In his study of the Flemish Renaissance Revival in Belgium between 1830 and 1930, Alfred Willis, in a somewhat disgruntled tone, calls A.G.B. Schayes’s Mémoire sur l’architecture ogivale ‘a good example of how a written “history” of architecture can (must?) be no more than a fictionalization of the real history of that architecture, fabricated according to the ideological orientation of a writer and of the cause of which he is occasionally a partisan’. He goes on to point to Auguste Schoy, who ‘later fabricated a “history” of Flemish Renaissance architecture’, which presented this style as fundamentally native in much the same way in which Schayes seemed to have considered the Gothic (Willis 1984). The obviously biased nature of such written and illustrated histories of architecture, which Willis highlights, is at the core of our present inquiry. With the works of Antoine Guillaume Bernard Schayes (1808–59) and Auguste Schoy (1838–85), Willis names two of the canonical texts of 19th-century Belgian architectural historiography, which have occasionally been quoted by later authors, but which have hardly received scholarly attention. The architectural histories written by Schayes around 1850 and by Schoy in the 1870s — their texts and illustrations, and their interaction with other publications and collections of images — are interesting cases, which give rise to a broader reflection on the (pre)history of architectural history as a discipline.

In studying two 19th-century publications we dive into the pre-disciplinary era of architectural history, in which neither science nor scholarship, nor, for that matter, (architectural) history was yet clearly defined. If we take a discipline to be defined by a set of parameters — the existence of specific professional journals and organisations, conferences, academic qualifications, vocabularies, etc. (Stieber 2005) — architectural history clearly had not reached this status in the 19th century in Belgium or elsewhere. The process of establishing definitions, or in other words, forging a discipline, always implies a loss. In the specific form of scientific utterances being decided upon, certain writing styles and types of text are discarded as unscientific hence not a valid source for further research. Leaving aside the fact that even today it is questionable whether architectural history is a full discipline, the process of discipline formation for many fields has been situated in the decades around 1900 (Daunton 2005). If we grant that the discipline of architectural history only began to establish itself in the twentieth century, it leaves one wondering what happened in the field during the most recognizably historical of all centuries. In it, the writing of (architectural) history emerged as a field of research, even if it was amateurs who often conducted this research. In this same century, architecture as well went through several technical, material and conceptual revolutions, and the century saw a whole range of new possibilities in printing and reproducing images.

The Belgian architectural world of the 19th century is often considered a fascinating though little studied crossroads of influences (Bergdoll 1984; Willis 1990). One might presume that the same goes for the architectural historiography of the small country, pressed in between powerful neighbours and only establishing its independence in 1830. Since the 1980s, the amount of research on the pre-disciplinary era of Belgium’s neighbours has been on the rise. In 1980, David Watkin made a succinct analysis of the rise of architectural history in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy, to which Dana Arnold added several publications on UK architectural history (Watkin 1980; Arnold 2002). For France, Simona Talenti focused on the 19th century in her Histoire de l’architecture en France (Talenti 2000), and for the Netherlands, Auke van der Woud and Petra Brouwer, amongst others, explored the architectural historical debate and related publications and teaching in the 19th century (Van der Woud 1997; Brouwer 2011). Even though Belgian architecture has served as a case in two studies of 19th-century architectural eclecticism, both Geert Palmaerts and Yves Schoonjans focused on French literature for the theoretical underpinnings, largely leaving aside Belgian historical writings and image repositories (Palmaerts 2005; Schoonjans 2007).

However, in Belgium (architectural) history and archaeology were subjects of intense interest all through the 19th century and occupied many amateurs and professionals especially from 1830 onwards, yielding an important corpus of texts and visual material (Van Impe 2008a; Van Impe 2008b). Focusing on Schayes and Schoy and their Histoires allows us to explore two different styles of writing architectural history and two types of authors, of which the former was accepted more readily than the latter in subsequent ‘disciplined’ architectural history in Belgium. Schayes can be cast as the ‘historian-administrator’ writing a transparent and allegedly objective history of architecture in Belgium based on controllable facts for a general non-specialized audience, whereas Schoy presents himself as the ‘architect-connoisseur’, addressing an in-crowd of fellow connoisseurs. I will further develop these two profiles and their implications for the study of word and image relationships in architectural history by looking at the intellectual context, at the textual and visual strategies deployed and at the image of the architect and architecture emerging from their texts.

Constructing and Celebrating a New Nation’s History

Schayes’s career was firmly embedded in the burgeoning historical infrastructure of the young Belgian nation, declared independent from the Netherlands in 1830. This infrastructure consisted of a network of newly founded or reformed institutes and organizations concerned with (re)constructing the nation’s glorious past. The official institutes such as the Archives de l’état, the Bibliothèque royale, the Commission royale des monuments, the Académie royale des sciences et des belles-lettres (des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts from 1845 onwards), and the Musée royal d’antiquités, d’armures et d’artillerie, came into existence alongside a network of more or less local historical and archaeological societies. These societies reported on local archaeological findings and described ancient buildings and works of art of their region. Schayes, who had studied history at Leuven University, started off his career as an employee of the Royal Library in The Hague in 1828, moving to the State Archives in Brussels in 1835, eventually to become the first curator of the Royal Museum of Antiquities in 1847. In 1838 he was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Academy and full member in 1847. He published articles in the periodicals of archaeological societies such as the Messager des sciences historiques (Ghent), the Revue de Bruxelles (Brussels) or the Annales de l’Académie d’archéologie de Belgique (Antwerp), to name but a few, and had participated in the essay competitions of the Royal Academy from the 1820s onwards.

Several of these essays yielded him awards, a notable example being his Mémoire sur l’architecture ogivale (1838–41). Not only was this text the first serious study of Gothic architecture in Belgium, Schayes moreover consulted, referred to and discussed all international standard works on the Gothic. These included publications by French, German and British writers such as Arcisse de Caumont (1801–73), Sulpiz Boisserée (1783–1854), C.F. von Wiebeking (1762–1842), John Milner (1752–1826), and Thomas Hope (1769–1831), some of their works through translations available in French at the time. Schayes thus positioned Belgian Gothic architecture within the international debate on the origins of this style. Judging from his library, which was put on sale after his death, Schayes continued to keep himself up to date about international literature on architectural history. His own Histoire would in turn be consulted by later writers. Schayes’s contemporary, Franz Theodor Kugler (1808–58), referred to the Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique as a source and reproduced, for instance, a drawing from it (Schayes 1949–50: vol. 2, 101) in the third edition of his Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte (Kugler 1858 (3rd ed.): vol. 2, 137) as well as in his Geschichte der Baukunst (Kugler 1859: vol. 2, 355, 361). In fact, David Watkin’s qualification of Kugler’s approach as ‘workmanlike and straightforward’ might do justice to Schayes, too, as we will see further on (Watkin 1980: 8).

Schayes saw it as a task of the official institutions to write a history of the most important architectural monuments in Belgium. Hence, he suggested and stimulated initiatives to that end in the Royal Commission of Monuments (founded in 1835) and in the Royal Academy (as part of an artistic history of Belgium), but he eventually took it upon himself to write and publish it. His study appeared from 1849 onwards in four volumes as part of the popularizing series Bibliothèque nationale of editor Alexandre Jamar, whose aim was to inspire pupils to more profound national feeling. Within this series, Schayes’s text is, in fact, remarkable, with its four volumes and its many rather documentary or technical illustrations, whereas, by comparison, other volumes on, for instance, Les Belges aux Croisades (Van Hasselt 1846) or Les musiciens belges (Fétis n.d.) mainly include a few picturesque views and portraits with no other function than to enliven the text. This different perspective on illustrations (Figs. 1, 2, and 3) also ties in with the different textual perspectives: Schayes could have written a volume on Les architectes belges but chose instead to take the buildings rather than their designers as focus of his work.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Spread from Schayes’s Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique (2nd ed.) with a full-page ‘hors-texte’ plate and a regular page with text and an illustration (Schayes [1852]).

Figure 2
Figure 2

lllustrations in Fétis’s undated Les musiciens belges, edited by Jamar in the series Bibliothèque nationale (Fétis n.d.).

Figure 3
Figure 3

Illustrations in Van Hasselt’s Les Belges aux Croisades (Van Hasselt 1846).

Schoy trained to be an architect at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts and worked in the offices of Félix Laureys and Alphonse Balat. His career in part also developed in connection with national institutes: his Histoire de l’influence italienne won the gold medal of the Académie royale de Belgique in 1873 and was subsequently (with a delay) published in 1879 in the mémoires series of the Academy. In 1872 he was appointed professor of ‘architecture comparée’ and ‘architecture et dessin appliqué aux arts et métiers’ at the Académie royale des beaux-arts in Antwerp, the only state-organized and oldest academy of fine arts of the southern Netherlands. He attended several international gatherings and presented his work in the Belgian sections at Florence (1864), Vienna (1873), Paris (1878) and Amsterdam (1883). He contributed to the celebration of Belgium’s fiftieth anniversary in 1880 with designs for temporal triumphal arches — echoing the decoration for the triumphal entry in Antwerp of Ferdinand, brother of king Philips IV of Spain (Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi, 1635), designed by Rubens. These decors play a key role in Schoy’s text on the Italian influence. The extent to which Schoy identified himself with the period he studied also becomes evident from his participation at the Vienna world exhibition of 1873. In a perspective view, shown at the exhibition, of a design for a chamber of commerce,

the author sees this room for the city of Antwerp. It is conceived, as to its architecture and decoration, in the style of the Italo-Flemish Renaissance, in honour of the Low Countries at the beginning of the 17th century… The author has used the system of watercolor painting of the Flemish architects of the late 16th and 17th centuries.1 (Exposition universelle de Vienne 1873: 287)

The reproduction of the work (Fig. 4) is included in an album kept by Schoy, which can be taken as an interesting complement to his otherwise imageless Histoire de l’influence italienne, an issue to which I will come back later. The oblong album, conserved at the prints collection of the Royal Library of Belgium, begun on 2 March 1857 (and apparently reviewed on 2 March 1877), contains quotes Schoy collected and illustrations he designed or copied.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Page of the Album by Auguste Schoy, SIII 2030, Prentenkabinet, Royal Library of Belgium, with a reproduction of his project for the Vienna world exhibition of 1873.

It opens with Alberti’s ‘Architectum ego hunc fore constituam …’ and Vitruvius’s ‘Architectus magno sit animo, non arrogans, sed facilis et aequus et fidelis sine avaritia …’ (Fig. 5), followed by three small photographs and an engraved portrait of the architect. It includes samples of decorative patterns for all types of applied arts and architectural parts included (Fig. 6), as well as fragments and quotes from Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament, probably related to Schoy’s teaching of ‘architecture et dessin appliqué aux arts et métiers’ at the Antwerp Academy. Further on it includes a set of dried four-leaf clover leaves with the date and place of their finding noted underneath, next to the text of a speech, etc. On page 56 Schoy states with some pomp that 4 December 1878 was the ‘23rd anniversary of my decision to be an architect’2 (Fig. 7).

Figure 5
Figure 5

Title page of the Album by Auguste Schoy, SIII 2030, Prentenkabinet, Royal Library of Belgium.

Figure 6
Figure 6

Pages 28 and 29 of the Album by Auguste Schoy, SIII 2030, Prentenkabinet, Royal Library of Belgium.

Figure 7
Figure 7

Detail of page 56 of the Album by Auguste Schoy, on the twenty-third anniversary of his decision to become an architect, SIII 2030, Prentenkabinet, Royal Library of Belgium.

In keeping with the artistic profiling emanating from the Vienna quote and the set-up of the album, Schoy was less involved in the archaeological movement than Schayes was, but he also published widely. His articles are to be situated in art criticism rather than in ‘archéologie’, and they appeared in periodicals such as the Journal des beaux-arts et de la littérature or the Paris-based weekly L’Art. In his early career he seems to have been involved in Catholic circles of the so-called ‘conferences of Malines’ in the 1860s, often considered the starting point of the Catholic Gothic Revival movement in Belgium (De Maeyer 1988). Schoy was equally associated with the more liberal-oriented milieu of the neo-Flemish Renaissance movement (Mihail 1998) and adherents of eclecticism, such as the architect’s association Société centrale d’architecture de Belgique (SCAB). Schoy was one of the main providers of pieces to the ‘exposition nationale d’architecture’ of 1883, organized by the SCAB. A ‘section rétrospective’ of this exhibition brought together an impressive collection of architectural drawings from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century. Its catalogue included, moreover, a section with ‘Fac-similé de quelques signatures et écritures d’artistes dont les noms figurent au catalogue de la Section Rétrospective’ (Société centrale d’architecture de Belgique 1883) (Fig. 8). Several of these signatures were provided by Schoy, copied from documents in his personal collection (Van Impe 2006).

Figure 8
Figure 8

Title page of the section with fac-simile signatures in the Catalogue [de l’] exposition nationale d’architecture 1883.

By the time he wrote his Histoire, Schoy’s particular attention to Renaissance architecture was no longer remarkable: ever since Jacob Burckhardt’s Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (Burckhardt 1860) this period was considered an intellectually and artistically rich subject for the art and architectural historian. Internationally, however, the rehabilitation of the baroque would only take its start in the late 1880s with Cornelius Gurlitt’s Geschichte des Barockstiles, des Rococo und des Klassicismus (Gurlitt 1887–89), after it had long been considered a style of decadence, unworthy of serious scrutiny (Kulterman 1966; Bazin 1986). Schoy’s reading of baroque architecture shows his transient position: he distinguishes between the Italian baroque on the one hand, which he does label as decadent in keeping with international perception, and its assimilation and adaptation in Low Countries architecture on the other. The latter resulted in a vibrant and dynamic style, according to Schoy, in many ways superior to its Italian example. Gurlitt, in turn, mentions an article by Schoy on Rubens and his influence on Low Countries architecture in L’Art (Schoy 1881) as one of his sources for his chapter on Belgium (Gurlitt 1888: 6).

Structuring the Past

From a first look at the Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique and the Histoire de l’influence italienne, it becomes clear we are dealing with very different publications. Schayes’s book is a pocketsize paperback — 11.8 × 18.7 cm, sometimes described as ‘un petit in-8°’ (octavo) and in other sources as a ‘in-12°’ (duodecimo). The first edition of Schayes’s pocket book appeared in 1849–1850 and consisted of four volumes with a total of around 800 pages. In a second edition of 1852, the volumes were taken together two by two and an appendix was added of some 200 pages. The structure is quite straightforward: in seven chapters Schayes takes us from the Celts to his own day, briefly studying the ‘époque celtique’ the ‘époque germanique’, the ‘époque gallo-romaine’ at some greater length, followed by the ‘époque romane’ and the ‘époque de la transition ou romano-ogivale’. The ‘époque ogivale’ takes up most pages, which is not surprising given Schayes’s previous publication devoted to this period and style, and finally there is an equally important chapter on ‘architecture moderne’, i.e., everything from the 16th century onwards, up till the mid-19th century.

Within chapters, the subdivisions are again relatively clear, with a brief general political and socio-economic contextualization of the period under study, followed by a chapter with typical formal characteristics or elements of the style of that period, to end with a sort of catalogue of succinct descriptions of the most important buildings. The more extended chapters have an extra subdivision into sub-periods (e.g., three types of Gothic in the ‘époque ogivale’) and into civil, military and religious architecture. On average there is an illustration on every two pages, included within the text. Full-page illustrations without text, with some attention to picturesque staffage, are only to be found on eight occasions, showing what Schayes judges to be the most typical buildings of a period. Those were probably meant as the opening pages (two by two) of the initial four volumes, but in certain bindings they occur elsewhere in the text, as can be seen in Figure 1. Figure 9 shows a spread of two illustrated pages dealing with Renaissance architecture in Bruges.

Figure 9
Figure 9

Spread from Schayes’s Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique (2nd ed.) on Bruges Gothic architecture (Schayes 1849–52, vol. 4: 56–57).

Schoy’s Histoire de l’influence italienne is of a quite different nature. The book appeared in a series of the Académie royale and is generally referenced as ‘in 4°’. Copies measure around 22 × 27.5 cm — more or less an A4 of today. Though Schoy cannot be held entirely responsible for the appearance of his text in a standard series with probably little formal options, the structure and organization of the text are clearly his. He deals with the period of Italian influence in his analysis — basically, from the late Gothic up till the early 18th century — in seven chapters, with titles that are a lot less straightforward and succinct than Schayes’s, such as ‘Philosophical prodromes — Arrival and progress of the Italian Renaissance; motifs for the corruption and decline of this artistic renovation’ and ‘General causes inducing the Flemish artists to desert the tradition of the national school in order to undergo the Italian influence — Metaphysics of the Renaissance style from the Hispanic-Flemish point of view’.3 These preliminary chapters are followed by the actual chapters dealing with subsequent moments in the development of the ‘style de la Renaissance’ in the Low Countries (15th–16th century), followed by the baroque (1600–1700 in Schoy’s delineation) which is in Schoy’s terminology the ‘style de la decadence italienne’ or also ‘architecture loyolite’. Two more chapters are devoted to Rubens as an architect and his overall genius and influence on the architecture of his time and beyond, and the ‘decadence’ of Low Country architecture after they let go of Rubens’s example with the birth of Rococo. These seven chapters are spread out over almost 500 pages, with glosses in the margins of the page, meant (unsuccessfully) to give additional structure to the text (Fig. 10). No illustrations have been included in the text of the full mémoire, nor in the excerpts that appeared as separate publications with the publisher Hayez, in between 1873 and 1879 (Fig. 11).

Figure 10
Figure 10

First page of Schoy’s Histoire de l’influence italienne sur l’architecture dans les Pays-Bas (Schoy 1879).

Figure 11
Figure 11

Cover of an excerpt of Schoy’s Histoire, on Rubens, published in 1878 (Schoy 1878).

Libraries and Scaffoldings

Both Schayes and Schoy make statements about the reliability of their sources and the trouble they went through to gather them, although the latter is more emphatic than the former in specifying the difficulties of working ‘out in the open, at the foot of buildings’,4 often standing on ‘dangerous scaffoldings hastily put up in order to approach [the buildings] more closely’5 (Schoy 1879: I). Scaffoldings reappear, further on, in a metaphoric sense, when Schoy hopes to demolish ‘the entire scaffoldings of hazardous appreciations or errors involuntarily accumulated in the course of two centuries’6 on the subject he is dealing with (Schoy 1879: 486). Meanwhile, the two authors’ approach to sources is quite different. Besides culling actual information from them, the choice and use of sources obviously serve in both cases the construction of a particular author’s profile.

Footnotes appear on almost every page of the Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique, with many references to other publications, as if Schayes wants to prove every statement he makes. The illustrations have a similar function, i.e., proving statements he makes about buildings by actually showing them to his reader. His sources include archaeological data derived from buildings and from personal observation, as well as all types of written and visual accounts of buildings on the Belgian territory. Illustrations deriving from buildings he has studied with his own eyes, acknowledged as based on a ‘croquis pris sur place’, mostly consist of particular architectural details, such as windows in Romanesque houses in Tournai (Schayes 1849–50: vol. 2, 41) or a detail of the Romanesque tower of the Leuven St-Jacques church (Schayes 1849–1850: vol. 2, 158). Of some illustrations, there are actually sketches to be found in Schayes’s collection of prints and drawings, which came to light in the prints collection of the Brussels Royal Library (De Waele 2011; Van Impe 2014). A drawing of the Furnes palace of justice, kept in this collection, reappears as a small illustration in the Histoire (Schayes 1852: vol. 2, 584) (Figs. 12, 13).

Figure 12
Figure 12

Drawing of the Furnes palace of justice in Schayes’s collection, SII 2856, Prentenkabinet, Royal Library of Belgium.

Figure 13
Figure 13

Illustration on page 584 in the Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique (2nd ed.) (Schayes [1852], vol. 2) of the Furnes palace of justice, probably based on a drawing in Schayes’s collection.

The use of the term archaeology, implying the study and classification of material remnants (including buildings), was coined in the first half of the 19th century as being a new field of serious study. It was often contrasted with the older antiquarian tradition in which material remnants and curiosities would allegedly simply be collected without further ado. Schayes’s use of footnotes and illustrations firmly reminds us of his involvement in this archaeological movement. He considers his sources, both written and visual, often critically and inconsistencies are regularly pointed out. As such, Schayes turns away from ‘literary’ historical writing current at the time, as he suggests in the Histoire as well as in some of his other publications, rejecting a

too flowery diction, or the fashionable phraseology, strangely abused by the literary men of the younger school, especially in the descriptive genre, and which sacrifices ordinarily the truth to the ambition of parading a brilliant imagination and a fake love for the arts.7 (Schayes 1838–41: 6)

Parading a brilliant imagination and love for the arts is, conversely, exactly what Schoy seems to aim at in his Histoire. His sources turn out to be no less varied than Schayes’s, but a lot less obvious, as he mentions them, if at all, in the text rather than in footnotes. Schoy’s dependence upon certain building descriptions of his predecessor Schayes occurs unacknowledged. This signals that the latter’s text was used as a handy repertory of concise building descriptions, but perhaps also that Schayes’ name does not figure on Schoy’s list of authors to impress his audience so he leaves his source unmentioned. A juxtaposition of the descriptions by Schayes and Schoy of the ‘ancien greffe’ (old civil registry) in Bruges, one of the earliest examples of a Renaissance façade in Belgium, makes this clear. Schoy describes the facade in terms — ‘élégante façade’, ‘jolie façade’, ‘gracieux rinceaux’ — that echo Schayes’s words:

Nous devons au XVIe siècle l’élégante façade de l’ancien greffe de Bruges, construit en 1537, et, après la maison consulaire des Biscayens, la plus ancienne construction connue de la Belgique en style de renaissance. Cette jolie façade est ornée d’un double ordre corinthien à colonnes engagées dont les fûts sont cannelés et sculptés en arabesques à leur partie inférieure …. De gracieux rinceaux couvrent la frise de l’un et de l’autre ordre. (Schayes 1852: vol 2, 507)

L’élégante façade de l’ancien Greffe de Bruges, construite en 1537, est, après l’hôtel des Biscaïens, la plus ancienne construction qui soit à notre connaissance …. Cette jolie façade hispano-flamande, offre dans son ordonnance, à partir d’un haut soubassement, deux ordres corinthiens superposés …, de gracieux rinceaux se jouent sur les frises des deux entablements. (Schoy 1879: 106)

There is no documentary record on why there are no illustrations in the mémoire of Schoy. Practical reasons or the confines of Academy publications might go some way in explaining this, but even so, it might be that for Schoy the same logic for not using footnotes applies to the images. Schoy defines his audience in the preface to his text as ‘men who take pleasure in this kind of questions and studies and […] artists who necessarily had to consider them’.8 He thus implies a shared knowledge of his audience for whom the dropping of a name or half a title suffices to understand the reference. These fellow connoisseurs do not need cumbersome footnotes interrupting the text, footnotes ‘of which the easy erudition would make the intelligent reader smile’9 (Schoy 1879: II). The same might go for illustrations, also known to the connoisseur and not indispensable. Reprints of treatises and images from the Renaissance period and after were, moreover, becoming available, such as the Recueil de façades, pignons, lucarnes : cheminées et détails d’architecture of Vredeman de Vries, edited by Van Trigt in 1877, or Schoy’s own recueil de planches of 18th-century buildings and furniture designs, published in 1868, drawing in part from his own collection (Schoy [1868]) (Fig. 14).

Figure 14
Figure 14

Plate 57 from Schoy’s L’art architectural, décorative, industriel et somptuaire de l’époque Louis XVI (Schoy [1868]).

Applying Hans Tietze’s classification of art historical sources in his 1913 Methode der Kunstgeschichte is yet another way of gauging the difference between Schayes’s and Schoy’s approach to sources. It becomes clear that the intentional (gewollt) type of sources, as defined by Tietze, is more prevalent in Schoy’s text than in Schayes’s. These are sources produced as conscious recordings of some part of the artistic process, such as theoretical and practical treatises and biographies and autobiographies of artists. Although occasionally referred to in Schayes’s Histoire too, they are the key references in Schoy’s account. As a consequence, the texts under scrutiny could themselves be qualified according to Tietze’s classification: Schayes’s text as a non-intentional document in the history of architectural writing and Schoy’s as an intentional text. Schayes does not seem to be looking for an essence of architecture or of Belgian architecture and the choice for architecture as a topic for historical research seems more or less accidental. Schoy’s account, on the contrary, qualifies as a conscious recording of the architect’s artistic process and a search for the essence of a national architecture through a historical narrative.

The list of such intentional sources in Schoy’s Histoire is impressive and frequent reference is made to the rare nature of certain copies or manuscripts. Quotes from Vitruvius, Alberti, Vasari and others signal Schoy’s preoccupation with the image of the architect and his own position at a time when new architects’ profiles were starting to emerge. Schoy was trained in the beaux-arts tradition at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts and started to teach at the Antwerp Academy around the time of writing his Histoire. From the 1830s onwards, architect-engineers with a more technical profile were being trained at the universities of Ghent and Liège, and in the 1870s the first architects were graduating from the ‘écoles de Saint-Luc’, crafts-oriented schools organized by the Catholic movement. The periodical of the aforementioned SCAB, L’Émulation, voiced the organisation’s predilection for a particular architect type in one of its earliest articles in the 1870s, ‘L’Architecte artiste’, which comes close to Schoy’s implied architect in his Histoire (Allard 1874–75: 7–9).

Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) and his Le vite de più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori (1550/1568) is an obvious reference to illustrate the different stakes in Schayes’s and Schoy’s modes of writing. Neither Vasari nor his Low Countries equivalent Karel Van Mander (1548–1606) and his Schilder-Boek (1604) are referenced in Schayes’s Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique. If Schayes is interested in retrieving artists’ names at all, from archival or material evidence, these names are for him only one item of the factual documentation to be retrieved in order to be complete about a building. Schayes seems, in other words, to be reading ‘[b]iographies … more narrowly as documents, rather than as author-driven accounts that reflected upon a wide-range of art-historical issues’ (Delbeke, Levy and Ostrow 2006: 7). Conversly, neither the function of Vasari’s work in the self-representation of 16th-century artists nor the function of referring to Vasari with the same purpose in a 19th-century text was missed by Auguste Schoy. Like Vasari, Schoy himself was an artist, and was intent upon delineating his particular niche as an architect-artist. From his connoisseurial concern with attributions, he pays a lot of attention to artists’ lives, as did Vasari, and he also refers to several artists’ biographies alongside the Vite of Vasari, to document and corroborate his assessment of the work of the presented artists. Schoy uses them as a repository of biographical data, but he also looks for indications of their artistic persona and thus for models of artisthood.

In the same vein as Schoy’s reason for focusing on treatises and architect’s accounts and biographies is his preoccupation with other personalia of architects of the Low Countries. As mentioned above, Schoy equally appears to have collected fragments of handwriting and signatures of architects. Collecting signatures was certainly usual in the context of painters but was applied to architects in Schoy’s case, as shown in the aforementioned exhibition catalogue of the SCAB. On several occasions Schoy also refers to existing portraits of artists, such as Lambert Lombard, Vredeman de Vries, and the brothers Van Heil, deriving certain generic characteristics from them. Artists’ portraits, and more specifically the portraits included in Vasari’s 1568 edition, have been interpreted as providing the biographical texts with a ‘visual analogue’, in order to ‘reinforce the message of the biographies, presenting artists as moral and social exemplars’ (Gregory 2003: 64). Schoy’s mention of such portraits might have a comparable function or at least form some sort of reference to this tradition. Finally, Schoy’s plea for the better conservation of artist’s houses is yet another expression of his focus on the artistic persona and all that surrounds it. This plea was probably inspired by the Galleria Buonarroti in Florence, which opened as a city museum in the early 1860s. Schoy attended the tricentennial celebrations of Michelangelo’s death in 1864 and must have known about the museum house (Le Précurseur 1885).

Visualizing Architectural History

So far we have referred to both visual and textual strategies of architectural historiography, with the Histoires of Schayes and Schoy as cases. Studies of architectural publishing in Belgium have, however, mainly directed their attention to its illustrations. Alfred Willis pointed at the high quality of architectural publishing in Belgium, developing several new reproduction techniques for printing architectural drawings (Willis n.d.). Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, neither of the works under scrutiny made use of these innovative, specialized techniques. Schayes’s illustrations are woodcuts, a relatively cheap technique, as text and illustrations could be printed at the same time. Professional architectural publications of his time, mostly consisting of images rather than text, generally used copper engraving, more expensive but more precise and allowing for a larger scale, as in, for example, the monumental Choix des monumens (1817–28) of the Ghent architect P.J. Goetghebuer (1788–1866), or the Collection […] des principaux monumens d’architecture et de sculpture de la ville de Bruges (1824) by Jean-Brunon Rudd (1792–1870) (Rudd n.d.).

Schayes’s choice of woodcut, however, fits in with the publication context: the Histoire was part of the popularizing series Bibliothèque nationale, and the engravers who produced these woodcuts were in fact regular engravers of the publishing house Jamar, such as Henri Hendrickx and Edouard Vermorcken. They were specialized illustrators, though architectural illustration was not their specialization. The different typical parts or ‘éléments’ of buildings per style period are shown in the preliminary ‘type et éléments’ paragraphs of each chapter (windows, doors, ornaments). Otherwise, we mostly get exterior views of complete buildings, though there is the occasional ground plan, elevation or section. In general, illustrations almost never fill a full page, except for the aforementioned plates with views of two (typical) buildings in each volume. A view of the Saint-Aubin church in Namur illustrates the difference between a professional architectural representation, such as Goetghebuer’s Choix des monumens, and the version of Schayes’s illustrators, for whom the preciseness of the perspective and the scale are a lesser preoccupation (Figs. 15, 16).

Figure 15
Figure 15

Plate with the Namur Saint-Aubin cathedral, in the version of P.J. Goetghebuer (1817–28).

Figure 16
Figure 16

Illustration on page 214 of the Namur Saint-Aubin cathedral, in the version of Schayes’s illustrators, probably based on Goetghebuer (Schayes [1852]).

A varied set of source material was selected by Schayes and translated into engravings by the dessinateurs and graveurs of Jamar. Models for the engravings include 19th-century views of historic buildings that were widely available in lithography at the time, next to the professional publications and drawings by architects such as the aforementioned P.J. Goetghebuer or Jean-Brunon Rudd. Furthermore, there were the illustrations in 16th-century topographic publications such as Sanderus’s Flandria Illustrata (Sanderus 1641–44) and Chorographia sacra Brabantiae (Sanderus 1659–69) or Guicciardini’s Descrittione di tutti I Paesi Bassi, altrimenti detti Germania inferior (Guicciardini 1581–82–88). Some engravings were even based on a 16th-century city plan with small renderings of all the different buildings of Bruges by Marcus Gheeraerts (ca. 1521–ca. 1590), and even on a medal by the 19th-century medal engravers Wiener, from their 1845 series with views of monumental churches in Belgium. In other words, anything could serve, whether a detailed and architecturally correct rendering or a sketchy small-scale visualization of a building, as the model for a wood-engraved illustration in Schayes’ Histoire.

Although the collection of Schoy seems to have been lost, he refers to it much more often than Schayes does to his. Schoy’s collection is, therefore, very present in the Histoire de l’influence italienne and the rarity of certain images is frequently pointed out. Several items also appear in the catalogue of the 1883 ‘exposition nationale d’architecture’ as mentioned above, and the collection included some engraved portraits of artists, folders with original designs, rare volumes compiled by architects, and also fragments of the triumphal arch designs Rubens made for the Joyeuse Entrée of Ferdinand in 1635. Next to his own collection, Schoy refers to texts and illustrations he consulted in both public and private collections, both in Belgium and abroad. As only one example, we refer to the many versions of Vitruvius he has seen, beginning with the rare Italian manuscript version of Marco Fabio Calvo, which was meant to be illustrated by Raphael — ‘manuscrit annoté de remarques marginales de la main de l’Urbinate, une des curiosités de la Bibliothèque de Munich’ (Schoy 1879: 11) — followed by many others.

Architectural History after Schayes and Schoy

Schayes’s Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique is still a rare case in which the whole of Belgian architectural history is brought together in one historical narrative. His work soon came to function as a standard, notwithstanding (or perhaps precisely thanks to?) its pocket size, its small illustrations and its concise descriptions. Other authors would, for instance, quote or even copy building descriptions, sometimes without acknowledging them. The Histoire was named as a model when a ‘Prix du Roi’ for an architectural publication was organized two decades after Schayes’s death in 1879. This ‘Prix du Roi’ was eventually not awarded, as none of the ten contestants was deemed fitting. Schoy’s text was dismissed on procedural grounds: his Histoire was awarded a gold medal by the Académie in 1873, which was before the official start of the ‘Prix du Roi’ procedure and thus it was not eligible. Meanwhile, in the jury’s description of how Schayes’s work could become a model, some points of improvement are suggested, with a view to a work

conceived more methodically and with a larger development, giving the history and the analysis of the monuments of different styles spread out over the Belgian soil, with plates being a visual complement to the description, completing the theoretical presentation with applications.10 (Rapport 1879: 463)

Just a few decades later, Raymond Lemaire (1878–1954) considered Schayes’s Histoire as one of the very few 19th-century works of interest for his own study of Romanesque architecture in Belgium, and deemed it all the more remarkable since ‘mediaeval archaeology was still finding its way’ at the time of its publication (Lemaire 1906). Lemaire was part of a new generation of university-trained historians, who went on to found several of the art historical departments and architectural historical courses at Belgian universities from 1900 onwards. His tutor and colleague René Maere (1869–1950) would consider the Histoire by Schayes a ‘vast and bold synthesis, which has not been undertaken since’, and though ‘strongly dated’, still ‘very useful nowadays’. In still later accounts, for instance in the Art en Belgique published in 1939 (Fierens 1939), Schayes’s Histoire is mentioned in the bibliographies of the chapters on Romanesque and Gothic architecture and sculpture, whereas Schoy is omitted in the chapter on 16th-century architecture and sculpture and only one minor publication of his is mentioned in the chapter on the baroque. Next to these omissions, some downright negative reactions to Schoy’s work appear in later scholarship. Van de Castyne notes Schoy’s anachronistic use of terms such as ‘style borrominien’ (1931: 112). A disputable attribution of a church makes Plantenga call Schoy’s work his ‘pompous treatise’ and makes him doubt the seriousness of its research (1926: 187), and Gerson and Ter Kuile call it ‘the entirely out-of-date book’ (1960: 12; 178).

On the whole, Schayes’s approach remains the most intact as a tradition in subsequent architectural history: his use of documentary illustrations, footnotes and critical attitude, his self-effacing position as an author, his national delineation and the fact that his descriptions to a large extent relied on personal observation of buildings — all this seems to ensure him a relatively unproblematic position in the Belgian canon of architectural history. Many copies of the Histoire circulated and the book was used regularly as a prize book for architectural graduates of local academies. While these elements in themselves do not say much about the intrinsic qualities ascribed to the book, they do corroborate the canonical position of Schayes’s Histoire. The lesser quality of its illustrations appears to be a minor problem and might be the equivalent of today’s thumbnail photographs in certain 20th-century (popularizing) architectural historical guidebooks such as the Gids voor architectuur in België (Heirman and Van Santvoort 2000), which is more or less the same size of Schayes’s Histoire (Figs. 17, 18). What in Schayes’s book is still a coherent narrative is further broken down in this type of guide into small records per building, grouped topographically rather than chronologically, each with one or two pictures instead of wood engravings. Since, as we argued before, Schayes’s illustrations are overall documentary, serving as a sort of proof of the statements he is making about a building, photographs seem to be able to do the job equally well nowadays.

Of what we can consider as the tradition represented by Schoy’s Histoire de l’influence italienne, on the contrary, very little seems to have been appreciated by immediate posterity. Even if the connoisseur strand and the biographical focus remained valid, even if it gained prominence in certain milieus and even if Belgian post-mediaeval architecture enjoyed quite some attention in the decades to follow, the pompous tone of Schoy’s text was recurrently criticized, in fact already from its first versions in the early 1870s. This tone probably can be considered as a synecdoche for his underlying attitude towards architecture — as a fine art, an arte del disegno — laying the importance of any architectural artefact firmly with the genius of the designing artist. This Vasarian approach clearly lost validity in the decades after 1914, and had perhaps already lost its relevance by 1870. Moreover, the tone that was criticized could apparently not be divorced from the content of Schoy’s work, which prompted later architectural historians to reject the entire package, including the impressive encyclopaedic documentation on architectural treatises and collections.

Figure 17
Figure 17

Cover of the Gids voor architectuur in België (Heirman and Van Santvoort 2000).

Figure 18
Figure 18

Spread from the Gids voor architectuur in België with descriptions and pictures of Bruges buildings (Heirman and Van Santvoort 2000).

Crossroads Belgium

In comparison to Belgium’s neighbouring countries which equally lacked academic structures for architectural history in the 19th century, such as the United Kingdom or the Netherlands, the case of Belgium is a particular one: neither Schayes nor Schoy completely fit the typical profile of the architect who writes history as a defence of or inspiration for contemporary practice (Watkin 1980; Van der Woud 1997). Belgian architectural historiography, therefore, is more than a crossroads of influences and qualifies as a subject for further research in its own right. While Schayes’s 1850s work can still be compared to that of his contemporary Franz Kugler, with more or less comparable small size woodcut illustrations and many footnote references, this cannot be said of Schoy’s Histoire if compared to his contemporaries in the 1870s and 1880s. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of knowledge and travel implied in it, Schoy’s text and certainly the absence of illustrations are not in tune with the increasingly systematic and quite professionally illustrated studies by French or German authors.

In terms of visuals and scope, the Histoire de l’architecture en Belgique fits, in other words, in the evolution from ‘literary’ history writing to a systematic, factual and structured approach to architecture of the past (White 2000), in which illustrations complement the words. Schoy’s text deviates from the development which this tradition received in Germany or France, and later also in Belgium. Hence, the Histoire de l’influence italienne sur l’architecture dans les Pays-Bas remains an interesting curiosity. The work resists insertion in a disciplined architectural historiography and it resists straightforward instrumentalization as a visual repertory for contemporary architects. Such a repertory on Low Countries Renaissance and baroque was in fact provided by Schoy’s fellow architect J.J. Van Ysendyck (1836–1901), with Documents classés de l’art dans les Pays-Bas du XIème au XVIIIième siècle (1880–89). Schoy, in turn, does try to influence contemporary architecture, but by analysing the more abstract or general values he discerns in the architecture of the Renaissance and baroque (such as the originality, national feeling, vitality he finds in the work of Vredeman and Rubens). Next to Schayes’s more straightforward words and illustrations, Schoy’s text offers a remarkably idiosyncratic way of dealing with architecture of the past. It deserves further probing in order to situate the imageless text in the universe of visuals it relates to, including other publications as well as Schoy’s own unpublished Album and lost collection of rare prints and engravings.

Competing Interests

The author declares that they have no competing interests.


  1. ‘[l]’auteur suppose cette salle projetée pour la ville d’Anvers. Elle est conçue, pour l’architecture et la décoration, dans le style de la Renaissance italo-flamande, en honneur aux Pays-Bas au commencement du XVII siècle… L’auteur a employé le système d’aquarelle des architectes flamands de la fin du XVIe et du XVIIe siècle.’ [^]
  2. ‘XXIIIe anniversaire de ma décision d’être architecte’ [^]
  3. ‘Prodromes philosophiques. — Avènement et progress de la renaissance italienne; motifs de la corruption et du déclin de cette renovation artistique’ and ‘Causes générales qui amenèrent les artistes flamands à deserter les traditions de l’école nationale pour subir l’influence italienne. — Métaphysique du style de la renaissance au point de vue hispano-flamand’. [^]
  4. ‘en plein air, au pied des édifices’ [^]
  5. ‘un échafaudage périlleux dressé à la hâte pour en approcher de plus près’ [^]
  6. ‘l’échafaudage entier d’appréciations hasardées ou d’erreurs involontaires accumulées depuis deux siècles’ [^]
  7. ‘[…] diction trop fleurie, ou cette phraséologie à la mode, dont les littérateurs de la jeune école font tous les jours un si étrange abus, surtout dans le genre descriptif, et qui sacrifie ordinairement la vérité à l’ambition de faire parade d’une imagination brillante et d’un amour factice pour les arts.’ [^]
  8. ‘hommes qui se complaisant en cette sorte de questions et d’études et […] artistes qui ont dû forcément les traverser’ [^]
  9. ‘dont l’érudition facile eût fait sourire le lecteur intelligent’ [^]
  10. ‘conçue avec plus de méthode et ayant de plus larges développements, donnant l’histoire et l’analyse des monuments de différents styles épars sur le sol de la Belgique, accompagné de planches mettant la représentation figurée en regard de la description, complétant l’exposé théorique par des applications’ [^]


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