Author(s) Vitruve
Ryff, Walther Hermann
Vitruvius Teutsch...
Imprint Nuremberg, J. Petreius, 1548
Localisation Heidelberg, Ruprecht-Karls Universitäts Bibliothek, T 2017 RES
Subject Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


     Walther Hermann Ryff was a humanist born in Strasbourg around 1500. He spent most of his life there, leaving it to settle in Nuremburg and then in Würzburg, dying there in 1548, the year the Vitruvius Teutsch came out. Describing himself as mathematicus but also as medicus, he published an Anatomica omnium humani corporis partium descriptio in Paris in 1543 at the presses of André Wechel. Its French translation (Description anatomique de toutes les parties du corps humain) came out the same year at the same publisher’s. Among other medical books, he wrote a treatise on distillation and filtering of quintessence (Das new groß Distillierbuch) which was published in Frankfurt by Christian Egenoff in 1545. The following year the same publisher came out with a Lustgarten der Gesundtheit which also falls within the province of the doctor’s art.
Medicine and architecture are often compatible ; Louis Savot and Claude Perrault would attest to it in the following century. Ryff’s interest in the building arts appeared as early as 1543, when he contributed to the Latin edition of Vitruvius published by Christian Egenhoff in Strasbourg, then in 1547 when he wrote the Furnembsten Bericht that Johan Petreius printed in Nuremberg. The same year the same publisher put out a small notebook of six leaves representing the architectural orders entitled Der fünff maniren der Colonen... augenscheinlich Exempel. In 1548 the Vitruvius Teutsch, the first German translation of Vitruvius, was the triumph of Ryff’s career. It was one year later than Jean Martin’s translation, but unlike that book, it has many annotations.
This translation and analytical work reveal Ryff’s wide culture. He quotes many authors, such as Alberti, Luca Pacioli, Serlio, Philandrier, Dürer, the mathematicians Pedro Nuñez et Oronce Fine, Niccolò Tartaglia, etc. But his main source is the Italian edition of Cesare Cesariano published in Como in 1521. Ryff lifted from the Italian his taste for long digressions and abundant annotations, but he sets himself apart from them in greater precision in his translation. He makes the most of his vast humanist culture, quoting Virgil with pleasure, whom he does not hesitate to annotate. For example in book I, the annotation concerns the role of the caryatids, the triumphal ornament that he puts in relation with the decor of Dido’s palace which make Aeneas cry in the first book of the Aeneid, in order to make it the example of heroic decors which in his opinion should decorate the princely residences of his period (f. XIIIv°).
Translated and annotated, the Vitruvius text was also illustrated abundantly by Ryff. Nonetheless, original engravings are rare. The author profited from all the previous architectural iconography, lifting mainly from Cesariano, but also from Colonna, Dürer, Serlio and Philandrier ; from Marcantonio Raimondi he borrowed his caryatids et his Perses, from Agostino Veneziano examples of terms. To illustrate the clothing of matrons, senators and Roman soldiers, he brought together three plates of the De re vestiaria de Lazare de Baïf (Röttingen 1914).
The Vitruvius Teutsch was reissued in 1575 and 1614 in Basel. It certainly had influence in France where Ryff’s book on anatomy had been published. Jean Goujon and Pierre Lescot very probably consulted Ryff’s text and images while devising the Caryatid “tribune” in the Louvre. These images give not only the key to the presence of these motifs in the great hall of the king’s palace, but also the source of details such as the knot on the robe of the statues which appears in the illustration in the book, and which enables us to identify the clothing as the stola worn by Roman matrons mentioned by Vitruvius.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2013

Critical bibliography

I. Dann, “Walther Ryff”, H. Günther (ed.), Deutsche Architekturtheorie zwischen Gothik und Renaissance, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988, pp. 79-88.

M. Gnehm, “Ryffs Scholien zu Vergil”, Scholion. Mitteilungsblatt der Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, 1, 2002, pp. 69-87.

M. Gnehm,“Druckgeschichte und Bibliographie : W. H. Ryffs ‘Vitruuius Teutsch’ ”, Scholion. Mitteilungsblatt der Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, 3, 2004, pp. 175-180.

M. Gnehm, “ ‘Cum auctoritate et ratione decoris’ : Bildinterpretationen in den Vitruvkommentaren W. H. Ryffs”, F. Büttner & G. Wimböck (eds.), Das Bild als Autorität : die normierende Kraft des Bildes, Münster, Lit Verlag, 2004, pp. 129-156.

H. Günther, “Les ouvrages d’architecture publiés par Walther Hermann Ryff, à Nuremberg en 1547 et 1548”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 501-503.

J. Jachmann, Die Architekturbücher des Walter Hermann Ryff : Vitruvrezeption im Kontext mathematischer Wissenschaften, Stuttgart, Ibidem-Verlag, 2006.

Y. Pauwels, “Athènes, Rome, Paris : la tribune et l’ordre de la Salle des Caryatides au Louvre”, Revue de l’Art, 169, 2010, pp. 61-69.

H. Röttingen, Die Holzschnitte zur Architektur und zum Vitruvius Teutsch des Walther Rivius, Strasbourg, Heitz, 1914.