Warriors and Builders


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Jacques Androuet du Cerceau
French, ca. 1515–after 1584
Le Château de Boulogne, called “Madrid” in Les Plus Excellents Bastiments
de France (The Most Excellent Buildings of France),
Paris, 1576–79
Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library


Relatively little is known about the architect, designer, draftsman, etcher Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, but his brilliantly illustrated publications recording important examples of French Renaissance architecture are a tremendously important resource.  The greatest among these publications is the two-volume Les Plus Excellents Bastiments, which was one of the first books on architecture to be illustrated with etchings rather than woodcuts—which allowed much greater detail to be shown. Compare these images, for example, with the book of architecture of Philibert de l’Orme, in the case behind you.


After a humiliating defeat at the battle of Pavia in 1525, François I suffered a year of captivity in Spain under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Upon his return to France, François embarked on an unprecedented campaign of cultural patronage, including the construction of several royal residences for his lavish itinerant court. The château de Boulogne was built in the Bois de Boulogne just northwest of Paris, beginning in 1527, as a hunting lodge and a lodging for visiting dignitaries. The fact that this somewhat remote palace was nicknamed “Madrid” shows François’s humor on the topic of his captivity, as well as his courtiers’ frustration with his tendency to essentially make himself captive in the château away from affairs of state. There is also evidence that François was making reference to the Casa del Campo, a palace in Madrid with which he had become familiar while detained there.


Madrid constituted a completely unique blend of French architectural forms and Italian all’ antica decoration.  The overseeing mason for the project throughout the nearly thirty-five years of its construction, the Florentine Girolamo della Robbia, came from a famous family of sculptors in terra cotta. Girolamo conceived a scheme that largely covered the building—inside and out—with glazed ceramic architectural decorations in brilliant colors, which made the building absolutely stunning to behold.  Du Cerceau’s etching records Madrid as it appeared in the 1570s, during the reign of Henri III.  Despite the crowds of courtiers gathered before the building and peeping from its balconies, Madrid was seldom used by Henri.