Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Philibert de l'Orme

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 11
Philibert de l'Orme

by Gerhard Gietmann


An architect, born about 1512; died 1570. His style, classical and of the more severe Italian type, later developed characteristics showing greater personal independence. He has also importance as an author on subjects in his particular line, and is our chief source of information on his own works and the events of his life, although his writings are not devoid of exaggerations. While still a youth he went to Rome; he would probably have remained there in the service of Paul III, had not Cardinal du Bellay and others urged him to go to France. Soon after his return to his native city of Lyons (1536) he gave evidence of his originality as an artist in the invention of the trompe vaulting, so popular with the French, i. e. arches with double curves supporting weight imposed on them from the side and in the artistic stone carving, which gives them their charm. He was obliged to leave the portal of St. Nizier at Lyons incomplete in order to build the château of St. Maur-les-Fossés at Paris for Bellay, which he later had to enlarge. According to his own statements, he introduced in this important innovations, e. g. in the construction of columns, In 1538 he prevented the occupation of Brest by the English. Francis I now deputed him to make a semiannual inspection of the fortifications on the coast of Brittany, and review and provide for the vessels stationed there, and appointed him commandant of fortifications. In 1547 Orme began work on the king's tomb. Under Henry II he was promoted until he finally became supervisor of all royal buildings. In this capacity he directed the work on the châteaux of Fontainebleau, St-Germain-en-Laye, Madrid etc., and had at the same time to investigate the character of the service which had been rendered Francis I in connexion with these undertakings.

While in his fifties he built the château of Anet and Meudon. The former, in which he was allowed complete liberty, is of special importance for the study of his style; the disposition of the columns shows the pure classic style. An unfortunate arrangement of some water-piping in the second building, in itself a very important piece of work, brought on him the mockery of his jealous rivals. Although he was a layman, the king and queen granted him various abbeys, the revenues from which made him a wealthy man. He experienced for a time the disfavour of the court, and in 1559 was superseded by Primaticcio as supervisor of royal buildings. In 1564 he was commissioned by the regent to build the Tuileries. According to his plan, of which he himself gives a detailed description and appreciation, the whole was to be in the form of a quadrangle, with four corner pavilions, enclosing a large central court and four smaller courts, an entrance being provided on each of the two longer sides of the rectangle. Only the garden façade was completed. The central pavilion with the cupola is especially beautiful. In this the master took liberties which despite his admiration for the classic, he proclaimed as theoretical. He wrote that he had never found columns or ornamentation exhibiting like proportions or even similar arrangement of columns, and that the limitations of the architect came less from the prescribed measurements than from the stipulations made with regard to the building. This accounts for the "French column", among other things in the Tuileries, with its Ionic capital, but consisting of many fluted drums, separated by ornamental bands. Above all, Orme's works are not devoid of curious attempts at originality. In the last years he wished to work out his compositions according to "Biblical laws and sacred numbers".

As an author, Orme would have taken his place beside Vitruvius and Alberti had he completed his work on "Architecture". In two of the nine books of the first volume he deals in a masterly manner with stone-carving and the construction of the vault. A new edition of his work was issued by C. Nizet in 1894. Another work he entitled "Nouvelles inventions pour bien bâtir et à petits frais", as he describes in this his device for constructing roofs of great span by bolting together planks (instead of using single heavy beams). This was republished at Rouen in 1648 with his "Architecture". Of interest in itself, and also as illustrating his activity, is a memoir in which he defends himself against the attacks of his adversaries. This was incorporated by Berty in the "Grands architectes français de la Renaissance" (Paris, 1860).

PALUSTRE, La Ranaissance en France (Paris, 1879); VON GEYMÜLLER, Die Baukunst der Renaissance in Frankreich (Stuttgart, 1896 and 1901); DESTAILLEUR, Notices sur quelques artistes français (Paris, 1863).

G. GIETMANN.