great utility since 1743, Jean-François Blondel's Ecole des Arts experienced one problem after another. Since Trudaine and Blondel had become close friends, Trudaine had the idea to put engineers and architects together and thus offer them a better education and so in 1753 the Ecole des Arts was absorbed by the Ponts et Chaussées ; Perronet and Blondel thereafter worked together. Blondel earned a place at the Académie royale d’Architecture that opened up access to royal commands for him. The circumstances of this merger were established in the Mercure de France of June 1753 by a "Letter from Mr. Morand on the Ecole des Arts established in Paris by Mr. Blondel" (Lettre de M. de Morand sur l’Ecole des Arts établie à Paris par M. Blondel) touting the success of this merger :

“the success of the Ecole des Arts was indeed so favorable that it soon reached the ears of Mr. de Trudaine, Minister enlightened… He had himself just formed a committee under the management of Mr. Perronnet for the teaching of the Ponts & Chaussées students… and this Minister, recognizing how much M. Blondel's lessons would be of use to them, immediately gave them to this skillful Master for the Architecture part. Happy with their progress, Mr. Trudaine, encouraged by the largesse of several of his students, but no less sensitive to the merits of their Master, honored him with particular kindness. He was willing to speak in his favor to the Lord Chancellor who obtained from His Majesty last February 4, a Bonus for Mr. Blondel, a favor so distinguished by which the King declared himself protector of the new establishment”…

Daniel-Charles Trudaine had therefore become the direct patron of Jean-François Blondel in 1753. We understand thus that his most famous treatise on architecture had been the subject of a sumptuous binding with the arms of the patron, decorated with a large lace-work tooling presenting the famous dentelle à l'oiseau often attributed to Derôme, without knowing however the exact status of this book : personal copy or gift copy.

REFERENCES : Katalog der Ornamentstichsammlung 2400 -- J.-C. Brunet, Manuel du libraire, I, 977 -- H. Cohen et S. de Ricci,Guide de l’amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle, 156-157 -- L.-H. Fowler & E. Baer, The Fowler architectural collection of the John Hopkins University, 38-39 -- Millard, The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, French Books, 25 -- A. Prost, J.-F. Blondel et son oeuvre, Metz, 1860