The author presented her study of Hans Vredeman de Vries’s 1577 treatise ARCHITECTURA Oder Bauung der Antiquen auss dem Vitruvius, as a habilitation thesis in Braunschweig in 2000. Part One, which focuses on the artist himself, starts off with a useful overview of Vredeman’s early critical fortune and with the actual status quaestionis. In its discussion of early literature, i.e. preceding Hans Mielke’s 1967 docto ral thesis, this chapter seems rather biased towards German-language texts. To complete this picture, we also refer interested readers to Luc Verpoest’s stimulating article on the late nineteenth-century ‘nationalistic’ Vredeman-revival in Belgium, which triggered German scholarly interest in the artist at the close of the century (Luc Verpoest, ‘Hans Vredeman de Vries en de Belgische architectuur in de negentiende eeuw: Architectuurgeschiedschrijving en nationale identiteit,’ in: Heiner Borggrefe, Thomas Fusenig, Barbara Uppenkamp, eds., Tussen stadspaleizen en luchtkastelen. Hans Vredeman de Vries en de Renaissance [exhibition catalogue Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, September 14 – December 8, 2002], Gent/Amsterdam: Ludion, 2002, pp. 375-381, reviewed in the HNA Review of Books, November 2002). These early Vredeman experts are still relevant for today’s research: it is astounding to what extent their image of Vredeman and the so-called ‘Flemish Renaissance’ still persists in more recent studies, including the catalogue cited above and the book under review here.
Part Two contains a meticulously structured analysis of the treatise itself. Extremely useful is the author’s precise discussion of the different editions, the first German (1577) and the first Netherlandish ones (1581) in particular; like the first part, this chapter contains many factual corrections of older (and more recent) literature, the result of the author’s extensive travels which allowed her to personally examine most extant copies of the treatise. The reader is greatly aided by the fact that both of these editions are integrally – and very clearly – reproduced in appendices (the Netherlandish edition without the plates, which are identical to the ones in the German edition). Detailed analytical schemes allow a closer reading of Vredeman’s proportional ‘system,’ which apparently was not very systematic at all mathematically speaking. It is to the author’s great merit that she, once all calculations were done, arrived at a clear evaluation of ARCHITECTURA’s value and originality as a treatise (and not just a model book). This part closes with a discussion of Vredeman’s underlying intentions. Here Vredeman’s original position in the development of Renaissance architectural theory comes to the fore: he was, after all, the first to publish that the new ‘antique’ style was in fact ‘Italian’ (thus robbing it of the universal character implied in the term ‘antique,’ used in Netherlandish sources since the early years of the sixteenth century), and that adaptation to local building custom was needed; many able Netherlandish architects had already shown how to do this in practice.
This context is treated by the author in Part Three, which carries the title ‘ARCHITECTURA between Architectural Theory and Building Tradition.’ This section starts off with a prologue: a study of the position of the treatise within Vredeman’s engraved oeuvre. Vredeman’s other ‘best-known’ work, the Perspective (1604), is shown to fall short of the theoretical standard set by ARCHITECTURA. The discussion of Vredeman’s source material is again thorough. The evaluation of Coecke’s Serlio editions seems greatly indebted to de la Fontaine Verwey. Comparison of Coecke’s different editions (the Flemish Book IV of 1539 and of 1549, the German Book IV of 1542/1543, the French Book IV of 1542) can however be pushed further; careful reading shows an unexpected Vitruvian purism in Coecke’s commentaries. Coecke is Vredeman’s opposite: he belonged, in fact, to the fringe of the scholarly world for whom study of antiquity and study of ancient texts were one (like Frans Cranevelt in Mechelen, in whose library Vitruvius stood next to Erasmus’s works; Jean Lemaire de Belges whose 1507 manuscript Des Anciennes pompes funeralles shows the first scientific excavation of an ancient tumulus in the Low Countries; or Cornelis and Jan Grapheus; and Peter Gillis in Antwerp). Vredeman can be said to have had connections to the same world: his 1562 series of small architectural views was dedicated to Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, who in 1557/1558 commissioned his secretary Stephanus Pighius, the famous antiquary, to study a Roman silver vase discovered in his see (Arras). Vredeman’s publisher, Hieronymus Cock, also published the first complete recording and reconstruction of an antique building, the Baths of Diocletian, for the cardinal (1558). And there is Pierre Ernest de Mansfeld, whose Luxembourg palace had a garden with many ‘antique’ features, started in the 1560ies. These points could have served to underline how far Vredeman goes the other way.
To strengthen his position, Vredeman invokes the example of famous Netherlandish masters. These are summarily presented by the author (without illustrations) – with an understandable focus on Cornelis II Floris. More surprising is the complete absence of comment on the Netherlandish building tradition, i.e. the original component in Vredeman’s architecture, all the more so since the author credits Vredeman’s interpretation of it with universal appeal. The artist explicitly mentions, amongst others, brick-and-stone masonry and mullioned windows, which in the early 1540ies Jacques Du Broeucq, for one, had shown how to transform ‘à l’antique,’ using pediments, and create Roman-style window surrounds with ‘ears.’ The author’s analysis of the treatise’s value could have been well served by a closer look at the work of Vredeman’s older contemporaries. As it stands, her text again takes up the essentially late nineteenth-century concept of a ‘Flemish Renaissance’ centered on Antwerp.
Taken all in all, this is an important study, which offers a new look at Vredeman’s ARCHITECTURA: not a mere Säulenbuch or model book, but an original voice in the debate of antique vs. modern.
Krista De Jonge
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven