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Mapping River and City in France, 1600–1640

Tom Conley, Harvard University, Fellow 2015–2016

At the forefront of the research stands completion of a book-length project that includes chapters on the theory and practice of the garden at the beginning of the Bourbon Monarchy (roughly, 1594–1610). The guiding hypothesis was—and still is—that, rife with contradiction as it must be, the ideology of the French nation under une loy, une foi, un roy owed to the reshaping of economic policy in agronomy and the design of chateaus and their gardens. Given the uncommonly pertinent resources in the Special Collections, under guidance of Linda Lott, research was devoted to praedial writings and garden design in the context of domestic architecture.

I undertook a protracted study of Olivier de Serres’s Théâtre d’agriculture et mesnage des champs (1600) that witnessed about thirty re-editions throughout the seventeenth century, was revived in the early years of the Napoleonic regime, and came forward once again during the occupation of France (1940–1944) before witnessing a re-edition in 2001. Its fortune demonstrates how, in the century in which it was first to flourish, Serres’s treatise not only meshed with the “Protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism” but also served the centralizing designs of state reason (raison d’état); how, later, it gained populist appeal; then how, under Philippe Pétain, whose correspondence with the Bliss family (ca. 1927–December 1940) is revealing, its revival was engineered to embody the ethic of travail et patrie; and how, read again (in the current of Pierre Lieutaghi’s ample introduction), it now serves economy and ecology. Serres has become so central to the project that an anthology of the thousand-page treatise in English translation may be pitched for a collection under the Dumbarton emblem.

Because Serres establishes garden policy, I worked through architectural treatises (Philibert Delorme and Jacques Androuet du Cerceau) in which the parterre belongs to a highly motivated application of design theory. Mobilizing Cartesian logic, it figures in a shift by which, given the arrival of material from newly discovered lands, the medicinal garden gives way to a botanical counterpart—what might be imagined as outdoor Wunderkammern. For this aspect of the research, I consulted the holdings of brodeurs Pierre Vallet and André Mollet. On this point, more is to follow. In sum, what was envisioned to be a chapter may now become a book.