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Villard De Honnecourt


(b. Honnecourt, Picardy, France, Ca. 1990), Architecture.

Villard de Honnecourt (who signed himself Wilars de Honecourt) wrote the most important known medieval source by an artist, the Bauhüttenbuch (Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, MS fr. 19093) between about 1225 and 1235. Only thirtythree of the more than fifty parchment folios that he carried with him for years have been preserved. In 207 pen-and-ink drawings Villard brought together models for every type of worker enrolled in a builders’ guild: architectural motifs, elements of the applied arts, machines, figures for sculpture and painting, proportion diagrams, and basic construction aids. He later added a detailed title, chapter headings, and long commentaries in the manner of illustrated treatises prepared by builders’ guilds. Hence it was not a mere “album” (Quicherat, 1849) or “sketchbook” (Willis, 1859) but, rather, a lodgebook.

Villard’s technical expressions are generally the oldest in Old French and the Picard dialect; moreover, they are the only ones that are illustrated and thus can be determined precisely. The master speaks directly to his students, often expressing the most personal value judgments of the Middle Ages. Thus, he sketched the classical window at Rheims (20b)1 “because I loved it above all else” ; at Laon, “a tower such as I was in many lands” (18), and a lectern “of the best kind I know” (13). Two successors in his guild (known as Master 2 and Master 3) completed the book with expert additions and extracts from other technical treatises.

Villard’s sketches of the most important structures of the time allow us to follow his wanderings. He must have been born around 1190 at Honnecourt, for he drew the ground plan of the neighboring Cistercian abbey of Vaucelles (33a)—where he was undoubtedly a student—and later, with his neighbor Pierre de Corbie, developed a plan for a similar church (29a). At Chartres he sketched the west rose window (30c); at Laon, the west tower (18-19) of the cathedral; at Cambrai, the floor plans (28c); and at Rheims, the completed and planned structural members (20, 30, 60-64). On his way to Hungary, where he had been summoned by the Cistercians and “where I long remained,” he sketched an ideal plan for a church of the order (28b) and the south rose window of the Lausanne cathedral (31a). In the Cistercian cloister at Pilis, Laszlo Gerevich discovered floorboards like those Villard sketched in Hungary;2 and thus it is probable that he was engaged in building churches there and in constructing the tomb of Queen Agnes, who was murdered in 1213.

Important individual Christian and allegorical figures drawn by Villard have been presented, as have scenes of the Passion and of martyrdom, purely secular scenes, and complicated studies of movements. The Muldenfaltenstil (style of deeply molded drapery folds) that Villard employs, which has its origins in antiquity, belongs to the classical transitional phase between high Romanesque and early Gothic that predominated from 1210 to 1235, especially at Rheims. Villard, in fact, borrowed a great number of examples from antiquity, including four partially draped nudes, a Roman tomb, lion fights, and lion-taming. On the other hand, his nature studies, including birds and a lion peint al vif, are unique.

Villard’s automatons derive in part from ancient sources, such as the spherical handwarmer (17d) and the magic fountain, and in part from Indian and Arabic sources, such as the perpetuum mobile. Of fundamental importance is his chapter on portraiture, in which he develops Gothic figures from abstract directrixes or geometric diagrams. His work on masonry contains the basic construction aids used by masons, such as tierspoint and quint-point, which are estraites de iométrie, and—drawn from ancient sources—the fundamental procedures of bisecting the square and the circle (Plato), the Archimedean spiral, and altimetry of the Roman land surveyors. Consideration of Villard’s sketches of the lectern, clock tower, and perpetuum mobile makes it possible to determine the laws of construction through which the medieval builders concretized their conceptual images.


1. The numbers in parentheses refer to the plates in both of Hahnloser’s eds. of Villard’s MS.

2. Laszlo Gerevich, “Villard de Honnecourt in Ungarn,” in Müvészettörténeti értesitö., 20 (1971), 81–104, with German abstract, 104–105.


I. Original Works. Eds. of Villard’s Bauhüttenbuch are by J. B. A. Lassus and A. Darcel, Album de Villard de Honnecourt, architecte du XIIIe siécle (Paris, 1858), the 1st illustrated ed., with engraved plates; R. Willis, Facsimile of the Sketch-Book of Wilars de Honecort (London, 1859), translated from the Lasuss ed., with many additional notes and articles and the same plates—a much improved ed.; H. Omont, Album de Villard de Honnecourt, architecte du XIIIe siècle (Paris, n.d. [1906]; 2nd ed., 1927), earliest eds. with photographic repros. but no comments; H. R. Hahnloser, Villard de Honnecourt, kritische Gesamtausgabe des Bauhüttenbuches MS fr. 19093 der Pariser Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, 1935), the 1st complete ed., with German trans., glossary, and complete bibliography; the 2nd ed. (Graz-Vienna, 1972), an offprint of the 1st ed. contains many new notes and plates; and T. R. Bowie, The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt (Bloomington, Inc., 1959), with a few comments—a 2nd ed. (1962) gives the plates in iconographical order.

II. Secondary Literature. See J. Quicherat, “Notice sur I’album de Villard de Honnecourt, architecte du XIIIe siècle,” in Revue archéologique, 6 (1849), 65–80, 164–188, 211–216, and pls. 116–118, which contains important comments; and N. X. Willemin and A. Pottier, Monuments français inédits pour servir à l’histoire des arts, 1 (Paris, 1825), 62 and pl. 106, only a few preliminary notes.

H. R. Hahnloser

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"Villard De Honnecourt." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Villard Honnecourt

Villard Honnecourt or Wilars de Honnecourt or Honecort (c.1175–c.1240). French master-mason and author of the most important and wide-ranging medieval architectural treatise to survive, the so-called Lodge Book, apparently designed to assist apprentices and others. It includes sections on architecture, machinery, figures, sculpture, theory, and drawings of animals. Now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, the Lodge Book contains plans of actual buildings as well as unrealized designs. He seems to have worked at Cambrai, Lausanne, Meaux, St-Quentin, and the Cistercian Church at Vaucelles, and also ventured into Central Europe, where he may have taken part in design-work at Pilis, near Esztergom, Hungary (c.1220). During his travels he recorded buildings and details he had seen, including works at Chartres, Laon, and Rheims. Paul Frankl has gone so far as to dub Villard the ‘Gothic Vitruvius’.


Barnes (1982);
Bechmann (1991);
Bowie (ed.) (1968);
Bucher (1979);
Frankl (1960, 2000);
Hahnloser (1937);
Recht (ed.) (1989);
Jane Turner (1996)

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"Villard Honnecourt." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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