Jacques Boyceau, sieur de la Barauderie (ca. 1560–1633) was a French garden designer, the superintendent of royal gardens under Louis XIII, whose posthumously produced Traité du iardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l’art. Ensemble divers desseins de parterres, pelouzes, bosquets et autres ornements was published in 1638. Its sixty engravings after Boyceau’s designs make it one of the milestones in tracing the history of the Garden à la française (French formal garden). His nephew Jacques de Menours, who produced the volume, included an engraved frontispiece with the portrait of Boyceau.
A few of the plates show formally planted bosquets, but the majority are of designs for parterres. The accompanying text asserts that some of these designs have been used at royal residences: the Palais du Luxembourg, where the two axes at right angles survive from Boyceau’s original plan, the Jardin des Tuileries, the newly built château of Saint Germain-en-Laye, even at the simple château at Versailles.
Boyceau was made a gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi and ennobled for his efforts, as the sieur de la Barauderie.
The Treatise of Jacques Boyceau and the specific garden work in which he was involved must be considered in the context of the state of the French garden when he came up on the scene. Even the knowledge of what immediately preceded is not enough if
one is to’ formulate a comprehensive picture of French landscape design.
One must indeed turn back to’ the Middle Ages inasmuch as in no other period of the history of gardening can the prevailing style be called so international, This homogeneity in style is in part the result of the widespread monastic system.
Included were: the garden for vegetables; the garden for medicinal herbs and plants; the garden for the fruit trees that were often set apart as an orchard. Finally the gardens devoted to flowers were used largely for the altar decorations. Completing the garden complex of most monasteries was a fish pond, its contents serving more often than not a utilitarian rather than an ornamental purpose.
Secular gardens of the medieval period retained less of the classic tradition of gardening.
In a troubled period restricted by the feudal system, with its predominantly
War-like tendencies, there was little time to ponder the pleasures a garden might
Provide. This was the age of the chateau for whose tenant’s chief occupation was self-preservation. Gardens that were cultivated were for the most part necessary for the survival of the feudal masses.
Boyceau’s book is the first French work to treat the esthetic of gardening, not simply its practice. It was designed for the patron rather than for the gardener, but it had an influence on the designs of André Le Nôtre, who transformed the manner of Boyceau and of the Mollet dynasty of royal gardeners Claude Mollet and André Mollet to create the culminating French Baroque gardens, exemplified at Vaux-le-vicomte and Versailles.
An engraving reproduced in Boyceau’s Traité du jardinage depicts his parterre design centered on the garden front of the Luxembourg Palace. Basically a square within a square, it was crowned at the far end by a half circle the width of the inner square. The great square was centered on a pool of water with a single jet in a sunken plat surrounded by four sloped spandrel compartments, each incorporating an inward-facing monogram of Marie de’ Medici (the letter “M” surmounted by the royal crown), and outside this, four framing trapezoids interrupted at their centers by circular motifs bearing outward-facing, smaller versions of the monogram.
The compartments, all filled with fine (rinceaux) French for or foliage executed in clipped boxwood and colored gravels, were set in wide gravel walks. The design, likely executed sometime between 1615 and 1629, expressed variety within a unified ensemble and was best appreciated from the windows of the piano mobile, as shown in the engraving by Zeillerus. The parterre was much modified by 1652 as evidenced by the map of Gomboust, and even further after 1693 in favour of the broader, simpler parterre (French parterres originated in 15th-century gardens of the French Renaissance often taking the form of knot gardens. Later, during the 17th century Baroque era, they became more elaborate and more stylised. The French parterre reached its highest development at Versailles; this inspired many other similar parterres throughout Europe) of Claude Desgotz.
IN THE study of French art, the golden age of “le grand monarch,” “Ie roi soleil,” Louis XIV tends to overshadow by its very brilliance the arts of the earlier epochs. The famous School of Fontainebleau established by Francis I, for example, remains relatively obscure, and because of the subsequent changes in taste, mere vestiges remain to describe its contribution to French culture.
And so it is too with much of the art of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Louis XIV’s academies of art established an impressive grandeur for the face of France, but in so doing, sources of inspiration were often lost. The arts of “le grand siecle” did not spring forth full blown as Athena from the head of Zeus, but, on the contrary, were based upon principles established during the vital formative years preceding, and particularly under the reigns of Henry IV, Marie de Medicis, and Louis XIII. The period of Henry IV was in truth an age of magnificent contradiction-a time of order and chaos, upheaval and tranquility, tradition and change, reason and superstition, elegance and vulgarity-inhabited by a race of men as much cutthroat as cavalier. Seldom has history produced a period of such inequalities. Rarely has a society of such wealth on one hand and such poverty on the other existed in a system that mixed primitive simplicity with extravagant formality-and never questioned the incongruity.
But if contradiction was the way of the world, versatility was the ideal toward which all the world was striving. A man prided himself on being a
swordsman as well as a sonneteer, and to the poet-knight grace in the dance counted no less than bravery on the battlefield. Is it any wonder that in looking at portraits of men of this time we encounter difficulty in recognizing their essential qualities? It is hard to find distinctions amongst a group
Excerpts Jacques Boyceau and the French Formal Garden by Franklin Hamillton Hazlehurst / Rb Private Library and Public Domain