VAUBAN, Sébastien le Prestre de
(b. 1633, Saint-Léger-de-Foucherest, d. 1707, Paris)

Biography

French architect and military engineer who revolutionized the art of siege craft and defensive fortifications. He was Marshal of France, engineer, architect and urban planner who fought in all of France's wars of Louis XIV's reign (1643-1715).

Vauban was responsible for the main phase in the building of bastioned strongholds in France, which was necessitated by Louis XIV's numerous wars. He was born into the lower ranks of the aristocracy and began his career in the regiment of Louis II, Prince of Condé, in 1651, moving into the King's service two years later. He became inspector-general of fortifications in 1673 and in 1703 a Marshal of France. From his first major project of military planning at Lille in 1667, he was responsible for more than 30 new defensive walls and citadels and for laying out over 100 fortified towns.

Vauban perfected methods of attacking and defending fortified towns by rationalizing their means of blockade, with the object of avoiding loss of life and reducing the length of a siege. He used parallel dugouts or trenches surrounding the besieged town, and set up batteries of artillery perpendicular to the defensive cannons, allowing gunfire to rake and ricochet.

Vauban applied simple principles of construction and urban planning. The surrounding wall was as regular as possible: a notable example is the octagonal layout of Neuf-Brisach. In general, the boundaries of these fortified towns were marked by a final surrounding wall, and the building of military and public buildings followed an existing blueprint, with only the construction materials changing according to the region. The architecture of the houses was also governed by set patterns. A man of his time, Vauban was well acquainted with the aesthetic rigours of classical architecture; this is particularly evident in the town entrance-gates on which he set sculpted decorations glorifying the King.

To complement this work, Vauban made scale models of the fortified towns that he built or restructured. Built to a scale of 1/600, they carefully reproduced the physiognomy of a town and often included the projected work. These relief-plans, of which about 30 survive, form a public collection, housed in the Musée Des Plans-Reliefs, Paris.