Le Jardin de Plaisir

Posted on January 19th, 2010 by Charles Boot

André Mollet, Le Jardin de Plaisir (Stockholm, 1651); a new 2-vol. edn with commentary (Uppsala: Elina Antell, 2006)

A group of Swedish researchers is currently engaged in the work of a facsimile edition of André Mollet’s well-known tract on gardening and horticulture, published in Stockholm in 1651 in parallel editions in French, Swedish and German. Each edition had its own title: in French it was Le Jardin de Plaisir, in Swedish Lustgård and in German Der Lust Gartten.

Publishing in three languages may seem odd, but French was natural, as it was the author’s native tongue, with which he turned to readers in his native country. As for German, Stockholm in the seventeenth century was a bilingual city, with a significant number of influential German burghers. While the German translator’s name, Gregorius Geijer, is known, there is no information about who did the Swedish translation, which in some sections is unclear, but which shows a desire to find expressive Swedish words for the French gardening terms. Purchasers of the book could choose for themselves which language to read. The publisher was also a bookseller and thus could offer various combinations. Preserved copies, however, are seldom complete with all three languages.

Mollet, who had been summoned to Stockholm by Queen Christina, arrived in the summer of 1648. He was already a mature man, probably in his fifties or thereabouts; his year of birth is unknown. His immediate task was to transform the park near the palace, the Kungsträdgården – which until then had been hardly more than a kitchen garden – into a royal Lustgård or pleasure garden. The main sketch of Mollet’s plan for the Kungsträdgården – and for nearby Humlegården, which was to relieve the pressure on the royal garden – can be reconstructed, but of the concrete results nothing remains. The situation for his achievements in the Netherlands and in England is somewhat similar.

Mollet’s tract provides us with a renewed opportunity to get to know him. Mollet began writing it in 1650. According to his own report, it took him six months to complete. The book’s publishing privilege, issued in the name of the queen, is dated March 1651. The printing itself was done by the Henrich Keyser printing house in Stockholm, who was the most qualified Swedish printer of the time. All the expenses were paid through government funding.

After a dedication to the queen and a foreword to other readers, the book contains eleven chapters. The first ten can be said to have been written by Mollet the gardener, as they deal with cultivation and the knowledge and practical skills needed to achieve successful results. The book’s disposition follows the traditional order. First there is a consideration of soil and soil improvement methods, followed by a chapter on the sowing and planting of trees. Fruit trees and grafting are treated in relative detail, after which there is a very short chapter on winegrowing. In the usual fashion, the plants of both the kitchen garden and the flower garden are described, followed by a discussion of ‘wild’ trees, both deciduous and coniferous, and their characteristics and use. The tenth chapter, finally, is about all the fragile plants, Seville orange trees, lemon trees, pomegranate trees, myrtle, Spanish jasmine, etc., for which protective orangeries are required. Mollet repeatedly stresses the harshness of the Nordic climate, relating, for instance, that the Seville oranges needed indoor protection during the cold summer nights and an even more robust building for the winter.

This brief account of the chapter contents does not do justice to the wealth of information provided in the compact text, particularly the descriptions of the plant material and their characteristics. The interested reader is given the opportunity to study the nomenclature in three languages. With their practical orientation, these ten chapters are addressed, according to Mollet, not only to professionals, but also to anyone who takes pleasure in gardens. However, considering that it is a garden tract from the seventeenth century, Mollet’s text is unusually brief; the French version covers no more than forty-one pages: un petit abregé de l’Agriculture. Indeed, the author stresses that additional studies may be needed. Despite its limited length, Mollet’s intent easily shines through: to convey knowledge of French gardening, adapted as far as possible to Nordic conditions. He must have found Sweden rather undeveloped, as did other foreign visitors to the country at the time, a view that undeniably was justified. It was not for another decade that the building of palaces and the planting of gardens, which was to change this impression, began in earnest.

The eleventh chapter is very different from the first ten. Dealing with the design of a pleasure garden, it is therefore the chapter that gave the book its name. Here, Mollet is not addressing general readers, but Queen Christina. A monumental pleasure garden of the kind discussed and shown in this chapter could only be a question for a sovereign. Mollet takes on the role of a garden architect, as both general planner and designer of each individual block. The gardener Mollet is also participatory, especially in his depiction of how to use the planting material described in previous chapters.

Included in this chapter are thirty copperplate engravings. Mollet states he drew the originals himself and they are indeed signed AM If: ‘André Mollet Invenit et fecit’. Working in Stockholm in accordance with Mollet’s models were also two copperplate engravers, who may have received copperplates from the Crown repository as early as December 1649. The first was Jan van de Velde, who was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and who returned to his country after his stay in Sweden, dying in Haarlem in 1686. The other, Wolfgang Hartmann, was probably from Danzig (Gdánsk), but he lived in Stockholm until his death in 1663. All of the plates are labelled in a scale of toises. According to Mollet’s own report, one toise was the equivalent of 3½ Swedish ells. The illustration material, both originals and plates, represent a considerable amount of work, making the claim that they were completed in six months rather difficult to fathom. Indeed, it is not know how much Mollet may have taken with him from France or what plans he actually had with him. The content of all thirty copperplates has been worked into the text, where their descriptions gradually develop into an overall picture of a pleasure garden. This was not an especially conventional approach, indicating a resolute desire for clarity and concretion.

The pictorial suite begins with plans for two pleasure gardens, whose task it is to show how the different sections illustrated on the plates might be merged into a complete pleasure garden. They also illustrate the relationship between palace and garden, emphasizing that certain sections of the garden were composed especially for viewing from the windows of the palace.

Several of the plates show how Mollet imagined filling the empty parterres. Two alternatives are presented in a number of variations. The fact that one of them contains boxwood is no surprise; arrangements of this kind were something of a speciality of French landscape gardening at the time. The other type is also French, compartiments de gazon, which means surfaces of grass cut into patterns and accentuated with hedges, flowers and different kinds of ground cover. The patterns are particularly impressive and probably easier to fulfil in the Nordic climate than the usual boxwood embroideries. The technique was also used in Swedish gardens, where it was called gräsritningar, ‘grass designs’. It is also worth noting the bosquets designed by Mollet as small pleasure gardens of their own, with passageways, spaces, formées en berceau and fountains. According to Mollet, gardens with this kind of dense foliage attracted birds and thus functioned as natural aviaries. The Swedish translator used the word hagegård, ‘pasture gardens’.

Mollet’s book opens with a portrait of the author’s father, Claude Mollet, who had been dead for some years, but who at one time was premier jardinier du Roi. It is a beautiful plate, engraved in Paris by another servant to the king, Michel L’asne, graveur et dessinateur ordinaire du Roi. It is easy to understand why André Mollet gave the portrait such a prominent place. He writes himself that it was intended as a commemoration to his father, who had served three French kings so well. In doing so, he also planted himself a role in the highly skilled French tradition.

What is more surprising is why the portrait was not used when Claude Mollet’s own tract was published in Paris in 1652, under the title Théâtre des plans et jardinages. This took place not only after the author’s death, but also long after the text had been written. Strangely enough, Claude Mollet’s name is not mentioned. The publisher is listed as bookseller Charles de Sercy, who also wrote the dedication to Nicolas Fouquet, owner of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The circumstances of this edition will not be further explored here. What is interesting in the context is the relation between the two tracts, especially what the son has learnt from his father.

Claude Mollet’s book is 411 pages long and contains an exceptionally broad material, of which only a small portion is given room in the work of the son. Instead, the son takes pains to consider the differences in climate between France and Sweden and to adapt his recommendations accordingly. Another long and significant passage in Claude Mollet’s work is also entirely disregarded, a section that was added to the main text and called Traicté d’Astrologie, and which describes what could be termed ‘the heavenly machinery’ – the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars, as well as changes in the air, winds and rains. All of these objects are ruled by God and every gardener must understand their meaning and yield to them. In André Mollet’s book, these ideas have been reduced to formulas mentioned in passing in connection with the phases of the moon.

Claude Mollet’s tract includes a description of the different sections of a pleasure garden and he has also let his sons draw a few examples. The text makes it clear he was not a stranger to designs on a large scale. The portrait shows him with a drawing in his hand and a pair of compasses on his desk. All three of his sons, André, Jacques and Noël, had a hand in executing the twenty-two copperplates included in the book. André was responsible for eight of them, including two proposals with vigorously expressive patterns of a kind that is not seen in his own work. As a whole, the pictorial suite is only loosely connected to the text. This may be due to the special circumstances of its publishing, but further illustrates the deliberate intention of André Mollet’s own method. None of the twentytwo plates shows how an entire garden could be designed.

Still another work that must have influenced Claude Mollet was Jacques Boyceau’s Traité du jardinage (Paris, 1638). Boyceau was a nobleman, originally an officer and later Louis XIII’s intendant des jardins du Roi, that is he was a public official and supervisor, not a gardener or architect. His text is comparatively short (eightysix pages) and more theoretically than practically orientated, concerning itself principally with the question of how the royal garden should be constructed. It is an imposing book, with the impressive format of 270 by 410 millimetres. All indications point to Mollet having been influenced by this work in both its content and design; ‘model’ is perhaps going too far, but ‘impetus’ no doubt is true. Boyceau’s tract was published posthumously by his nephew, who also signed the dedication to Louis XIII. Perhaps the author was not quite finished with his work, which would explain the lack of relation between the text and the extensive pictorial material. The latter includes fifty-four proposals for boxwood embroideries, some very large compositions (45 by 45 toises) and some smaller ones. Several are beautifully and meticulously drawn, but their detail makes them difficult or impossible to transform into reality. Some of the proposals show combinations of embroideries and compartiments de gazon. None of the plates presents a royal garden in its entirety.

In the autumn of 1653, André Mollet left Sweden. This may have been a natural measure for him to take; he had already spent several similarly brief periods in England and the Netherlands. One can also imagine that he received little support for his activities. He wished to belong to the circle of recruited scholars and artists that surrounded Queen Christina – ‘et bien que je sois un des moindres’ – but in her restless and fickle life there was little room for such significant and long-term plans as the construction of large gardens. Left behind in Stockholm was Mollet’s son Jean, who we know was involved with the park in Kungsträdgården as late as 1666. He later leased the garden at Svartsjö Castle outside Stockholm and died in 1708. Jean’s son, who changed his name to the more Swedish-sounding Johan Molett, pursued a different career as a naval officer. Raised to the nobility under the name of Stiernanckar, he lies buried in Strängnäs cathedral.

There is no information about Mollet’s whereabouts directly after he left Stockholm. Before 1658, he seems at least to have made his way to England, where there was a renewed need for representative royal environments after the Restoration. Two years later work was to begin on the garden at St James’s Palace, London, where it is known that Mollet and his nephew Gabriel were formally employed beginning in 1661.

Mollet died in London in 1665, probably from the plague. Five years later a very abbreviated version of his tract was published, now under the title of The Garden of Pleasure. It opened with a dedication, signed by Andrew Mollet, to Charles II. The preface to the general reader lacks a signature, but judging from the wording, it was written by Mollet. After this follows a tribute poem to Mollet, a man who joined a knowledge of nature with the arranging capacity of art. The poem is said to have been composed by someone named Belon. The book’s text is based for the most part on the eleventh chapter, but it contains so many changes, additions and deletions that it almost feels like a new version. The intent has been to adapt the advice and instructions to English conditions. One example is the hagegård, which was to attract both people and birds. Its wildernesses are now praised for entirely different reasons: ‘the conveniency of cool shades, under which to sit sheltered from the parching Rayes of the Sun, either for studious Retirement, or the enjoyment of Society with two or three Friends, a Bottle of Wine and a Collation’.

As before, the purpose of the text is primarily to be a commentary to the copperplates, which in this edition number thirty-six. One page shows Mollet’s design for St James’s Park, a royal garden with the unusual measurements of 50 by 200 toises. In addition, there are five more compartiments de gazon than in the original. The text of the English edition is in some respects clearer and more instructive than the older versions. It is thus well worth reading, especially in combination with one of the others. The planned facsimile edition will include the English version, with the copperplates made for it specifically.

The above account shows that Mollet’s work is of great interest to garden history research. He is far from obscure and has been referred to later by several authors. For instance, Mollet’s ideas played a part in early general works such as Der Garten from 1910 by August Grisebach and Garden Craft in Europe from 1913 by Inigo Triggs. Swedish researchers such as Nils G. Wollin and Sten Karling have concentrated great efforts on an elucidation of Mollet’s life and contributions. The text in its French version was republished in 1981 by Editions du Moniteur, with commentary by Michel Conan.

The coming edition differs, however, in that it covers his entire work and in as precise a facsimile as possible. For the reproduction of Le Jardin de Plaisir, a complete and excellently preserved copy was chosen, borrowed from the library at Skokloster Castle. It measures 250 by 400 millimetres, somewhat larger than other preserved copies, which were cut down more severely during binding. The size is thus almost as large as the work by Boyceau mentioned above; both are publications that were aimed in design to be worthy of their royal readers. Of the English edition, only a small number of copies appear to remain.

The intent has been to add detailed comments by the editors in the facsimile edition. They are of two kinds: explanations that increase the reader’s understanding of the original text and prefatory essays that describe Mollet’s work in the context of his period. Professor Göran Lindahl of Uppsala depicts the environment encountered by Mollet in Sweden, a country that had just been raised to the status of a great power through the Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648, and whose ruler was the twenty-two-year-old Queen Christina. Åke Nisbeth, custodian of antiquities in Stockholm, describes the background to Le Jardin de Plaisir, its design and the people who participated in its production. Landscape architect Kjell Lundquist of Lund gives a picture of the status of Swedish garden cultivation at the time of Mollet’s arrival and what he was able to inject by teaching about new plant materials and cultivation methods. Taking her starting point in the words of Mollet, landscape architect Anna Jakobsson of Malmö deals with the content and use of orangeries.

The publisher, designer and producer for the new edition of Mollet’s writings is Elina Antell of Uppsala. The reissue, with comments in a separate volume, is scheduled to be available in spring 2006 for approximately €100. For inquiries and preliminary booking, please contact: Elina Antell, Gyllene Snittet HB, St. Johannesgatan 23 L, SE- 753 12 Uppsala, Sweden. Tel: +46 18 60 48 75. E-mail: elina.antell@telia.com

Göran Lindahl

32:2 (Winter 2004: The Swedish Issue)

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