On the trail of the mysticism of Gothic cathedrals: a fascinating sketchbook as a unique testimony to the art and architecture of Europe

Book of Cathedrals

France — Around 1220

Book of Cathedrals

Book of Cathedrals

France — Around 1220

  1. The sketchbook and only preserved work by Villard de Honnecourt (ca. 1200 - after 1235), a French artist and architect

  2. Contains drawings and sketches on geometry, zoology, architecture, and mechanics, all of which are related to the mysterious art of cathedral construction

  3. Honnecourt traveled throughout Switzerland, France, and Hungary and studied the cathedrals of Chartres, Lausanne, and Reims

El Libro de las Catedrales

Book of Cathedrals

Men with Tendril Beards and Hair

While travelling throughout Europe visiting cathedrals, Villard de Honnecourt doubtless saw many fine examples stonemasonry including fine carved figures. Here we see the faces of two hairy, bearded men, but their hair follicles have been replaced by leafy tendrils. Both are arranged artfully, the left having upturned leaves and the right downturned. Perhaps these highly stylized human faces looked out at Honnecourt from the stone relief or a cathedral or abbey in the course of his travels.

Book of Cathedrals

Alternative Titles:
  • Buch der Kathedralen
  • El Libro de las Catedrales
  • Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt
  • Villard de Honnecourt, Album de dessins et croquis
  • El Libro de las Catedrales
  • Le carnet de Villard de Honnecourt
  • Cuaderno de Bocetos de Villard de Honnecourt
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

This mysterious fragment of a 13th century manuscript represents the most important architectural treatise of the High Middle Ages. El Libro de las Catedrales is an encyclopedic text that covers masonry, architecture, surveying, carpentry, geometry, zoology, and contemporary mechanical devices related to the exciting and mysterious art of cathedral construction. Almost nothing is known about the text or its author, Villard de Honnecourt, other than that, judging by his name and dialect of Old French, he likely originated from France’s Picardy region. Nonetheless, this is considered to be one of the most important manuscripts to survive the 13th century, and Honnecourt has even been considered to be a forerunner to the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Villard de Honnecourt: The Book of Cathedrales

"Villard de Honnecourt greets you and recommends to all those who use the instructions given in this book to pray for their souls and remember them, because in this book you will find useful help for the magnificent art of construction and some carpentry arts and also the art of portraiture and its components as required and taught the art of geometry."
So begins this unique 13th century manuscript, the most important architectural treatise of the High Middle Ages. The Book of Cathedrals, also known as Album de dessins et croquis (“Album of Drawings and Sketches”) is an encyclopedic text that covers masonry, architecture, surveying, carpentry, geometry, zoology, and contemporary mechanical devices related to the exciting and mysterious art of cathedral construction. These subjects are illustrated by 250 diagrams across 66 pages and the character of the architectures depicted indicate that Honnecourt visited cathedrals in France, Switzerland, and Hungary inter alia. All this is found in a comprehensive document that is only a fragment of a manuscript that originated ca. 1225–35 and was rediscovered in the 19th century. Today, it is housed among the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France under the shelf mark Français 19093 and is considered to be one of the most important written works to survive the 13th century.

A Mysterious High Medieval Polymath

Villard de Honnecourt was an enigmatic medieval polymath considered by many to be a forerunner of the great Leonardo da Vinci. That being said, little is known about this medieval personality, in fact, this is the only document attesting to his existence. His name has appeared as both “Villars” and “Vilars” while his surname and the dialect of Old French he uses indicate that he was from Picardy in France, specifically from an area known as Honnecourt-sur-Escaut that evolved around a Benedictine abbey. He depicts himself both as a soldier and as a master builder, so it may be that his designs for military equipment were inspired by practical experience in war. In the High Middle Ages, sieges were the defining feature of war, overcoming stone fortifications required either a great deal of patience. Without innovative machines like siege towers and trebuchets, one had to resort to time-consuming tactics like starving out the defenders or undermining walls. As such, the high medieval theater of war was far more technical than we think of today and would have provided plenty of demand for proto-engineers like Honnecourt. That being said, it is unlikely that he was active as an architect due to inaccuracies and misunderstandings in his work that one would not expect from a professional architect. Therefore, Honnecourt was likely an amateur architect who worked in a related profession that would have required some knowledge of arithmetic and geometry. Of course all of this is speculation because so little is known about both the work and its author.

Innovative Machinery

Honnecourt was the first European to devise a perpetual motion machine. In a time without electricity and other forms of power, such a devise would have been a miracle for the medieval construction site. However, Leonardo da Vinci was already skeptical of such devices during the Renaissance, and we know today that perpetual motion machines are impossible because they violate the first two laws of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, they continue to be a source of fascination today. He also designed automata, pseudo-robots that were popular in the Middle Ages both as curiosities and demonstrations of wealth and sophistication. The most famous examples thereof were in Constantinople: the throne room of the Byzantine emperors had gilded automata such as a tree full of singing birds, roaring lions, and a throne that could be raised and lowered – all to impress visitors with their status as the heirs of the Roman Empire. Honnecourt’s manuscript contains diagrams of lifting devices, water-driven saws, a trebuchet, and other engines of war that appear to be practical, even if their diagrams are simplistic and sometimes inaccurate. It may be that the diagrams were kept simple in order to make them only accessible to those initiated in the secrets of architecture and engineering, but again, this is only speculation.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Buch der Kathedralen
El Libro de las Catedrales
Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt
Villard de Honnecourt, Album de dessins et croquis
El Libro de las Catedrales
Le carnet de Villard de Honnecourt
Cuaderno de Bocetos de Villard de Honnecourt
Size / Format
66 pages / 23.2 x 15.2 cm
Origin
France
Date
Around 1220
Style
Language
Illustrations
Over 250 great illustrations in the categories: masonry, architecture, carpentry, geometry, zoology and mechanical devices of the time
in connection with the exciting and mysterious art of building cathedrals.
Content
The Book of Cathedrales is an encyclopedic text that covers masonry, architecture, surveying, carpentry, geometry, zoology, and contemporary mechanical devices related to the exciting and mysterious art of cathedral construction.
Artist / School
El Libro de las Catedrales

The Book of Cathedrals

Study of Windows Behind an Altar

This 13th century study depicts the windows that typically frame the altar in the east end of a cathedral and attempts to use perspective to show how the two outer windows flank the center. That this is a Gothic cathedral is evidenced by the large windows with pointed arches and stone tracery made possible by the flying buttresses outside (not pictured).

Lighter weight vaulting and stone ribs contributed to the brighter, more elegant aesthetic created by the larger windows of Gothic churches. Tall windows of this type usually lined the aisles of a Gothic cathedral but were sometimes arranged thusly to frame an altar and allow it to receive light from as many directions as possible. Villard de Honnecourt’s notes and instructions fill the margins.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Book of Cathedrals“

El Libro de las Catedrales
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Cathedrales – Ms. Fr. 19093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
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El Libro de las Catedrales

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2019
Limited Edition
898 copies
Binding
Brown leather
Commentary
1 volume
Language: Spain
More Information
Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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