Philibert de l'Orme

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Philibert Delorme portrait
(Claudius Jacquand &
Sébastien Leclerc)

Philibert de l'Orme (3-9 June 1514 – 8 January 1570) was a French architect and writer, and one of the great masters of the French Renaissance. His surname is also written De l'Orme, de L'Orme, or Delorme.


  • Fortunate indeed is the man who has found wisdom and who is full of that discretion which is better than all the acquiring, trafficking, and possession of gold and silver. ... I dwell (so says Wisdom) in good and salutary counsel, and am present at learned and wise cogitations. Therefore must a man seek this Wisdom and, having found it, take care to hold it well, that in its time and place it may be of help to him. The ensuing representation will set before your eyes the treatise which I have propounded.
    • Livre d'architecture as quoted by Edward Fenton, "Messer Philibert Delorme" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 13, No. 4, Dec., 1954
Château de Saint-Maur,
architect: Philibert de l'Orme
  • Have I not also done a great service in having brought into France the fashion of good building, done away with barbarous manners, and great gaping joints in masonry, shown to all how one should observe the measures of architecture, and made the best workmen of the day, as they admit themselves? Let people recollect how they built when I began Saint-Maur for my lord the Cardinal du Bellay ...Moreover, let it be recollected that all I have ever done has been found to be very good and to give great contentment to all.
    • Livre d'architecture as quoted by Edward Fenton, "Messer Philibert Delorme" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 13, No. 4, Dec., 1954

Quotes about de l'Orme[edit]

Château d'Anet
  • [T]he work by two sixteenth century masters of stereotomic architecture – the Spanish architect Andrés de Vandelvira (1505-1575) and the French architect Philibert De l’Orme (1515-1570) – is paradigmatic. Their cut-stone vaults and domes are an expression of the quest for the formal identification and definition of construction elements in keeping with the technical know-how and aesthetic canons of stereotomy. A comparison of two of their works is particularly interesting: the dome of the chapel of Salvador at Úbeda by Andrés de Vandelvira, built between 1536 and 1542, and the dome of the chapel at Anet by Philibert De l’Orme, built between 1548 and 1553. ...[T]he figurative solution adopted by De l’Orme... On a technical level, the juxtaposition of the decorative and the construction pattern is not casual, but geometrically controlled in order to optimise the production of the voussoirs by reducing to a minimum the number of “panneaux” needed to cut them. The system of ribbing, conceived according to the logic of this production process, is commensurate with the “metre” used in the wall assemblage and is consequently segmented in strict relation to the shape and dimension of the curved surface of the voussoirs that define the intrados of the dome.
    • Francesco Defilippis, 'Architecture and Stereotomy. The Relation Between the “Construction Apparatus” and the "Decorative Apparatus" of the Cut-Stone Vaults and Domes of Philibert de l’Orme and Andrés de Vandelvira' (2006) Second International Congress on Construction History, Queens' College, Cambridge University (April 2, 2006) Proceedings of the Second International Congress on Construction History (CSHA) Vol. 1, ISBN 987-1-329-15030-0, pp. 951-968.
  • Philibert de l'Orme 1518-77. If Lescot and Bullant were at least as much decorators as builders, Philibert de l'Orme was less an architect than an engineer; construction and not decoration was the important thing to him. The works he designed as an artist he usually executed as a builder.
    • Emilia Dilke (lady Dilke, Emilia Frances Strong Pattison) Renaissance of art in France (1879) 1:143-69. Report, Vol. 81, New York State Library p. 231.
  • On January 8, I570, Philibert Delorme died in his canon's house of Notre-Dame. He had played a considerable part in the life of his times, he had written an immense book, and he had designed some of the most notable buildings in France. In his own opinion he had simply re-established architecture in France. ...There are two woodcuts at the conclusion of Philibert Delorme's Livre d'architecture. One shows a figure without eyes and hands moving aimlessly across a Gothic landscape. Behind him stands a medieval castle with its moat and turrets, a cloudburst filling the sky above it. This is his concept of the Bad Architect. The other is a scene of classic architecture, fruitful vines, and playing fountains. The sky is serene, and in the ordered court stands the Good Architect, triple-eyed and double-handed, presenting a roll of plans to a willing workman. ...Could it have been a sketch for a self-portrait that Messer Philibert Delorme was setting before our eyes?
    • Edward Fenton, "Messer Philibert Delorme" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 13, No. 4, Dec., 1954, p. 158.
  • A paper was read by the Rev. Professor Willis, "On the system followed by the Architects of the middle ages in the construction of their Vaults." The principles of vaulting and the mode of setting out the arch-stones were first laid down in the well-known treatise of Philibert de l'Orme; but it is evident that his predecessors, the architects who practised the Gothic style, must have been in possession of a geometrical system, though it was probably very simple, as compared with the complicated problems of P. de l'Orme. To investigate the system of the Gothic architects by a close observation of their works, was the subject of Professor Willis's paper. The mode of construction adopted by the Gothic architects in their vaulting, differs widely from that of classical architecture, both ancient and modern, inasmuch as, in the latter, the vaults are formed of regular courses of cut stone; whereas Gothic vaultings consist of a series of ribs, each rib constituting a separate and independent arch, the interstices filled in with lighter materials to complete the vault. In the early Norman work of our English edifices, these vaultings are often very rude and irregular, and the several arches so far from coinciding, that it is requisite to fill up the backs of the ribs to a considerable extent, in order to level the intermediate spandrils. Yet, even in vaults like these, some geometrical system must have been necessary. The change of style in the architecture of the thirteenth century, necessitated a more careful construction, since the rib mouldings became more numerous and complicated, as the capitals from which they sprung were diminished in their capacity to receive them. This difficulty was met by the construction of a stool of solid masonry in level courses from the springing up to the point where the ribs spread sufficiently to disengage the mouldings from each other, and then they are carried over separately, and filled in as before. The mode in which the difficulties arising from the various levels at which it was sometimes necessary to spring the ribs in Gothic vaultings of this period—as, for example, in raising the lateral arches of the vaults of a church to make room for the clerestory windows, producing a great variety of curvatures in the same vaulting, all to be reconciled in the filling in, were illustrated by diagrams, without the aid of which it is useless to pursue the details. With regard to the curvature of the diagonal ribs, they were never projected according to the modern practice, to which may be attributed the want of character which marks most of the imitations of Gothic vaulting. Actual measurement has proved the diagonals of early Gothic vaulting to be arcs of circles, the centres being below the springing of the cross ribs, and the problem called by Philibert de l'Orme the "troisp oints perdus," was probably that upon which they were laid down: and it may be observed, that both the classical and the Gothic systems of vaulting were in operation in different parts of Europe at the same time and that P. de l'Orme must have had the opportunity of being acquainted with both. The introduction of the four-centered arch simplified the vaulting in one respect, by bringing the centres of all the curves to a uniform level; but the effect of vaulting in this form is consequently extremely flat and poor, compared with the lightness and freedom of that in the earlier period. New complexity, however, had arisen with the introduction of cross lines from one main rib to another. These short ribs meet upon bosses, worked together with a portion of the divergent ribs, in solid stone; but the principle of setting up the ribs and filling in is still followed, notwithstanding the complicated form of the framework. These intricate patterns, which form a link between the simple early groins and the last phase of Gothic vaulting in fan-tracery, exhibit various degrees of success in the design, dependent upon the skill of the architect. In most of the vaults of this description, the centre compartments fall into the shape of a star. In some examples, this form has been clearly laid down on the plan, but is lost in the execution, through the distortion occasioned by the dip of the ribs or other causes; while in other instances it is unexpectedly brought out by combinations evincing consummate ingenuity and knowledge of the resources of geometry and perspective. In fan-vaulting we return to real masonry, the ribs and panels being carved out of stones fitted together. Complicated as this mode of construction may be, it is less so in reality than in appearance, being greatly simplified by uniform curvatures, and uniform levels in the springings; and the system of setting out the stones seems to have been so well understood, that it is found to be invariably the same throughout all our great fan-vaults. This system Professor Willis explained to be dependent upon certain horizontal beds on the uppermost surfaces of the intersecting stones, which it would be impossible to render intelligible without the models to which his observations referred.
    • The Metropolitan Magazine (May, 1841) Vol. 31, pp. 125-126, Saunders and Otley, "Learned Societies, Institute of British Architects" July 5.
  • French architects and engineers in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries occupied themselves a good deal with roofs with curved ribs, and two systems of constructing the rib were worked out. In the most modern of them, that invented by Colonel Emy, the ribs were constructed of a series of thicknesses of bent timber, one on the back of another, and held together by bolts. In the older system that of Philibert de l'Orme, the ribs were also built up, but the pieces composing them are placed side by side, and either form a polygon approaching a semicircle or are cut to bring them to a curve. 
    Bourse de commerce
    (dome of the Paris Corn Market)
    In fact, the ribs are very much such as... used for the great dome of the Paris Corn Market. There is, however, a great difference between a dome—the strongest of all forms—and one permitting the introduction of as many rings of ties as may be desired; and a roof over an ordinary oblong space, where no such binding together is admissible, and where straight rafters may have to be used, which loads the rib at certain points only. In the latter case, a good many precautions have, generally speaking, to be taken to prevent the rib from being unequally loaded, and so either spreading or losing its shape in some other way. The rib made of unbent timber, side by side, on De l'Orme's plan, is admitted to be stronger than the one made of bent timbers laid one on the back of the other; but both have been largely used, and good examples of both may be met with...
    • B. Priestley Shires, "Domestic Architecture: England under the Edwards" (May 29, 1885) The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder, Vol. 16-17, " p. 355.
  • Mr. G. Rennie said, he believed that few, if any, examples of oblique bridges existed in England prior to those which had been mentioned, and the extreme obliquity of Mr. Storey's bridge rendered it very interesting; such bridges had long been constructed in Italy, and in France. Vasari mentioned an oblique bridge over the Mugnone near Florence, erected in 1530. In a curious old work intituled "L'Architecture des Voutes," [a treatise on stereotomy] par Derand, (folio, 1645) diagrams were given of the oblique, as well as of almost every other kind of arch. Philibert de L'Orme, and subsequent French architects, seemed also to have been fond of oblique arches. Nicholson, who was quoted by Mr. Buck as having first explained the method of constructing the oblique arch must, Mr. Rennie conceived, have seen Derand's work.
    • John Storey, No. 685. "Description of an Oblique Bridge over the River Gaunless on the Hagger Leases Branch Railway Durham" (1845) Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol. IV, Session 1845, ed., Charles Manby, pp. 60-61.
  • [Catharine] Randall, Building Codes, argues that Philibert de l'Orme was, if not a Calvanist, someone with a 'strongly evangelical stance and perhaps Calvanist sympathies'... Such Calvinist sympathies, according to Randall, are detectable in his 'stylistic idiosyncracies', which compose 'the architectural vocabulary of the late Calvinist architects',... his use (like Calvin) of the biblical text as a 'textual template for his building activity in general',... in his creation of a Protestant architectural genealogy... etc. No direct evidence exists, however, to support claims that De l'Orme was anything but Catholic—he was, after all, a priest (diocese of Lyons) and later canon (Potié, Philibert De l'Orme, 23). As Andrew Spicer notes, in his review of Randall's book, 'much of [her] evidence would seem to be circumstantial, and there are problems in equating the terms "evangelical" with "crypto-" or "proto-" Calvinist (Catholic Historical Review, 89/1 (2003), 106). I do not propose to resolve this debate here...
    • Phillip John Usher, Epic Arts in Renaissance France (2014) p. 183, footnote 123.
  • If the use of iron in building does not enable us to exceed these dimensions at a decidedly less cost, then indeed we are inferior to our ancestors. In fact the great builders of the Middle Ages, like those of the Renaissance, were eminently men of subtle, active, and inventive intellect. I say inventive intellect, for that is the ruling characteristic of the works bequeathed to us by those old builders. It is apparent in the structure of our mediaeval buildings, and only ceases to manifest itself when the material becomes inadequate. It is apparent in the attempts of the Renaissance; for apart from the superficial imitation of classic forms which the architects of the latter period affected, they did not adhere to this imitation in the construction of their buildings and in the methods they employed. Without reference to the buildings of that epoch, we may find the proof of this fact in the written works of several of those architects, such as Albert Dürer, Serlio, Philibert de l'Orme, etc. On every page of their writings we find some original idea, or new adaptation; and as in the case of their predecessors, their ingenuity is circumscribed only by the inadequacy of their materials.

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