BLONDEL

Course on Architecture or Treatise on the Decoration, Layout and Construction of Buildings

Édition of 1773 (Completed by Mr. PATTE from volume V)

Jacques-François Blondel (1705-1774), was a renowned French theoretician and professor of architecture as well as the teacher of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Although this treatise is dated 1773, it was in fact begun much earlier. In this work, Blondel sets out to show that decoration in intrinsically allied with architecture. Referring mainly to the work of the architects of Louis XIV, especially to Mansart and Perrault, he develops a theory of harmony in proportions that would inspire such visionary architects as Etienne-Louis Boullée. His work was completed by Patte who discussed the techniques used in implementing architecture in construction.

On the harmony of mass, a timeless modernity:
There can be no doubt that the ancients regarded proportion and the relationship of the principal dimensions of their buildings as the most essential part of what they produced. They also considered that order and the way in which the different elements should work together in a symmetrical manner to be of equal importance for attaining perfection in their art. They considered that the number of shapes as well as the interrelationship between all these parts to be essential for the perfection of their work. They concluded that the elements placed on the right should reflect those on the left and that the parts that are above should correspond to those below. They took care that the elements that were placed near to others did so in perfect harmony and finally that those that should be equal were exactly so, while taking into account the ornamentation. In a word, the smallest details were so well proportioned that each element, were it taken alone, would seem to have been part and parcel of the entire work.
(Tome 3, page 6)


The sense of harmony, a French talent:
After the layout of the apartments, the decoration of the interior spaces is perhaps the most interesting part of architecture and the one that has undergone the most changes during the past century. In order to be truly successful, it is necessary to be better educated than just an ordinary architect. You must have a profound knowledge of the Beaux-Arts and know how to choose artists in each of the areas that will work together toward the realization of the project. You must be qualified to choose the materials – either real or imitation – that should be used, according to the status of the owners, the type of architectural order that is fitting, and particularly to make choices that are appropriate to the function of each room. In a word, it is necessary to have sufficiently studied the different types of available materials in order to wisely combine elements that will work harmoniously toward achieving a decor that is perfect in every way so that the whole is truly beautiful.
Introduction (Tome 5, page 1)

Advice for the architect : always be the master of space and of the hierarchy of forms and materials that will work toward attaining balance and appropriateness in buildings especially regarding the purpose for which they are destined :
Knowledge of architectural profiles is a great virtue for an architect and one of the essential parts of the interior decoration of apartments. Knowledge of the profiles used in stonework (…) and the principles that we have drawn up on this subject should contribute in no small way to giving young architects an understanding and a taste for the profiles that we are about to discuss. These principles are, in fact, the same as those concerning mouldings. Nevertheless, in the hands of a well-versed architect, they are different enough to be considered as an independent class that warrants beings studied separately (…) In fact, you must take into account several factors such as the size of the rooms that you are going to panel, the ceiling heights and the amount of light that will enter the room, the repeated or more moderate use of marble which make up the architectural orders, the richness or the simplicity that should be employed, either in sculpture, painting, gilding, etc., and, finally, the careful attention to be paid to the woodwork that must marry harmoniously with the marble, bronzes, paintings, mirrors and fine furniture. One must be very careful, for all of these considerations should be present in the mind of the architect. He must be able to envisage the overall effect that all of these parts will have in the eyes of enlightened men, for otherwise, they will only see heavy-handed opulence. It only takes a few ungainly details to spoil the general admiration that the viewer has come to expect.
(Tome 5, page 13)

In these engravings, as in the preceding one, we have illustrated few ornaments because, once again, you must take into account the unadorned before thinking about the decorative sculptural elements. Most young artists are somewhat spoiled by the study of drawing and contentedly concentrate on the superfluous rather than on what is essential. Several of them even believe that it is the job of the carpenter to create the woodwork, without suspecting that, however capable he might be in his art, he will never satisfy the client’s wishes if the architect himself does not draw up the plans and indicate the measurements for each part of the decoration. The only thing that might still be missing after such carelessness would be to leave to chance the work of a specialist embellisher which would result in seeing nothing but fancy carved woodwork and sculpture rather than the architecture itself. Were that to happen, one would no longer be able to distinguish the unity, the serenity and the overall concept. On the contrary, one would see much that was opulent but heavy-handed and confused which, far from pleasing the eye, would repulse it resulting in a lack of admiration that the viewer had the right to expect, if only the architect who was more highly educated and less negligent, had made the effort to carefully distribute each of the various specialized tasks to the appropriate artist.
(Tome 5, page 59)