BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
|| Alberti, Leon Battista
|| De re ædificatoria...
|| Florence, N. Alamani, 1485
|| Paris, Bensba, 20 A 4
Alberti wrote De re aedificatoria in the middle of the 15th
century. The terminus post quem for the beginning of the writing
is traditionally set in 1443, the date at which the humanist left Florence
to go back to Rome. During his stay in the Eternal City he apparently
favored the study of architecture and Latin prose over that of the common
language and figurative arts. Krautheimer (1963, p. 49) expressed the
hypothesis that in 1440, sollicited by Lionello d'Este, he might have
undertaken a translation of Vitruvius and abandoned it quickly, all
of which could have had an influence on his decision to write a treatise
on architecture. As for the terminus ante quem of the end of
the work, it can be dated 1452 thanks to Biondo Flavio's indications.
He was a colleague of Alberti's and defined him as the author of the
most elegant book on the art of building. Two more indicators allow
us to put the date at 1542: a passage of the Ludi rerum mathematicarum,
a brief work devoted to mathematics by Alberti himself, dedicated to
Meliaduso d'Este who died in 1452, and finally Matteo Palmieri who also
wrote in 1452, "Leon Battista Alberti, uomo di ingegno acuto e
penetrante e bene istruito nelle arti e scienze presentò al pontefice
(Niccolò V) i suoi eruditissimi libri sull’architettura"
(quoted by Borsi 1986, p. 26).
re aedificatoria was conceived of and written in Latin, deliberately
deprived of illustrations which, according to Alberti himself, were
"extraneous to the project" (res ab instituto aliena
ed. Orlandi Portoghesi, p. 177). To these ten books Alberti apparently
intended to add four others, devoted to ship construction, to arithmetic
and geometry, to the public revenue department and anything that had
to do with architecture. According to P. Portoghesi (1966, p. XII),
the first five books were apparently written between 1443 and 1445,
the five others between 1447 and 1452. As for the editio princeps,
it was the wish of the heir and nephew of the author, Bernardo d’Antonio
di Ricciardo degli Alberti, that it be drafted in Florence. It was printed
at the presses of Niccolò di Lorenzo Alamanni December 29, 1485,
with a letter by the humanist Angelo Poliziano (Ange Politien) by way
of an introduction and in the conclusion a composition in Latin verse
by a certain Battista Siculo, about whom nothing else is known (Boschetto
2000, pp. 64, 125 et 174 ; Böninger 2007, pp. 611-630).
brief letter can be believed, Leon Battista Alberti apparently intended
to publish his work himself, dedicating it to Lorenzo de Medici. Bernardo
Alberti, going by the books of the De re aedificatoria, corrected
and amended to perfection by his uncle (propemodum emendatos perpolitosque)
apparently drafted the text of the ten books (descriptos eos ex
Archetypis atque in volumen redactos) with the aim of promoting
the printed edition dedicated to Lorenzo. The hypothesis according to
which Poliziano took charge of collating the diverse manuscripts and
correcting the proofs has not been proven. During the summer of 1485,
while the book was being printed, the German printer Niccolò
di Lorenzo went bankrupt, and the publication was brought to term by
a certain Lorenzo Tinghi who did not continue as a bookseller.
the manuscripts used by the typographers working first for Niccolò
di Lorenzò, then for Lorenzo Tinghi, has been recognized in the
codex Laurenziano Plut. 89 sup. 113. The fact that this codex was prepared
fairly badly, with several people intervening, conveys very well the
problems that were created when Niccolò stopped his activity
at the end of 1485 and when another printer consequently took up the
work (Fiaschi 2001, pp. 267-284). Adolfo Tura (2002, pp. 16-23) recently
discovered that the De re aedificatoria was printed with a
new set of movable type. The Latin text of this 1485 edition was reprinted
in Paris in 1512 under the care of Geoffroy Tory at the printing shop
of Berthold Rembolt. The texts of the ten books were divided into chapters
for the first time. From then on the treatise was published in various
languages, keeping the subdivision into chapters.
It is impossible
to deal with all the subjects and arguments developed in the ten books
of the De re aedificatoria since they are so varied and historically
important. Thus I will limit myself to the question of sources and to
a synthetic description of the treatise's structure and to the general
themes characterizing the different parts making up the treatise, as
well as a brief development of Alberti's global conception of architecture.
De re aedificatoria is the first modern attempt to systematize
architecture, a comparison with Vitruvius' De Architectura
is inevitable. Much has been written on the subject. Let us recall simply
that Alberti gives proof several times that he knows and appreciates
the antique treatise- the only explicit criticism, at the beginning
of Book VI, concerns Vitruvius' language and terminology. According
to Alberti, Vitruvius seems to want to speak Greek to the Latins and
Latin to the Greeks so that one can't understand anything "ut
non intelligamus" (Krautheimer 1963). The De re aedificatoria
intends not only to update the work, but also to go deeper and to put
the internal logic of antique architecture to a critical test. In doing
so, Alberti takes a characteristic attitude, more independent than that
of his successors in the first half of the Cinquecento, who were to
have a more orthodox concept of the Vitruvian doctrine. Alberti's work
is a humanist treatise devoted to architecture, very densely erudite.
Each page is proof of a deep knowledge of philosophical, scientific
and historical texts, but he is also just as well acquainted with poetry,
literature and rhetoric. The book quotes no less than fifty classical
authors (Caye-Choay 2005, pp. 41-44) ; but the implicit references are
also numerous, in particular to authors of the Middle Ages (Zubov 1958).
In addition, Alberti takes advantage of a very rich personal experience,
a direct knowledge not only of the ruins of antiquity but also of contemporary
architecture and of techniques of masonry and construction.
deals with architecture as an overall human science, which, tending
to man as a separate individual as well as a member of the community,
takes care to consciously fit him into an area in order to contribute
to his happiness. Architecture was born at the same time as man, developed
in parallel fashion to the human society that it continues to organize,
protect and structure. The architect is the guardian of profound knowledge
and his work is the product of an intellect related to nature by means
of materials, with the history of an area through the choice of the
places and environments in which one must build and on account of the
constructive typology with the social organization.
can be divided into three parts. In the first, Books I, II and III,
Lineamenta, materia et opus deal with architecture
as projective disegno, and with construction understood from
the point of view of materials and implementation. Books IV and V, Universorum
opus, singulorum opus, treat the typology of the edifices; the
next four books, Ornamentum, sacrorum ornamentum, publici profani
ornamentum, are devoted to the aesthetic definition of architecture.
Lastly, Book X, operum instauratio, concerns resoration.
of disegno, understood as an intellectual instrument for the
projectualisation of architecture, represents one of the main theoretical
innovations of the De re aedificatoria. Nevertheless, and this
is well known, the definition of such a concept poses a problem, since
in Alberti's system, the disegno is part of the body itself.
Alberti writes, "Nam aedificium quidem corpus quoddam esse animadvertimus,
quod lineamentis veluti alia corpora constare et materia. Quorum alterum
istic ab ingenio produceretur, alterum a natura susciteretur. Huic mentem
cogitationemque, huic alteri parationem selectionemque adhibendam"
(Orlandi-Portoghesi, p. 15 ; French trans. Caye-Choay, p. 51). A contemporary
reader can legitimately wonder how a body can have lineamenta.
The idea that the body in itself can be considered as "un design"
comes from the Aristotelian distinction between form and matter. Refer
to this passage of Aristotle's Physics: "Obviously physical
bodies contain surfaces and volumes, lines and points, and these are
the subject-matter of mathematics" (Eng. trans. Hardie-Gaye, 1930)
(II, 2, 1). This text is taken from a development devoted to the form
and matter of objects produced by nature and by art, in which Aristotle
explains that any object, natural or produced by man, can be studied
either from the physical point of view- the matter- or from the mathematical
point of view- the form. He goes on, "If we look at the ancients,
physics would to be concerned with the matter. (It was only very slightly
that Empedocles and Democritus touched on the forms and the essence.)
But if on the other hand art imitates nature, and it is the part of
the same discipline to know the form and the matter up to a point (e.g.
the doctor has a knowledge of health and also of bile and phlegm, in
which health is realized, and the builder both of the form of the house
and of the matter, namely that it is bricks and beams, and so forth):
if this is so, it would be the part of physics also to know nature in
both its senses" (Eng. trans. Hardie-Gaye) (II, 2, 10-11).
rather obvious in reading these texts that in the prologue of his treatise,
the humanist Leon Battista Alberti is working with Aristotelian concepts,
even if it is not in the present state of studies to specify the exact
source of his ideas (Zoubov 1958). The other passage gives perhaps an
even clearer account of the Aristotelian inspiration of the Albertian
concept of architecture, " The arts, therefore, which govern the
matter and have knowledge are two, namely the art which uses the product
and the art which directs the production of it. That is why the using
art also is in a sense directive; but it differs in that it knows the
form, whereas the art which is directive as being concerned with production
knows the matter" (Eng. trans. Hardie-Gaye) (II, 2, 13). It is
very useful to compare this text to the famous definition of the architect:
"Sed ante quam ultra progredior explicandum mihi censeo quemnam
haberi velim architectum. Non enim tignarium adducam fabrumquem tu summis
caeterarum disciplinarum viris compares: fabri enim manus architecto
est. Architectum ego hunc fore constituam, qui certa admirabileque ratione
et via et tum mente animoque diffinire tum et opere absolvere didicerit"
(Orlandi Portoghesi, p. 2 ; French trans. Caye-Choay pp. 47-48). Here
Alberti makes the distinction between competence regarding form and
competence regarding matter, which covers that distinguishing the architect
from the carpenter- and in this passage, one will also have noticed
the reference to Cicero's Brutus (73, 257), a well-known text
by the humanist abbreviator of the Roman curia.
Alberti defines architecture as an activity of the mind and soul, and
the architect is so to speak a physicist like Aristotle, who thinks
about the shapes of bodies considered as abstract elements defined by
points, lines and surfaces, and who, as a builder, chooses materials
according to the shape that the building will take. This is all perfectly
consistent with the Greek philosopher's writings: " Again, matter
is a relative term: to each form there corresponds a special matter
(Eng. trans. Hardie-Gaye) (II, 2, 14). The humanist demands that the
architect have two capabilities: that he be an intellectual insofar
as he creates the project, and practical insofar as he chooses the materials
according to the form. The idea according that architecture would have
a "competence regarding form", conceived by means of lineamenta,
in other words points, lines and surfaces, would be put into theory
and operation in the institution of the Accademie del Disegno,
first in Florence and immediately after in Rome, with major consequences
not only for architects, but also for all artists and for the history
of art in general.
Pietro Roccasecca (Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome) –
Let us point out that all the incunabula of the IGI (Indice enerale degli
incunaboli delle Biblioteche d’Italia) are compiled in the data
base ISTC (Incunabola Short Title Catalogue) of the British Library. The
worldwide locations of the De re aedificatoria are found there
as well as the relevant bibliography (ISTC Number: ia 00215000).
L. B. Alberti, L’Architettura [De re aedificatoria],
Testo latino e traduzione a cura di G. Orlandi, introduzione e
note di P. Portoghesi, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1966.
L. B. Alberti, L’art d’édifier,
traduit du latin, présenté et annoté par
P. Caye et F. Choay, Paris, Seuil, 2004.
L. Böninger, "Leon Battista Alberti in tipografia. Le stampe
del Quattrocento", R. Cardini & M. Regoliosi (ed.), Leon Battista
Alberti Umanista e Scrittore. Filologia, esegesi, tradizione, Florence, Polistampa, 2007, 2, pp. 611-630..
F. Borsi, Leon Battista Alberti. Opera completa, Milan, Electa,
1986 (1st ed. : Milan, 1973).
L. Boschetto, Leon Battista Alberti e Firenze, Biografia, Storia,
Letteratura, Florence, Olschki, 2000.
M. Carpo, L’architettura dell’età della stampa:
oralità, scrittura, libro stampato e riproduzione meccanica dell’immagine
nella storia delle teorie architettoniche, Milan, Jaca Book, 1998.
S. Fiaschi, "Una copia di tipografia finora sconosciuta : il laurenziano
Plut. 89 sup. 113 e l’editio princeps del De re aedificatoria",
Rinascimento, 2, 41, 2001, pp. 267-284.
C. Grayson, "The composition of L. B. Alberti’s Decem Libri
De Re Aedificatoria", Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden
Kunst, Dritte Folge, 11, 1960, pp. 152-161.
R. Krautheimer, Alberti and Vitruvius, The Renaissance and Mannerism,
Studies in Western Art, Acts of the Twentieth International Congress
of the History of Art, New York September 7-12, 1961, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1963,
2, pp. 42 – 52, in part. p. 49.
G. Orlandi, "Le prime fasi nella diffusione del trattato architettonico
albertiano", J. Rykvert & A. Engel (ed.), Leon Battista Alberti,
Milan/Ivrea, Electa/Olivetti, 1994, pp. 96-105.
F. Salvi, "Edizioni, versioni e illustrazioni del De re Aedificatoria.
Nota sulla fortuna del trattato albertiano", G. Morolli & M. Guzzon
(ed.), Leon Battista Alberti : i nomi e le figure. Ordini, templi
e fabbriche civili: immagini e architetture dai libri VII e VIII del
De re aedificatoria, Florence, Alinea, 1994.
A. Tura, "Saggio su alcuni selezionati problemi di bibliografia
fiorentina", Edizioni fiorentine del Quattrocento
e del primo Cinquecento in Trivulziana, Milan, s.n., 2001, pp. 9-65.
V. P. Zubov, "Léon Battista Alberti et les auteurs du Moyen-Âge",
Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies, 4, 1958, pp. 245 -266.