Though little known today, Netherlandish châteaux of the Renaissance once enjoyed a formidable reputation, serving as centres of aristocratic culture and illustrious patronage. With Charles V an absent ruler, the Low Countries lacked the concentrated court life enjoyed by France that nurtured the spectacular chaâteaux still visible along the Loire. Nevertheless, the Southern Netherlands had exemplary palaces. Two well-known drawings in Brussels record festivities held at the Chateau of Binche honouring the visit by Charles V and the future Philip II; the emperor and his heir are received in beautifully appointed halls with paintings, tapestries, and lavish sculptural decoration, magnificent interiors that bear witness to a world now lost. So little has survived of these structures that histories of Netherlandish art rarely give them more than brief mention, yet the palaces were striking works of architecture, capable of astonishing even the well-travelled visitor.
Thus it is particularly satisfying to read of the archaeological investigations and restorations surrounding the Chateau of Boussu, located close to Mons. Built for Jean de Hennin-Liétard, Master of the Horse to Charles V, it was designed by the eminent Jacques Du Broeucq, who was likewise author of the above-mentioned Chateau of Binche for the regent Mary of Hungary. A sumptuous residence, Boussu was still incomplete by the time it was razed by Henri II in 1554. Rebuilt by Du Broeucq soon afterward but never finished, it underwent a series of remodellings during the following two hundred years, finally falling into near-total disrepair. The relatively modest chatelet that served as an entrance gate and pavilion was then successively restored, becoming the heart of a revised nineteenth-century château until suffering heavy damage at the end of the Second World War.
This study dispenses with earlier romantic reconstructions while rescuing the Chateau of Boussu from oblivion. Its team of scholars offers a thorough and precise evaluation based on excavations of the grounds and on comparison with the few surviving visual and literary records. There is a chapter on the former gardens of the château, on labyrinths and parks, and the service they provided in the sixteenth century. Another chapter discusses interior decoration at Boussu, examining surviving fragments while relating them to documented designs in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Account is taken of German woodcutters employed at Boussu and a virtual reconstruction is essayed of a fountain, apparently ordered from Genoa, the elements of which are depicted separately in one of the later drawings of thechâteau.
Jacques Du Broeucq, his life and work, is the subject of an essay by Isabelle Lecocq. Although cited by both Vasari and Guicciardini as a distinguished architect, Du Broeucq is known today principally as a sculptor, as the carver of the statues and reliefs preserved in St Waudru in Mons, a spectacular ensemble of work in alabaster that once adorned the Renaissance rood screen in that church. Du Broeucq also executed or contributed to at least three impressive tombs, including that of Jean de Hennin-Liétard and Anne de Bourgogne at Boussu. But sculpture was only one of his trades. He was one of the designers who submitted plans for Antwerp’s town hall, and he also was active in the field of military architecture. None of Du Broeucq’s buildings has survived, however, making it easy to overlook his prominence in this area and rendering Lecocq’s overview especially welcome.
Krista De Jonge’s analysis of Du Broeucq’s architectural language concludes the study. De Jonge discusses traditions of Netherlandish palace design and the growing interest in Italian solutions, directly and through French models. Indeed, she situates Du Broeucq ‘between Rome and Fontainebleau’, marking the evolution of architecture ‘à l’antique’ in the Low Countries. The impact of Serlio is noted on French and Netherlandish designers, and comparisons are made with Roman, Northern Italian, and French structures. In addition, Boussu and Du Broeucq are seen to have attracted the attention of Spanish patrons and influenced projects such as the palace of Valsaín near Segovia.
This publication is an illuminating study of Netherlandish Renaissance architecture that offers much insight into the aristocratic life of the period. It helps place the Chateau of Boussu and kindred creations among other artistic projects of the sixteenth century and relates Netherlandish design to practices in other parts of Europe. The study is at once specialized, addressed primarily to students of architectural history, and useful for those with a broader interest in the art of the Low Countries.
Ethan Matt Kavaler
University of Toronto