Salomon De Bray's Architectura Moderna: Biography and Manifesto
‘Hendrick de Keyser was for our country what a Leon Baptista Alberti was for Italy, Pierre Lescot for France and Inigo Jones for England - the initiator of the improved mode of architecture, in accordance with the proportions of the ancients (as far as they were then known) and adapted to Vitruvius.’1 Kramm could make this utterance in 1836 by sole virtue of the authority of Salomon de Bray, who came to the same conclusion, in a less succinct formulation, in Architectura Moderna (1631). The significance of this judgment lies in de Bray's position as virtually the only one of his contemporaries to see in Hendrick de Keyser an important renovator of Dutch architecture (p. 7). Van Mander, Buchelius, Gerbier, Hooft, Vondel, Jan Vos and later writers like Gerard de Lairesse speak and write of de Keyser as a sculptor of genius, but they barely mention his accomplishments as an architect.2 Nor is that all. Architectura Moderna was the first original treatise on architecture written in Dutch since Hans Vredeman de Vries' publications. There is reason enough to suppose that de Bray, writing a biography of Hendrick de Keyser, seized the opportunity to construct, for the benefit of the rulers and officials of Holland, a theoretical foundation for architecture and for the position of the architect, in particular. This would also explain the dual nature of the book, which is at one and the same time a biography of de Keyser and a manifesto for modern architecture. The scheme is original in more than one respect. The treatises of Serlio and Vignola - available in Holland also in translations (Pieter Coecke van Aelst) and adaptations (Hans Bloem, Hans Vredeman de Vries) - are put together quite differently.3 The essence of these treatises is the system of the five orders, which are illustrated with examples from Roman antiquity and the Italian 15th and 16th centuries. They were intended first and foremost for architects and stonemasons, and are geared to practice. Architectura Moderna too has a theoretical section, with illustrations of a number of buildings to underscore its points. The extensive ‘To the Reader,’ however (p. 1-5), is no tractate on the orders but a plea for architecture as ‘konstige Bouwinge,’ i.e. construction based on mathematical regularity. The plates are drawn not from ancient architecture, but from ‘the buildings of this, our age [because] to my mind the Forms of the Ancients can be utilized rightly and well, and with excellent reason, as adornment and ennoblement, but to imitate each and very one of her building forms is, as I have said, unfeasible and impractical’ (p. 11). De Bray chose his title, Architectura Moderna ofte Bouwinghe van onsen tyt (Architectura Moderna or Architecture of our age), in deliberate contrast to that of Vredeman de Vries' magnum opus, Architectura, Oder Bauung der Antiquen auss dem Vitruvius (1577). It is this that gives Architectura Moderna, as distinct from the translations of Serlio, Vignola, Scamozzi and Palladio, its uniqueness: it was written with the intention of acquainting the civic governments of Holland with a new way of building - oriented to Vitruvius and the Italian theoreticians, but, in the work of Hendrick de Keyser, adapted in form to Dutch habits of building.4
De Bray's intention to make more of his Architectura Moderna than a mere description of Hendrick de Keyser's buildings is apparent even in his introduction, which is nothing more or less than a closely constructed and well documented declaration of policy for architecture. Following Vitruvius (and the Italian theorists from Alberti on), de Bray speaks of architecture as a ‘konstige Bouwinghe,’ as a science with fixed laws and founded on proportion and harmony.5 In his attempt to demonstrate the ‘antiquity,’ ‘truth or certainty’ and ‘worthiness’ of architecture in that sense, he arrives at some surprising positions. The high aspirations of architecture are ultimately by founded on the authority of Scripture: de Bray names as archetypes the monumental, divinely inspired works of Noah, Moses and Solomon, and contrasts them to the works of the Greeks and Romans.
De Bray must have come to this conclusion with the help of Villalpando and especially Philibert de l'Orme, who announces in his treatise of 1567 a theory of proportions revealed directly by God to man. De Bray's statements come suspiciously close to de l'Orme's conclusion: ‘venant à conclusion, vous pouvez par ce petit narré colliger, comme la dignité, origine & excellence d'Architecture est venue de Dieu, & du Ciel, sans en faire plus grand discours ne m'arrester à un Dedalus (lequel on dit avoir esté auteur & inventeur des premieres loges & maisons faictes de charpenterie...).’6
In his investigation into the origins (hare Bardtheijdt) of architecture de Bray establishes a sharp distinction between ‘ordinary and common carpentry’ and ‘decorative and artful [construction], containing all aspects of architecture at once’ (p. 2). Quoting Genesis 3:21, ‘Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them,’
Fig. 1. Variant of the foreportal of the Delft Town Hall (ad Pl. XXXVII, Arch. Mod.)
de Bray wonders aloud ‘why this art [i.e. architecture] too, as well as that of pelting and dressing, should not have come to the children of Adam from God, or at least have been made known to the Forefathers through a special revelation’ (p. 1). The construction of Noah's ark, the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon not only prove the great antiquity of architecture, but also its biblical origins. With the help of Flavius Josephus, and borrowing heavily from Villalpando's computations and reconstructions, de Bray tries to show that it was the great biblical architects and not the Greeks who invented the instruments of construction (saw, axe) as well as the Corinthian capital and the Corinthian order.7 De Bray substitutes biblical figures for the mythological ones of the Greek historians: for Amphion and Orpheus, Jubal and Tubal-cain; for Dedalus and Callimachus, Bezaleel and Aholiab. This is a direct undermining of Vitruvius and his followers of the Italian Renaissance, for whom the authority of classical antiquity was unchallengeable.8 De Bray continues with a discussion of the ‘truth or certainty’ (waerheijdt of gewisheyt) of architecture, which can only be attained by building upon a theoretical substructure. His thesis that true architecture brings together the work of the carpenter, bricklayer and stonemason is borrowed from Serlio and, more directly, from a definition by Hans Vredeman de Vries; it should not be interpreted as a reflection of everyday practice in the Amsterdam ‘stee-fabrique’ (department of public works).9 The ‘truth’ of architecture lies in Necessitas (need) and Ratio (reason), concepts that answer more or less precisely to the distinction between ‘ordinary and common carpentry’ and ‘decorative and artful construction.’ The incentive to build, the overall groundplan and general division of the structure are born out of need (protection, isolation); dispositio, symmetria and proportio, on the other hand, are the original contribution of human reason, following the example of nature. The five orders are nothing but codified variants of the rules invented by various peoples at different times. The ‘truth’ of ‘artful architecture’ is ordained by Scripture: de Bray cites the locus classicus, (Exodus 35:31): ‘And he hath filled him [Bezaleel] with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works.’ Behind the use of this verse lay a train of thought first formulated by Francesco Giorgio in his pamphlet De harmonia mundi totius (Venice 1525), where the proportions of the buildings described in the Old Testament are analyzed in the hope of deriving their dectated numerical ratios.10 The theme is picked up by Philibert de l'Orme and later by Scamozzi.11 In this instance, however, de Bray resorted directly to Villalpando's In Ezechielem Explanationes, where the divine inspiration of the architect is contrasted with the acquirable knowledge and scientific training Vitruvius demands of the architect.12
Finally de Bray comes to the ‘worthiness’ (waerdigheydt) of architecture, as evidenced by the high regard enjoyed by the great architects of the past (starting with the builders of the
Fig. 2. Ground plan of an octagonal church by Hendrick Danckerts (Pl. XLV, Arch. Mod., 2d ed.)
Temple of Salomon) and especially the esteem so often showed by rulers and kings for ‘Architecture and her Constructions.’ At this point de Bray bridges the gap to the second section of his book, and ‘its subject proper,’ i.e. ‘the architecture of our time.’ At first glance it may seem new and without precedent, but it is really the same ‘old manner of building (which was established by the art-loving Popes some years ago)’ (p. 5). De Bray had just rooted the origins, authenticity and worthiness of this mode of architecture in the Bible; in Holland, he goes on to say, Hendrick de Keyser is responsible for its many-sided revival and success (p. 7). De Keyser is the first Dutchman worthy of the title ‘bouw-konstenaer’ (artist of Building). The short biography of de Keyser should also be read in this light.13 De Bray characterizes him as ‘diligent and attentive in art,’ deserving of the respect and high opinion of eminent persons, in proof of which de Bray (himself a painter) names the painters Goltzius, Abraham Bloemaert and Cornelis Ketel.14 De Bray's sketch of de Keyser comes close to Serlio's ideal architect: ‘essendo adunque tale e tanta l'importanza di questa scienza, fa bisogno, che la persona la quale si applica a questi studij, sia di molte belle qualitá, e dell'animo e del corpo...’ In this connection de Bray also praises Cornelis Danckerts for his wisdom in placing himself, as a bricklayer, under the supervision of the architect (‘since all this carpentry, bricklaying, etc. are in fact subsections of architecture, which is the head of the family to which they belong’ (p. 3). For the same reason no mention is made of the contribution of Hendrick Staets, the carpenter.15
The rest of the book, with its plates and accompanying commentary, is an eleboration of this view of de Keyser and his work. For de Bray de Keyser is an architect after Serlio's heart, a man whose powers of invention and rich imagination are his dominant attributes.16 He does not discuss all of de Keyser's works. The selection seems to be determined by de Bray's own preferences and limited by the available drawings. Most of the buildings illustrated date from de Keyser's late period, which had the greatest appeal for de Bray's strict taste. His choice of examples was also intended to serve as a model to the municipal authorities for the solution of current problems concerning projects under consideration when the book appeared. He treats three churches, three residences, one town hall, one sepulchral monument and finally a large number of portals.
As we would expect from Salomon de Bray, Architecture Moderna is a tightly structured work.17 This is evident in the ‘Short Contents of this Book’ on p. 10. Following the ‘To the Reader,’ the book splits in two: the first edition is an illustrated description of a number of Hendrick de Keyser's works, and the second those of some other architects. The first section consists of two books, dealing with buildings in Amsterdam and other cities. Book One is subdivided into Amsterdam public buildings (‘Ghemeene wercken‘) and private ones (‘bysondere wercken,’ including residences).
De Bray begins with the Zuiderkerk (Pl. I-VII). He illustrates the south façade (with projecting tower), the outside wall of the eastern side-aisle, the groundplan and a cross-section of the interior facing north.18 Plates I and II do not correspond exactly with the actual situation: the pediments on the buttresses, for example, are not to be seen today, and it remains a moot point whether they ever existed.
De Keyser's towers are the most spectacular of his Amsterdam creations. The tower of the Zuiderkerk stands nearly free from the church, like an Italian campanile. The second story of the rusticated Doric base has the well-known Serliana motif. A less obtrusive borrowing from Serlio is the alternation of short and long sandstone quoins, which accentuates the rustication of the Doric base in contrast to the Ionic upper stories. The sandstone stands out against the brick, and its function in the tower calls to mind Serlio's dictum: ‘le pietre cotte sono la carne della fabrica & le pietre vive sono le ossa, che la sostengono.’19
In commenting on de Keyser's larger buildings de Bray never fails to stress their gracious, unencumbered placing; especially the churches are placed in a ‘quite broad and airy space.’ These niceties were mentioned in every architectural treatise since Alberti.20 In contrast to
Fig. 3. Project for an octagonal church by Hendrick Danckerts (Pl. XLVI, Arch. Mod., 2d ed.)
later critics, de Bray has a word of praise for the Noorderkerk (Pl. VIII-X). He remarks on the uncrowded placing of the building, which is also ‘beautiful of itself and pleasant to look at.’ De Bray's words about the placing of the church may refer to its plan, a Greek cross, recommended by Alberti.21 By choosing a centralized groundplan for a church de Keyser gave the Protestant place of worship not only a practical but also a symbolically meaningful form.
The Westerkerk receives relatively special attention, at least in regard to the large number of illustrations (Pl. XI-XXIV).22 They include a view of the northern side-aisle with the tower, the western façade, the groundplan and a cross-section of the interior facing east. In addition are ten illustrations of the various portals. De Bray reminds the reader here, as on many other plates, that the dimensions of the originals can be calculated with the help of the scale he provides. While no precise figures are given, by a rough calculation the nave can be seen to be one-and-a-half times as wide as and equal in height to the side-aisles, while the overall height of the nave measures two-and-a-half times its width. This consciously worked out ratio of grondplan and elevation constitutes the great novelty of de Keyser's churches in comparison to the late Gothic pseudo-basilicas from which they were derived.23 De Keyser's preoccupation with the problem of ideal space, especially in the later works, is manifested in the small model of a church held by the allegorical figure of Religion on the sepulchral monument of William the Silent in Delft. The model can be considered a small-scale solution of a strictly classical structure.24 What de Bray tells us about the Westertoren - that it was to be finished according to the plans he illustrated in Architectura Moderna (Pl. XI) is true only for the lowest story, up to the balustrade. The upper story, which was probably completed in 1638, was executed in a more sober formal vocabulary. Although he illustrates no fewer than four towers in full length, de Bray somehow fails to comment on the unmistakable tendency towards greater classicism of which the design for the Westertoren is a perfect example.25
At first sight it may seem strange that de Bray reserved more than half of the plates he had at his disposal for portals, seemingly such a fancy-free mode of architecture, so independent of the rules. For de Bray, however, the portals are proof of de Keyser's ‘extraordinary inventiveness,’ the quality demanded by Serlio of architects in his Book Six (p. 15). De Bray makes selective use of Serlio's high rating of ‘imagination and inventiveness.’ The portal of the Walenkerk (Pl. XXV) is criticized for its broken architrave and the recessions in the frieze26; on the other hand, the climax of de Keyser's inventiveness, for de Bray, is the broken pilaster merging into a quater-column, on the inside of one of the portals in the Westerkerk (Pl. XVI). In his comments on the portals de Bray shows the same sharp eye for ornament-cum-display as in his words on private houses. Cleverly conceived allusions to the function of the architecture are rated highly by de Bray. He praises the Prinsenhofpoortje (Pl. XXIX) because its ‘proper placing and size’ and its ‘grand appearance’ - a reference to the dignified use of the Doric order - as well as the characteristic decoration upon and within the pediment contribute to the distinguished effect of the Prinsenhof itself.27 De Bray comes out openly for this version of decorum in his remarks on the portal of the Huis Bartolotti (Pl. XXXV B). While other portals may be ‘larger and more prominent (as they are called upon to be),’ this one is ideally fitted for its ‘bourgeois function’ by its modesty.28 In conformity with the Mannerist theory of architecture, De Bray pays particular attention to the symbolical and functional meaning of the architectural orders. This is most obvious in his commentary on one of the city gates, the Haarlemmerpoort (Pl. XXVII-XXVIII)29: ‘perfectly robust and in a rustic order, which gives it a firm appearance and a look of strength fitting for the gate of such a mighty city.’ De Bray is clearly borrowing his terms from Serlio, who wrote of the ordine rustico (tuscan order): ‘dicono adunque, che l'Opera Toscana, al parer mio, conviene alle fortezze, come sarebbe a porta di città, a rocche, a castelli, a luoghi da conservar tesori... etc.’ De Keyser had borrowed from Serlio - possibly through the medium of Hans Vredeman de Vries - the idea of combining order architecture with monumental
rustication. Serlio's interpretation of this invention is typically Manneristic: he calls it a union of the labors of nature and those of man.30
De Keyser's private hauses in Amsterdam are represented in Architectura Moderna by the house of Hans van Wely (Pl. XXXIII)31 and the houses De Dolfijn (Pl. XXXIIII)32 and De Gecroonde Raep (Pl. XXXIIII)33; only the portals are illustrated of the houses of Burgemeester de Vlamingh (Pl. XXXV A) and Bartolotti (Pl. XXXV B).34 Together with Jacob van Campen's Coymans house on the Keizersgracht, these houses are among the most distinguished of the first quarter of the 17th century. In his commentary, de Bray dwells with special feeling on the prominence of the patrons and owners of the houses. The architectural features that speak of prominence, he explains, are the exceptional dimensions (‘such that they stand higher than the neighboring houses’ (p. 19), the use of precious materials and especially the use of an order. The façade of De Dolfyn (Pl. XXXIIII), which was recently restored in its original form, is not even ten years later than the now single façade of the Proveniershuis in Haarlem, a work of the Lieven de Key circle. While de Keyser's façade is based loosely on this model, it is more logical and more organic in structure. Through the introduction of order architecture, a much more effective division in horizontals and verticals was achieved. This is what de Bray has in mind when he speaks of the ‘graceful division of the work, [which is] a lust to the eye and exceedingly pleasant’ (p. 19).
In Book Two of the first part of Architectura Moderna de Bray comes to two works of de Keyser's outside Amsterdam: the Town Hall in Delft and the sepulchral monument of William the Silent in the New Church there.
The Delft Town Hall (Pl. XXXVII-XXXVIII), which differs considerably from its representation in de Bray's book, is praised for its fine location on the ‘square and spacious piazza,’ an echo of Serlio's rule for the placing of a large house inside a city. De Bray also waxes enthusiastic over the rich detailing, the precious materials, the gilding and the use of pilasters as decoration.35 Following de Bray's advice to check the ‘dimensions of the whole and the parts,’ we come to the surprising discovery that the proportions are anything but arbitrary. Even the rectangular area of the façade shows a nearly perfect 1:2 ratio in the illustration in Architectura Moderna. Moreover, careful measurement of the buildings themselves indicates that de Keyser abided rather strictly by the proportions of the Tuscan, Ionic and Corinthian orders as prescribed by Serlio and Vignola. The same classicizing tendency can be found in the original groundplan for the piano nobile, whose overall disposition prefigures the later work of Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post.36 The sepulchral monument of William the Silent in Delft (Pl. XXXIX-XL) is perhaps the purest example of de Keyser's manneristic conception of architectural ornament.37 This may be the reason de Bray chose to illustrate it alone of de Keyser's sculptural works. In his commentary, de Bray insists on the connection between the great fame and many accomplishments of William the Silent and the rich and dignified ornamentation of his monument. Following Serlio's advice, de Keyser chose the Doric order for the monument, the order par excellence for mythical and biblical as well as historical heroes. The triumphal-arch motif and especially the four heavy obelisks signify the ‘gloria dei principi’ that is trumpeted abroad by the hovering figure of Fama. The precious, richly varied materials attest the gratitude, respect and devotion felt by all, and for all time, according to de Bray. The four allegorical figures at the corners speak of the personal merits and patriotic services of the hero: Righteousness, Might, Freedom and Religion.38
In the Supplement, or Second Section of Architectura Moderna, de Bray treats ‘a few works and Edifices of various other Masters of this present Time’ (p. 23), i.e. the sepulchral monument of Willem Lodewijk van Nassau in Leeuwarden (Pl. XLI),39 the ‘Gallery of the King of Denmark in Frederickx-burch’ (Pl. XLII),40 the house of Balthasar Coymans in Amsterdam and finally one more portal - of Thomas de Keyser. In the second printing the groundplan and elevation of H. Danckerts' ‘Octagonal Church’ were added.41
The most significant item in this selection is Jacob van Campen's house on the
Keizersgracht (Pl. XLIII). Together with de Keyser's houses and the ‘Huis met de Hoofden’ (House with the Heads; 1621), which is not included in Architectura Moderna, the Coymans house was one of the most noteworthy in Amsterdam at that moment. In the accompanying text, de Bray, pays more attention to the exact application of the order than the splendid display of the ornamentation. The overall dimensions of the façade are from the second book of Palladio, while the details were based mainly on Scamozzi and occasionally Serlio.42 There is a demonstrable shift away from Serlio's free and imaginative interpretation of the five orders in the direction of the more rigid rules of Vignola, Scamozzi and especially Palladio. There is evidence enough to assume that de Bray was aware of this shift: he warns the reader that the beauty of van Campen's façade can be too easily overlooked. This assumption gains in likelihood when we consider that Dutch architecture was undergoing a crisis in the period when de Bray - himself a practicing architect - was writing Architectura Moderna. Even during de Keyser's lifetime, there was a tendency in Amsterdam towards a stricter classicism. In de Keyser's late works, from which de Bray drew most of his examples, we notice a more stringent application of the five orders. Right around him, in the Amsterdam of the 1620's, arose buildings like the Zeerecht (1618), the Meat Hall on the Westermarkt (1617) and the rear façade of the Coymans house on the Keizersgracht, all of them successors to the exterior of the church model in the tomb monument in Delft in their sober forms, and all of them openly Doric-classicistic.43 De Bray may have been alluding to this group of works in adding Thomas de Keyser's Zeegh-Booghen (Pl. XLIIII), ‘Doric in its entirety, well divided, very handsome, and sufficiently adapted and adorned according to the manner of the Ancients’ (p. 24).
The breakthrough to Dutch classicism of the 1630's became definitive in the early works of Jacob van Campen and in the great country seats at Honselaarsdijk (1621), Rijswijk (1630) and Rhenen (Koningshuis; begun 1629). An important phase is marked by the shape and articulation of the façade of Huis ten Bosch in Maarssen (1628; possibly by Jacob van Campen), in which we found the earliest consistent application of Scamozzi's stricter rules: the form of the large central bay, the pure details of the orders and especially the large pediment.
By ending his book on Hendrick de Keyser with examples of notably sober modern works of Dutch architecture, de Bray places his subject and his work in a clear perspective. In this way he underscores his main thesis - that de Keyser can be seen as the father of Dutch architecture - and gives expression to the wish ‘that we may hope to elevate Architecture, striding forth with steps like these, to her former heights (p. 5)’.
Transl. by Gary Schwartz
* According to the ‘besluyt’ (postscript) on p. 25 of the first edition of Architectura Moderna, the Haarlem architect and painter Salomon de Bray (1597-1664) undertook to write texts accompanying the plates and a general introduction. He completed his work on December 14, 1630. The first edition appeared in the following year. It consisted of 44 plates and 25 pages of text, not counting the dedication to the burgemeesters of Amsterdam up front. P. 25 contains the besluyt (postscript, a 14-line note by de Bray) and a poem by the publisher. Complete copies of the first edition are to be found outside Holland in the British Museum, London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (the latter copy lacks the title-page). In Holland there are copies in the Print Room of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the University Library there. The University Library of Utrecht has a good copy, to which a handsome engraving of the organ of the Westerkerk has been added after Pl. XIV. This unsigned and undated plate, apparently of the 18th century, bears the legend: La representation de la Belle Orgue de l'Eglise du Westerkerck a Amsterdam.