FRÉART, Roland, sieur de CHAMBRAY. ~ Idée de la perfection de la peinture demonstrée par les principes de l’art, et par des exemples conformes aux observations que Pline et Quintilien ont faites sur les plus célèbres tableaux des anciens peintres, mis en paralèlle à quelques ouvrages de nos meilleurs peintres modernes, Leonard de Vinci, Raphael, Jules Romain, et le Poussin. Le Mans: Jacques Ysambart, 1662.
4to (220 × 160 mm), pp. , 134, , complete with blank leaf [A4], woodcut and typographical ornaments. Light stain to blank lower margins of first 4 leaves (including title) and some very light browning towards the end, deleted early ownership inscription to title. Contemporary red morocco, gilt, panelled spine with 5 raised bands, gilt edges. Rubbed, but still a handsome copy.
First edition, rare, of the first systematic theoretical treatise on painting in France by a friend and patron of Nicolas Poussin. No-one before Chambray had had attempted to establish the intellectual foundations of the art of painting, or the permanent and universal criteria for judging pictures. Earlier or contemporary writings such as those by Hilaire Pader, Abraham Bosse, Abbot de Marolles, Félibien or even Dufresnoy do not share either its systematic or quasi-doctrinal qualities.
‘[Fréart’s] ideas on art were crystallised in the Idée de la perfection de la peinture, published in 1662. Chambray intended this as a rule book for art and a guide for contemporary painters. He emphasized the importance of strict, rigorous geometry as truth in art. The Idée served as a manifesto against the sensual and the purely visual, as opposed to intellectual, in painting. Chambray was devoted to the art of Poussin, in which he saw the perfect realization of the classical ideal. He strongly criticized Michelangelo for what he considered extravagant and capricious compositions; he also condemned Rubens, Caravaggio, Tintoretto and Veronese for encouraging a libertine art’ (Grove).
The work refers extensively to Marcontonio Raimondi's engravings of Raphael’s Judgement of Paris, Massacre of the Innocents and Deposition from the Cross, even then described by him as ‘rares et curieuses’, and he recommends the reader furnish himself with copies of these prints in order to follow his argument. It considers in turn the five fundamental principles that the Ancients apparently observed, and that Chambray finds in Junius’ De pictura, as follows: the invention, the proportion, the couleur, the mouvements and the collocation. It begins with a glossary of terms: Estampe, Tramontains, Esleve, Esquisse, Attitude, Pellegrin.
Fréart de Chambray (1606–1676), a close friend of Nicolas Poussin and brother of his patron, sent the painter a copy in Rome and he was thanked in a letter in 1665: ‘I am delighted that you were the first one in France to have opened the eyes of those who until then had only seen through the eyes of others’. Fréart de Chambray was a major artistic influence at the court of Louis XIV and had already published in French works of Euclid Palladio, Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci. The Idée was translated into English by John Evelyn as An Idea of the Perfection of Painting in 1668.
This copy is from the collection of French novelist André Malraux (1901-76), with a pencil note to that effect.
Outside continental Europe OCLC records copies at BL, Courtauld, University of Exeter (UK), MFA Boston and there are also copies in Cambridge University Library National Gallery of Art (Washington) and Getty.