CLAUDE-NICOLAS LEDOUX, El teatre de Besançon
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

"Coup-d'oeil du Théatre de Besançon", of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s book, L'architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art des moeurs et de la législation, 1804.

In his text, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux says: In order to be a good architect…one must be able to read in the vast circle of human affection ... To establish the effects so that posterity need not be censured / condemned , the look of the architect is more important than you think ... What good is knowledge if it doesn’t make the man better?Usually it generates skeptics, who sow doubt and uncertainty ... Why do we insist on learning the irrelevant, that what one is often obliged to forget? ... Oh, God of good taste, thus you allow that your sanctuary is profaned...

After an analysis of common defects of theaters, he talks about how street shows are made in the street: all around the actors, in a circle. He speaks about the importance of the circle in Nature: Everything in nature is a circle: the falling stone spreads indefinite circles in the water; the centripetal force is fought constantly by a tumbling movement, the air and sea move in permanent circles ... In this vast theater ...of circles inside circles, is where it joins the secret of the gods ... the triumph of sensations, the rendezvous of sexes and ages, a village made up of hundreds of different villages, the meeting point of the respective human rights. That’s why he draws the orchestra as a circle around the actors.

In the book, Ledoux shows drawings of the plans, a perspective of the facade and an "elevation", the one shown here. To understand it, maybe we should go back to its origins.

In Greek, the word theatre means observe and drama means action. From here, the theatre is where action happens and where this action can be seen. Despite the Greek origin of the terms, in the history and theory of the French theatre, the drama is born in the second half of the eighteenth century, during the times of Ledoux. It arises as a reaction to the opposition between tragedy and comedy, to unite the opposites, in the name of truth and life. To the aesthetics of purity, the drama opposes the intensity; to the harmony of the unity, it opposes the sharpness of variety; to the sober lines, the strength of tones, the perfection of art, the complexity of life (Paris, Armand Colin, 1973, pp. 8-9).

The drama is a bourgeois product, made for an audience that is not of the aristocracy at Versailles. The change in audience and taste would influence the renewal of the theatre.
Initially, the drama took the stage in the boulevards and provinces, with an audience little sensitive to the literary aspects. The first objective of the drama was to bring the truth to the scene. Not an abstract truth but the concrete, particular, quotidian, trivial and imperfect truth of the existence. Denis Diderot, in his Enciclopedie Francaise, said the perfection of a show consists in such an accurate imitation of an action, that the viewer, deceived, without interruption, imagines attending the action himself (p. 25). The theater must go towards transparency and perfection is its disappearance. According to that, the scene is an extension of the room, a place where an episode of everyday life develops.

Returning to the drawing, the theater (see-observe) is an eye in which the public is seen. The room itself can be seen (which is exactly the one in the project). A light that illuminates the audience emerges out of the eye…the light of the audience illuminates the audience itself…The audience goes to the theatre on order to see itself.

Recommended bibliography :
- Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, L'architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art des moeurs et de la législation, 1804 (see Lenoir's edition, 1847)
- Emil Kaufmann, "Claude Nicolas Ledoux, a Pioner of Modern Architecture in the Eighteenth Century", Parnassus, vol. 8, n. 5, 1936, pp. 16-18
- Helen Rosenau, "Claude Nicolas Ledoux", The Burllington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 88, n. 520, 1946, pp. 162-168.
- Emil Kaufmann, Three revolutionary architects: Boullée, Ledoux and Lequeu , 1952, 1978
- Marc Grignon y Juliana Maxim, "Convenance, Caractère, and Public Sphere", The Journal of the Architectural Historians, vol. 49, n. 1, 1995, pp. 29-37.

© of Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (ETSAV), UPC.

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