Alberti, Leon Battista
Bartoli, Cosimo

Title L’architettura...
Imprint Florence, L. Torrentino, 1550
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1505
Subject Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


     During the siege of 1530 Cosimo Bartoli (1503-1572) had to leave Florence for Rome where he displayed his talents as an architectural draftsman, all the while continuing his interest in mathematics, music and humanist disciplines. This clerk who had adopted an ecclesiastical career in order to enjoy a certain number of advantages, was committed in his editions to using the vernacular, bringing it closer to the spoken language, introducing spelling norms and especially typographical marks linked to Florentine pronunciation. He did this for Marcile Ficin’s commentary published in 1544, until then unpublished, at the workshop of Neri Dortelata with a preamble “a gli amatori della lingua fiorentina” (Sopra l’amore, o vero Convito di Platone traslatato da lui dalla Greca lingua nella Latina e appresso volgarizzato nella Toscana). It was in this context that he published his translation of Alberti’s treatise on architecture in 1550. His translation came after Pietro Lauro’s which had come out five years earlier (1546).
     The large book (in folio format) has a fine title page with the arms and shield of the dedicatee, Cosimo de’Medici; in the center there is a river god before scenery of ruins after a drawing by Vasari whose original is in the Uffizi. On the back there is an engraving of the portrait of Alberti which would be used in the later editions of his books. Bartoli’s dedication to Cosimo (p. 3-4), Alberti’s preface and the actual treatise come afterwards. The book ends with a voluminous index of the subjects (“Tavola delle cose più notabili”). Like his predecessors, he divided his material into chapters, Geoffroy Tory’s innovation. The book has an unquestionable scientific quality; copyists’ errors were removed from the text and the translation in beautiful Florentine is more faithful to the original than Lauro’s, even if Bartoli took frequent liberties in some interpretations of the text. The page layout is very meticulous. Above all the translation is illustrated for the first time. The only book without images is book V, dealing with private residences. Bartoli drew all the illustrations including a double page (a plan of baths, pp. 322-323) and 33 full page illustrations, most devoted to “orders” (types of arches on columns, arrangements with various supports, entasis of the column, capitals, bases, entablatures, doors), and to plans and elevations of various edifices (basilica, theater, arch...). In order to do this, he interprets Alberti in the light of contemporary research, Serlio, as it happened, whose Quarto libro had circulated the first description of the five orders in 1537. Thus Bartoli took a few initiatives, choosing to reproduce the the motif of the rose on the gorgerin of the first Doric capital, as some famous Antiquities invited him to do (the Basilica Aemilia, the baths of Diocletian, or by giving two versions of the Attic base which differ only in the overhang, whereas Alberti (VII, 7) specified that the overhang must neither exeed half of the radius nor be less than a third of it. For the Corinthian capital Bertoli chose olive tree foliage, with the leaves split in five or seven parts, as he observed in the main edifices of Rome. Concerning the types of bases, he remained nevertheless faithful to Alberti who considered the Corinthian base to be “Ionic”.
     The fifteen hundred copies of the first printing were quickly sold out. Therefore Francesco De Franceschi re-issued Bertoli’s version in quarto format in 1565 in Venice and then the same year 1565 Leonardo Torrentino, Lorenzo’s son, re-issued it in Monte Regale (Mondovi). Jean Martin also used it as a base for books VIII, IX and X, which repeated many illustrations (1553). In fact Bartoli’s translation prevailed until Giovanni Orlandi and Paolo Porteghesi published the bilingual edition (Latin/Italian text) in 1966.

Frédérique Lemerle – 2016
(Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CESR, Tours)

Critical bibliography

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.

F. Borsi, Leon Battista Alberti. Opera completa, Milan, Electa, 1986 (1st ed.: Milan, 1973).

J. Bryce, Cosimo Bartoli (1503-1572). The career of a Florentine Polymath, Geneva, Droz, 1983.

J. Rykwert, N. Leach & R. Tavernor (eds.), Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, Cambridge Mass. & London, MIT, 1988, p. xix.

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.

D. Moreni, Annali della tipografia fiorentina, impressore ducale, Edizione seconda corretta, e aumentata, Florence, F. Daddi, 1819; facsimile ed., Florence, Le Lettere, 1989.

F. Salvi, “Edizioni, versioni e illustrazioni del De re Aedificatoria. Nota sulla fortuna del trattato albertiano”, G. Morolli & M. Guzzon (eds.), Leon Battista Alberti: i nomi e le figure. Ordini, templi e fabbriche civili: immagini e architetture dai libri VII e VIII del De re ædificatoria, Florence, Alinea, 1994.

A. Tura, “Saggio su alcuni selezionati problemi di bibliografia fiorentina”, A. Tura (ed.), Edizioni fiorentine del Quattrocento e del primo Cinquecento in Trivulziana, Milan, Comune di Milano, 2001, pp. 9-65.