BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE
||Dispareri in materia d’architettura, et perspettiva...
||Brescia, Marchetti Brothers, 1572
||Paris, Ensba, Les 56
The Dispareri constitute a unique publication in the panorama of the artistic treatises published during the Renaissance. They recount a controversy concerning three creations and not a theoretical debate on general principles. In order to support his thesis, Martino Bassi does not only resort to arguments stemming from the auctoritates, but calls upon the opinion of four of the most famous architects of the period: "con le autorità degli scrittori e col giudicio degli architetti e perspettivi stimati de più eccellenti". Through the publication of this work, this debate was brought out into broad daylight. This signaled the emergence of public opinion on this type of polemics which until then had been confined to members of the fabbricas and therefore largely undocumented. Finally, by provoking the discussion on the work and not on the project, Bassi shifts the point of view of the commentary, opening the way to a definition of expertise. In fact, he was one of the first to use the term esperto in a treatise, designating one who held practical and proven knowledge, a term which would progressively be distinguished from the term perito, which refers to a more theoretical and doctrinal knowledge.
The text is presented in the form of a fictional exchange of letters dated 1570 between Bassi and a certain M. Alfonso N., a lord from Verona. Pellegrino Tibaldi’s responses to the criticisms are also related by Bassi. The text is in Italian but several parts are in Latin: Bassi’s communications to the Fabbrica of the cathedral of Milan and long extracts from Vitruvius.
Martino Bassi (1542-1591) entered the engineering school in Milan in 1567 and continued climbing the ladder to success. In 1572 he became architect of the ducal royal chamber and beginning in 1587 he held the post of architect of the Fabbrica of the cathedral of Milan. This progression was the result of a rivalry with Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-1596), the subject of the attacks contained in the Dispareri. In 1585 these attacks led to the condemnation of Tibaldi, at that time architect of the Fabbrica , and to his departure for Spain.
The Dispareri attack Tibaldi’s figurative and constructive competence in three specific subjects falling within the province of sculpture and architecture. The first is the bas-relief of the Annonciation, begun by Vincenzo Seregni (1504/09-1594), the former architect of the Fabbrica before Charles Borromée (1538-1584) replaced him in this post with Tibaldi. It is located today, unfinished, in the Santa Maria Assunta church in Camposanto. The discussion rests on the possibility of including a double horizon in a sketch in perspective of a portrayal: one for the illustrations, another for the background, which causes an interruption of the plans. It also rests on the possibility of shifting the main point on the horizon.
The second subject under discussion is the baptistry, Tibaldi’s first realization in the cathedral. It is a canopy placed on four columns. Bassi criticizes the access steps and judges the spaces between the columns too wide to provide the necessary stability for the aedicule.
The third is the scurolo (crypt) under the main altar. Bassi emphasizes its lack of harmony with the architectural environment of the cathedral. In addition, its position, half-buried, causes the altar to be so high that it is necessary to climb steps to reach it. Tibaldi is criticized for having deviated too much from the intentions of the first architects, who wished to put the crypt under the gallery.
Martino Bassi attempts to cloak his critical discourse arising out of certain conditions in a vaster project having to do with neo-Vitruvian commentary. In fact, he takes up again numerous Aristotelian and Vitruvian themes like the relation between science and practice, the ratiocinatio, the goal of architectural actions, the distinction between the signifier and the signified, the composition... The architects who were invited to express their opinion in the correspondance, on the drawings sent to them, reproduced in the volume, generally agree with Bassi.
Palladio rejects the double horizon in the bas-relief in the name of nature and the rules of optics which one has a duty to respect. For the baptistry, he considers that the architrave will end up by collapsing because of its excessive length. For the crypt, he reckons that the height of the choir is a bad thing which will block one’s view. In a general way Vignola denounces Tibaldi’s incompetence regarding perspective. He criticizes the idea of installing tie beams to reinforce the baptistry. As for the crypt, he reserves judgment for an on-site visit. Vasari appeals more to the eye’s judgment than to the rules of perspective in rejecting the double horizon solution and suggests a comparison with Andrea Sansovino’s bas-relief in Loreto. The contribution by Giovanni Battista Bertani (1516-1576), a pupil of Giulio Romano, the architect of the ducal Fabbrica of Mantua, a neo-Vitruvian author of renown, is somewhat different from the others. If he recognizes all Bassi’s competence regarding perspective, he nevertheless emphasizes that numerous antique bas-reliefs and high reliefs, (having furnished a list of them), have both a natural plan and a perspective plan, and consequently a double horizon. According to him this duplication is caused by the fact that the relief reproduces natural vision whereas perspective constitutes "lie anf fiction". He also depends on the example of the Moderns, who, like Donatello, set an arbitrary height on the figures in relief which are positioned on a ground plan in perspective.
Bassi’s book was republished in Milan in 1771 by F. B. Ferrari.
Pascal Dubourg-Glatigny (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin) – 2011
P. Dubourg-Glatigny, "La question de la perspective matérielle dans les traités du Cinquecento", M. Cojannot Le Blanc, M. Dalai Emiliani & P. Dubourg-Glatigny (ed.), L’artiste et l’oeuvre à l’épreuve de la perspective, Rome, École française de Rome, 2006, pp. 365-384.
E. Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, New York, Zone, 1991, pp. 141-148 (1st ed : Leipzig/Berlin, 1927).
Quaderni della Brianza, 1992, 85 (special issue dedicated to M. Bassi).
G. Rocco, Pellegrino Pellegrini: l’architetto di S. Carlo e le sue opere nel Duomo di Milano, Milan, Hoepli, 1939, pp. 23-40.