The topics of this blog are Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Duke of Richelieu, and the IDEAL CITY built on his command next to his magnificent CHÂTEAU on the borders of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou, in France.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

the Vitruvian townhouse or 'domus'

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c.90 - c.20 BC) is the author of the only known treatise on the art and practice of architecture coming down to us from the classical world of Rome.  He offers de Architectura to the Emperor Augustus as a summation his life-long expertise on building and construction matters, much of it learned by advising the Legions of the Empire.

It has been a book of enormous influence, as much for its rarity as its magpie contents.  It was the basis of most of the treatises of the architecture of the Italian renaissance, including the most famous and influential, I Quattro Libri dell' Architectura, (Venice 1570) of Andrea Palladio.
Regrettably all the illustrations to which the original text refers have long been lost.  So each new learned reader has tried to recreate these illustrations from the text and their own contemporary experience.

A new translation by Richard Schofield has been published by Penguin Classics.  Included is a recreation of the plan of the layout of a typical Roman house.  Surprisingly few archaeological examples of 'normal' Roman townhouses remain, even when helped by the later discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1748.

1 - entry or vestibulum
2 - entrance corridor or fauces
3 - rectangular catchment area or impluvium
4 - entry court or atrium
5 - side rooms or alae
6 - 'home office' or tablinum
7 - corridor or andron
8 - colonnaded courtyard or peristylium
9 - open faced room or exhedra

While the houses at Richelieu are clearly derived from the traditional French early renaissance hôtels of the 16th century, there is no mistaking the new influence of these Roman models, with their deep plots arranged side by side, their high boundary walls, their double courtyard format, their use of what the French call dépendances or side extensions, or the fact that private life is led deep within the layered plan.

Every aspect of the cardinal's ambitions for the town drew on the Roman Example to reflect and encourage a new
Golden Age.

The Rome of Augustus recreated for the glory of Louis XIII 
and his First Minister

Armand-Jean d P 


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