Villard de Honnecourt

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b. c. 1200 Honnecourt-sur-Escaut, near Cambrai, France
d. mid-13th century (?) France
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French architect-engineer.
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Villard was one of the thirteenth-century architect-engineers who were responsible for the design and construction of the great Gothic cathedrals and other churches of the time. Their responsibilities covered all aspects of the work, including (in the spirit of the Roman architect Vitruvius) the invention and construction of mechanical devices. In their time, these men were highly esteemed and richly rewarded, although few of the inscriptions paying tribute to their achievements have survived. Villard stands out among them because a substantial part of his sketchbook has survived, in the form of thirty-three parchment sheets of drawings and notes, now kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Villard's professional career lasted roughly from 1225 to 1250. As a boy, he went to work on the building of the Cistercian monastery at Vaucelles, not far from Honnecourt, and afterwards he was apprenticed to the masons' lodge at Cambrai Cathedral, where he began copying the drawings and layouts on the tracing-house floor. All his drawings are, therefore, of the plans, elevations and sections of cathedrals. These buildings have long since been destroyed, but his drawings, perhaps among his earliest, bear witness to their architecture. He travelled widely in France and recorded features of the great works at Reims, Laon and Chartres. These include the complex system of passageways built into the fabric of a great cathedral; Villard comments that one of their purposes was "to allow circulation in case of fire".
Villard was invited to Hungary and reached there c. 1235. He may have been responsible for the edifice dedicated to St Elizabeth of Hungary, canonized in 1235, at Kassa (now Košice, Slovakia). Villard probably returned to France c. 1240, at least before the Tartar invasion of Hungary in 1241.
His sketchbook, which dates to c. 1235, stands as a memorial to Villard's skill as a draughtsman, a student of perspective and a mechanical engineer. He took his sketchbook with him on his travels, and used ideas from it in his work abroad. It contains architectural designs, geometrical constructions for use in building, surveying exercises and drawings for various kinds of mechanical devices, for civil or military use. He was transmitting details from the highly developed French Gothic masons to the relatively underdeveloped eastern countries. The notebooks were annotated for the use of pupils and other master masons, and the notes on geometry were obviously intended for pupils. The prize examples are the pages in the book, clearly Villard's own work, related to mechanical devices. Whilst he, like many others of the period and after, played with designs for perpetual-motion machines, he concentrated on useful devices. These included the first Western representation of a perpetualmotion machine, which at least displays a concern to derive a source of energy: this was a water-powered sawmill, with automatic feed of the timber into the mill. This has been described as the first industrial automatic power-machine to involve two motions, for it not only converts the rotary motion of the water-wheel to the reciprocating motion of the saw, but incorporates a means of keeping the log pressed against the saw. His other designs included water-wheels, watermills, the Archimedean screw and other curious devices.
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Bibliography
Of several facsimile reprints with notes there are Album de Villard de Honnecourt, 1858, ed. J.B.Lassus, Paris (repr. 1968, Paris: Laget), and The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, 1959, ed. T.Bowie, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Further Reading
J.Gimpel, 1977, "Villard de Honnecourt: architect and engineer", The Medieval Machine, London: Victor Gollancz, ch. 6, pp. 114–46.
——1988, The Medieval Machine, the Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, London.
R.Pernord, J.Gimpel and R.Delatouche, 1986, Le Moyen age pour quoi fayre, Paris.
KM / LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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