# THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 14 /// The Textual-Sonic Landscapes of Jacques Perret’s Des Fortifications et Artifices by Morgan N.


This week’s guest writer’s essay brings us about four hundreds years ago around an architecture treatise written by Jacques Perret of Chambéry during the French Renaissance. This essay’s author is my friend Morgan N. who gives us a preview of his research he is currently overtaking for his PhD at Harvard. Beyond his scholar rigor, Morgan interprets J.Perret’s work in a very poetic attempt to mix religion/politics, space and sound. The Textual-Sonic Landscapes that he evokes are in fact a construction based on the political context J.Perret, as a Calvinist was experiencing at his time, and his mysterious drawings of citadels in which a layer of fortification is composed by nothing else than the words of a psalm (see the picture above). This confusion of signified, signifier and mysticism has something that intuitively makes me think of another religion, Judaism, and more specifically to the Kaballah. However, since Morgan attaches more importance to the sort of incantation of the psalm as a sound -the psalm being a song- than its written version, it also makes me relate to an episode of the Bible (which I wrote about a long time ago): the battle of Jericho. In fact, in this story the sound was not what protected the city but rather what destroyed its fortifications. This apparent contradiction appears to me for what words are, weapons that can be used defensively or offensively.

I am now doing what I do best, digressions but Morgan introduces himself his text in the following text, and is even kind enough to compare his work with mine for their similarity of envisioning architecture as inherently political, if not militarized. If this thesis is accurate, it is thus not surprising that we are able to observe it for any historical era.

The Funambulist Papers 14 /// The Textual-Sonic Landscapes of Jacques Perret’s Des Fortifications et Artifices

by Morgan N.

It’s exciting to contribute to the dialogue here because—despite our divergent historical interests—I feel a strong intellectual kinship with the editor of this blog. Rendered in striking graphic form and rife with modernist literary references, the editor’s recent design research on architecture in the West Bank explores the full range of oppressive and emancipatory potentials in an aesthetics of militarization. We must of course heed the warning (pace Baudrillard) that an aestheticization of war runs the risk of dulling the senses to the reality of violence. Yet it’s equally disempowering—especially for the disempowered—to reduce this violence to the mechanics of technical reason. War from the beginning is aesthetic: for the complicit it’s mediated by political propaganda; for the traumatized victim, it’s fought on a psychological, as well as a physical, battlefield. If our poetic relation to war forms our escapist habits, I believe it also bears the potential to catalyze emancipatory action.

Here I bring this theoretical position to bear on my own research on the Renaissance. As an historian I’m committed to the view that aesthetic experiences are not identical at all times and places. Scholars of the early modern period have demonstrated that, before the mass proliferation of printed texts after the eighteenth century, the act of reading was a far different practice than the private, silent, and comparatively passive absorption of texts now taken for granted. During the Renaissance, texts were not only largely read aloud—in the long tradition of oral recitation and even by solitary readers—but reading itself was considered a holistic bodily practice, which could affect physical health and profoundly alter the passions.[1] Just as digital media has transformed modern communication, the clash of print in the Renaissance with an older oral/aural culture opened new fields of artistic experimentation. I will explore these now-largely forgotten modes of sensory experience, as they intersectedwith a particularly horrific chapter of early modern history, through the lens of a late-Renaissance treatise: Jacques Perret of Chambéry’s, Des fortifications et artifices. Architecture et perspective.[2]

Published three years after the 1598 proclamation of the Edict of Nantes, which granted unprecedented legal recognition to Huguenot communities, Fortifications was one of a handful of French military-architectural publications to emerge during the Wars of Religion.[3] Its author was a member of the minor nobility in Chambéry, Savoy and, as early as 1568, also a “lecteur ès arts d’arithmétique et géométrie” at a Jesuit college in that city. Coats of arms on many of Fortifications’ illustrations suggest the author’s probable affinity with a famous Huguenot family.[4] The treatise consists of seventeen sections, presenting urban and architectural designs of progressively greater size and complexity. Included are three citadels and two full-fledged urban plans (all in the form of regular polygons, ranging from five to twenty-three bastions), three Protestant temples, and various houses, châteaux, and a great royal pavilion. Every architectural structure comes illustrated in both plan and “perspective” (what would now be called axonometic) form, to constitute a total of twenty-four plates.

Yet this apparent overall unity between word and image has perhaps contributed to the almost total scholarly neglect of among the most eccentric and insistent elements of Perret’s illustrations. On Fortifications’ frontispiece, as well as on each “perspective” illustration, lie strings of religious inscriptions which curiously bear no explanation in the primary text. Psalms trace the sides geometric fortresses; religious admonitions flutter on the frontispiece; verses from Matthew and Ezekiel frame entire plates.

Frontispiece (see also the citadel at the head of the article)

Despite their constant presence, however, these words draw a puzzling blank in the foremost modern literature on the treatise.[5] And their disappearance in later editorial iterations merits little more notice.[6]

How can inscriptions of such apparent centrality to Fortifications—whose removal significantly reconfigures the appearance and distorts the meaning of the original work—become as good as invisible to modern eyes? A closer look at these inscriptions, I argue, allows us access to an oral religious and political tradition, where sound (spoken and sung) constituted a Calvinist means of constructing societies, as well as defining and demarcating territories. Perret’s cities demand—literally—to be heard.

 Walls of sound



Encircling the most elaborate of Fortifications’ five fortresses—a regular polygonal city defended by twenty-three bastions, crowned with a pentagonal citadel, and replete with religious, civic, and domestic structures—is a Psalm which encapsulates a Calvinist conception of society, sound and space.

Twenty-three-bastioned city, with Psalm 117.

The inclusion of this Psalm 117 into the Genevan Catechism’s 1545 Action de graces aprės le repas would have burned these two lines into the consciousness of French-speaking Protestants.[8] Its regular phenomenological iteration as ritual song before the communal breaking of bread committed the Psalm to individual and social memory through melody, language, public performance, and its relation to bodily sustenance. On a broader scale, the Psalm meshed with a theological conception of geographical conquest. In his commentary on the verses, John Calvin exhorts readers to take seriously the words that “toutes nations” will resound in praises to the true God: while not all Gentiles would become believers, those who did would “be spread over the whole world.”[9] By their daily chanting or reading these verses, the Huguenots would enter into literal harmony with a physically expansive community of believers, as well as with the natural landscape itself.

Given this theological framework, it’s interesting to note the relation—or lack thereof—between Perret’s structures and their surrounding contexts. Successful fortification treatises, such as the much-consulted works of Francesco de’ Marchi and Jean Errard, were not merely theoretical exercises: their idealized geometric principles had to be adaptable to the specificities of real sites.[10] But Perret explicitly distinguishes his own work from these treatises: “Pour ce que plusiers ont écrit des principes de géométrie, fortifications, architecture et perspective, je n’en met point en ce livre.”[11]Despite their formal similarities with Perret’s structures, Errard’s fortresses are emphatically planted in real physical space.

Fortress from Jean Errard’sLa fortification réduicte en art (1600).

Perret’s fortified cities instead appear to float on the paper’s surface, describing an alternative religious “geography.” They recall Calvin’s Neoplatonic commentary on Psalm 117, which describes a nature that, despite its insentience, seems to speak. For if “rational creatures” sing verbal praises, the “Holy Spirit elsewhere calls upon the mountains, rivers, trees, rain, winds, and thunder, to resound the praises of God, because all creation silently proclaims him to be its Maker.”[12] For modern readers, the highly regularized “ideal” cities of the Fortifications may appear to be technical drawings, albeit of high aesthetic value, but for Huguenot readers of the time, these structures—coupled with the surrounding sacred inscriptions—would have conveyed an entirely different emotive meaning. Calvin deliberately rejected dry academicism, placing music at the heart of his theology for its power in aiding the subjective internalization of the Word.[13]

This understanding of Perret’s architectural and urban design is enriched by scholarship from the past decades on the French Wars of Religion. Seven of Perret’s twenty-four inscriptions borrow from the Psalms, using text co-translated into French by poet Clément Marot and theologian Theodore Beza for widely-circulated Calvinist Psalters.[14] The remaining scriptural or popular-religious inscriptions all possess an incantatory quality.[15] Barbara Diefendorf has shown that Psalm-singing played a central role in crafting a complex militarized Huguenot identity: scriptural meditation both steeled the persecuted in the face of mass slaughter, as well as called the faithful to violent arms. Bloody events throughout the late sixteenth century, such as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, prompted profusions of verse that came to terms with seemingly senseless violence by stressing God’s omnipotence and mercy.[16]Perret works within this tradition, by framing his opening fortress illustration with Psalm 91, whose verses describe God as the believer’s “fort lieu” and “haulte tour et fondement.”

Cross-shaped citadel, with Psalm 91.

If the Psalms’ “martial imagery” carried “special resonance” for Huguenots—presenting a “Lord God of Armies” and “God of vengeance”[17]—Perret envisions his ideal political authorities as instruments of this warlike Providence.

Frontispiece detail, showing the Siege of Paris.

On a profound phenomenological and psychological level, communal song for oppressed communities has the power to dismantle and reconfigure their perception of given reality—a process one literary critic, describing wartime physical and emotional trauma, has called the “making and unmaking of the world.”[18] This practice is no mere historical relic: there’s a kinship between Huguenot Psalm-singing and episodes in modern history—such as the American Abolitionist campaigns and the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s—where hymns and folk music played pivotal roles in community-formation, resistance, and action against the prevailing political and cultural establishments. Ringed around pictures of towns, temples, and homes, Perret’s sacred text gestures toward a sonorous psychodynamic architectural conception, in which Godly sound wells up in all spheres of private and public life, affirming a spiritual self undaunted by bodily mortality.

This imperative necessarily leads to a conflict with the majority religion, and raises the issue of urban contestation as a force shaping the city’s form. As Natalie Zemon Davis has shown in her pioneering studies of Lyon, Protestants rejected the Catholic conception of sacred geography, which invested determinate sites with ritual power. Catholic Lyonnais processions stopped at the hill of Fourvière, and at the Saône and Rhône rivers, to perform miracles in remembrance of saints and their miracles; once the Protestants overtook the city in 1562, their iconoclastic acts purged these physical sites of their ritual significance.[19] Protestants rationalized the city’s ad hoc medieval clutter, where mercantile stalls abutted churches, into an open infrastructure, “more uniform and available for exchange, traffic and human communication.”[20]

But they didn’t eliminate all ritual. Scholars have noted formal similarities between Perret’s designs and Henry IV’s Baroque planning of Paris; but more significant is how Fortifications’ cities are also conceived as spiritual settings for ceremonial processions. Perret’s pure radial plans create a space perfectly choreographed for the easy movement of Protestant worshippers, whose songs could spread unimpeded through the all the cities’ streets. Documents testify to how Protestant Psalm-singing, piercing through church walls, scandalized nearby Catholics in Paris[21] and Uzès[22]; or how it attended anti-clerical processions through Lyon.[23] Singing transformed and sanctified the physical reality of the city, just as the quoted texts transform and sanctify Perret’s printed illustrations.

The attentiveness to the sonorous aspects of religious practice did not merely concern phenomenological experience. It delineated borders, as an assertion of disciplining power in a Foucauldian sense—much as the rhythm of pealing bells created the “soundscapes” that regulated urban space in late-medieval and early-Renaissance cities such as Florence.[24] Sound, especially sound with religious associations, was a defining feature of early modern territoriality, and something that the original readers of Perret’s treatise would have taken for granted.

Open eyes and ears

How might we relate these issues to the more traditional art/architectural-historical interest in visual representation? At first glance, the use of abstract axonometric and orthographic illustrations might seem, to quote Louis Marin, to provide the early modern subject a “total, exhaustive, synoptic,” rational-scientific gaze.[25] But Perret’s text suggests a far more complex relationship between vision and spirituality.

In Fortifications this vision operates on multiple scales. Within his all-important temples, the layout of seats allows all to observe and hear the preacher, with benches “l’un sur l’autre touchant la muraille en manière de théâtre.”[26]All congregants would thus have physical access to the sacred.

Small and medium sized churches from Perret’s Fortifications.

On a larger scale, each of Perret’s full-fledged city designs include citadels a full fathom (approx. 2 meters) “plus haute que ceux de la ville pour mieux la dominer.”[27] Perret’s desire to provide civic authority with this militarily strategic vantage point seems to spring from a Calvinist conception of spiritual discipline. For Calvinist ecclesiastics, the shaping of moral societies and individuals depended on total visual and spiritual vigilance—involving the mutual exposure of sin among neighbors, consistorial admonition, and the enforcement of moral order in secular penal courts.[28] Indeed, Perret’s inclusion of Psalmic musical references throughout runs in parallel to this aim, as the eradication of secular verse, ornate instrumental music, and carnivalesque merrymaking constituted a central preoccupation of such Huguenot authorities.[29]

When Perret points to his own achievement—in showing “le plan & la perspective” of his pious structures “tant du dehors que du dedans”[30]—a sense of the spiritual investment in such representation may be gleaned from illustrations like Frans Hogenberg’s famous Iconoclasm series, completed sometime before 1590.

Frans Hogenberg, scene from Iconoclasm, late sixteenth century.

In an image depicting the 1566 Protestant takeover in Antwerp, the viewer’s sense of the church’s purification is enhanced by the imaginary removal of the structure’s façade. Just as the faithful citizens of Antwerp pulled away the debased Catholic encrustations of ornament and sculpture to reveal the church in its purest form, this schematic removal of the building’s foremost visual barrier invites the sympathetic viewer to see the structure with total clarity. As such, it recalls the actual act of peeling off architectural layers, such as the rood screen, that had hindered the congregation’s access to the choir. Perret’s open plan temples, their roofs (representationally) removed, functions similarly. Just as a Huguenot reader might automatically hum the melodies of the Psalms encircling the illustrations, he could also enter these paper churches into communion with imaginary congregants singing the same verses.

Recent writing on the Kleinarchitekturen and micro-architectures of the Renaissance offers additional interpretive possibilities.[31] The object-like quality of Fortifications’ paper buildings points to the author’s actual use of scale models in the design process. Perret explains the aesthetic and practical value: for “le modelle accomply…le plus petit est le plus plaisant & commode.” His book itself is a corollary of his models, for these “ne sont pas plus grands que leurs perspectives.”[32] Such miniaturized materializations of Protestant temples, I argue, would call to mind a particular Catholic antithesis: the reliquary. These gilded, bejeweled objects were frequently crafted in the shape of churches, or with architectonic elements that echoed other ecclesiastical Kleinarchitekturen such as pulpits.[33]

French 13th century chasse reliquary of Saint Taurin, Évreux.

perspectives of Perret’s “‘small temple.”’

Northern Renaissance paintings, such as Jan van Eck’s Madonna in the Church, oftendepicted churches in compressed scale, so that their saintly figures seem to inhabit miniaturized buildings.

Jan van Eyck’s Madonna in the Church, c. 1437-39.

Such works, as Zemon Davis explains, embodied a Catholic view that “the sacred could be enclosed in a thing—in a host, in a bone, in a building, in a piece of land.”[34]But by presenting his temples as models constructed of humble materials (wood and cardboard) and assembled as separable floors,[35] Perret explodes the mystic power imputed to the precious reliquary. He lays their interiors to full view, as if to purge the church-as-reliquary of its dead bodies and stone figures, and to invite faithful readers to repopulate it living, breathing, and worshiping saints.

There is, therefore, a unity of conception between the visual clarity of Perret’s representations, and his desire to invoke the aural experience of moving and worshiping through his cities. Both point to a new purified sensory space, which would actively involve the faithful worshiper. Calvinist music consisted of unadorned voices singing in unison, rather than complex instrumental arrangements. In the same way, for Perret the bodies of the congregants, whether in free-plan temples or the streets of the city—not the accessory material splendor of traditional ecclesiastical architecture—are themselves the Church (the body of Christ). The aggressive “deconstructive” acts of the iconoclastic movements—not to mention the general physical brutality experienced by both Catholics and Protestants in the late sixteenth-century—radically reconfigured their sensory experiences and psychological understanding of their world. To fully engage this lost mentalité—conveyed to us through the recalcitrant medium of print—we must also unlearn our own entrenched cultural habits.


[1] Regarding the long shift toward silent reading, see Roger Chartier, “The Practical Impact of Writing,” in A History of Private Life, v. 3: Passions of the Renaissance, ed. Roger Chartier (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 111-159; on the topic of early modern conceptions of reading and the passions, see chapter 6, “The Physiology of Reading” in Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 380-443.

[2] Jacques Perret, Des fortifications et artifices. Architecture et perspectiue de Iaques Perret. (Paris?: s.n, 1601).

[3] This contrasted with the many hundreds of fortification treatises to issue from Italy around the same time. Besides Perret’s Fortifications, the other major French military-architectural treatises of the time were Ambroise Bachot, Le Timon…joinct un traict fort utile des fortifications (1587) and

Le gouvernail…l’architecture de fortifications (1598); Claude Flamand, Le Guide des Fortifications (Montebeliard, 1597); and Jean Errard, Le Fortification reduicte en art (1600). A fuller bibliographic treatment of these works can be found in John Bury and Paul Breman, eds. Writings on Architecture, Civil and Military, c. 1460 to 1640: A Checklist of Printed Editions (Netherlands: Hes & De Graaf, 2000).

[4] On the archival evidence and the Reformation context, see Eneas Balmas, “Jacques Perret architetto riformato,” Protestantesimo 1, (1958): 22-28.

[5] Patricia O’Grady notes such changes to the de Bry edition, but concludes that this later version is “essentially faithful to Perret’s original.” Patricia Mary O’Grady, An Investigation into Jacques Perret’s “Des Fortifications Et Artifices. Architecture t Perspective.” c. 1601. (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, 1993),12-13.

[6] Enea Balmas admits that the de Bry family’s “edizione contraffatta,” printed in Frankfurt a year after Perret’s, is “infatti modificato”—even though the religious inscriptions are entirely stripped from this version. And he describes a similarly scripturally-impoverished 1620 edition a “semplice ristampa” of the original. Enea Balmas, “La citta ideale di Jacques Perret,” Studi di Letteratura francese 2 (1969):5.

[7] Perret, Fortifications, fol. 11v.

[8] A transcription of the Catechism can be found in Olivier Fatio and Pierre Fraenkel, Confessions et catéchismes de la foi réformée (Genève: Labor et Fides, 2005).

[9] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms vol.4(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 375.

[10] Francesco De’Marchi, Della Architettura militare del capitanio Francesco de Marchi,… libri tre… con un breve… trattato nel quale si dimostrano li modi del fabricar l’artigliaria (Brescia: Comino Presegni, 1599), I.i. On the formal similarities between de’Marchi and Perret’s works, especially on the inclusion of a pentagonal citadel, see Martha Pollak, Cities at War in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 65.

[11] Perret, Fortifications, fol. 8r.

[12] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms vol.4, 375.

[13] Calvin writes in the preface to his commentary that “there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.” Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol.1, 23.

[14] Natalie Zemon Davis, “Printing and the People” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 189-226

[15] Michel Jeanneret, Poésie et tradition biblique au XVIe siècle (Paris: J. Corti, 1969), 117-24.

[16] Barbara Diefendorf, “The Huguenot Psalter and the Faith of French Protestants in the Sixteenth Century,” in Culture and Identity in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800): Essays in Honor of Natalie Zemon Davis, eds. Barbara B. Diefendorf, Carla Alison Hesse and Natalie Zemon Davis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) 41-63.

[17] Diefendorf, “Huguenot Psalter,” 47.

[18] See especially Chapter 4, on the idea of bodily and emotional pain as an impetus for creative/artistic production in Judeo-Christian tradition, Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 181-278.

[19] Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Sacred and the Body Social in Sixteenth-Century Lyon,”

Past & Present 90 (February 1981): 52-67.

[20] Zemon Davis, “The Sacred and the Body Social,” 59.

[21] Natalie Zemon Davis, “City Women and Religious Change,” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France, 86.

[22] Andrew Spicer, “‘Qui est de Dieu oit la parole de Dieu’: the Huguenots and their temples,” Society and Culture in the Huguenot World, 1559-1685, 191.

[23] Natalie Zemon Davis, “Strikes and Salvation” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France, 5; Timothy Watson, “Preaching, printing, psalm-singing: the making and unmaking of the Reformed church in Lyon, 1550-1572,” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France, 17.

[24] For recent scholarship in this vein, see Niall Atkinson, Architecture, Anxiety and the Fluid Topographies of Renaissance Florence, (Ph.D. Diss., Cornell University, 2009); on clock towers in the Italian Renaissance, see Marvin Trachtenberg, Building-in-Time: From Giotto to Alberti and Modern Oblivion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[25] Louis Marin, On Representation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001); and Chapter 10 “The City’s Portrait in its Utopics” and Chapter 11 “Utopia of the Map” in Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1984) 201-37.

56 Marin, On Representation, 212.

[26] Perret, fols. 14v & 17v.

[27] Perret, folio

[28] On this subject, see chapter fourteen, “The Exercise of Discipline” in Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 460-89.

[29] See chapter two of Weeda, Le Psautier de Calvin; and Benedict, Christ’s Churches,477.

[30] Perret, folio 26r.

[31] Alina Payne, “Materiality, Crafting and Scale in Renaissance Architecture,” Oxford Art Journal 32 (2009) 365–386

[32] Perret, fol. 26r.

[343] Payne, “Materiality,” 373.

[34] Zemon Davis, “Sacred and Social Body,” 58.

[35] On extant models, which may resemble what Perret had in mind, see O’Grady, Investigation, 73-74, 155.

4 Comments on “# THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 14 /// The Textual-Sonic Landscapes of Jacques Perret’s Des Fortifications et Artifices by Morgan N.

  1. Pingback: # THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS /// Volume 1 Is Now Published by Punctum Books | The Funambulist

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