Author(s) Cesariano, Cesare
Di Lucio Vitruvio Pollione de architectura libri dece...
Imprint Como, G. da Ponte, 1521
Localisation La Flèche, Bibliothèque du Prytanée national militaire, E276-Res
Subject Architecture


     July 15, 1521, in his typography workshop in Como, Gottardo Da Ponte engraved the plate of the last page of "l'opera preclara de Lucio Vitruvio Pollione de Architectura traducta de latino in vulgare, istoriata e commentata" (f. 183).  It was the first printed edition of a translation into the common language of the treatise written by the contemporary Roman theoretician of Augustus, amply accompanied by diagrams and explanatory notes. The title page bears the title, but does not mention the one responsible for the work – no more than do the following seven leaves, unnumbered, used for the dedication, the privilege, the preface and the indices, where the name of the true author of this Vitruvian enterprise does not appear anywhere.  It is revealed only in the incipit of the first numbered leaf: "Cesare Cesariano, cittadino mediolanense, professore di Architectura etc.".
The editorial adventure of the first printed translation of Vitruvius, printed in 1312 copies, was in fact very complicated.  Cesariano's lengthy work (Milan 1475-1543) had finally found a prospect thanks to the sponsorship of the Milanese nobleman Luigi Pirovano, an amateur mathematician, with whom Agostino Gallo, royal referendario from Como had joined forces.  The printer, Gottardo da Ponte, who had left Milan for Como in 1519, had been chosen as early as 1520. Pirovano obliged Cesariano to collaborate with Benedetto Giovio, a well known humanist from Como, and with Bono Mauro from Bergamo.  The intention was to give the appearance of a collective enterprise to a work described several times by Cesariano as long, solitary and difficult.  Very quickly, relations among them took a turn for the worst and by the time they had arrived at the seventh chapter of book IX, Cesariano abandoned his colleagues, managing to get away with the first draft of the chapters which had not yet been turned over to the printer to be set up.  This is why one part of book IX and all of book X of the printed edition were in fact annotated and illustrated by Giovio and Mauro.  The rough draft that Cesariano had managed to keep and to work on at least until 1528, was found in Madrid in 1986 and published in 1996.  There one discovers how great the difference is between the way the Milanese artist conceived Vitruvius' commentary and the way his dishonest "collaborators" interpreted it.  Long law suits followed, culminating in a decision favorable to Cesariano, rendered definitively between 1528 and 1529.
Cesariano's translation is mainly based on the text of Fra Giocondo's edition, published in 1511 in Venice.  It seems to ignore the other attempts, partial or complete, all manuscripts which were all already finished or in the process at the time, like Raphaël's and Fabio Calvo's.  In several cases, Cesariano asserts his dependence on other editions or manuscripts of Vitruvius' text.  It is not always possible to identify them, but one can cite the one published in Rome in 1486 by Sulpizio da Veroli, and the one that Simone Bevilacqua from Pavia had given to Venice in 1497.
It would seem that Fra Giocondo was at the origin of the placement of the illustrations which Cesariano then amplified and interpreted in an entirely original way.  From there, one can infer that the work was subject to a systematic imposition only after 1511 and more certainly starting in 1513, the date at which Cesariano settled definitively in Milan after after having lived and worked approximately twenty years as a painter in several centers in the Po Valley, in particular at Reggio Emilia, with interventions in San Benedetto, Ferrara, Parma et Piacenza.  In addition the most recent research confirms a stay in Rome.
Long and complex, the notes that Cesariano drafted in addendum to his translation respond on the one hand to the demand for clarification of Vitruvius' text, and on the other hand to an attempt to bring up to date the theoretical indications of the antique treatise with a principally Bramantesque and Lombard viewpoint.  It is necessary to mention that the Milanese humanistic culture always manifested a great interest in Vitruvius, from Pier Candido Decembrio up to Bramante et Leonardo da Vinci.
In order to interpret the text, Cesariano used mainly a repertory borrowed from a rich series of lexicons in Latin, Greek and the common language, and his developments are based on a dense body of quotations, often literal, drawn from classic medieval and humanistic sources.  Among the lexicons one recognizes above all Festus, Crastone, Suidas, Pollux, Balbi, Perotti and Calepino; among the sources, Pliny, Strabo, Ovid, Ptolemy, Diodorus of Sicily, Servius, Isidore and the Auctoritates Aristotelis.
For their part, Bramante, Luca Pacioli and Franchino Gaffurio are the names most often quoted when it is a question, in the commentary, of linking the Vitruvian theoretical data to the artistic and architectural culture of the Lombard Renaissance.  However the links to the milieu of Zenale and Cristoforo Solario appear just as obvious, even if they were not always exploited adequately.  In the background appear all the open building sites undertaken between Ludovico Sforza's accession to power and the French domination, in the first place that of the Duomo in Milan, chosen to represent and illustrate ichnography, orthography and scenography.  In this sort of attempt at actualization, images play a fundamental role insofar as they allow the antique text to be combined with modern interpretation.  One must always recall that Cesariano's approach to Vitruvius is that of a personality whose training was probably determined more by erudition and painting than by architecture.

Alessandro Rovetta (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan) – 2009


Critical bibliography


A. Bruschi, A. Carugo & F. P. Fiore (ed.), De Architectura traslato commentato e affigurato da Cesare Cesariano 1521, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1981.

C. Cesariano, Volgarizzamento dei libri IX (capitoli 7 e 8) e X di Vitruvio De Architectura, secondo il manoscritto 9/2790 Secciòn de Cortes de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, B. Agosti (ed.), Pisa, Scuola Normale Superiore, 1996.

C. Cesariano, Vitruvio De Architectura, Libri II-IV. I materiali, i templi, gli ordini, a cura di A. Rovetta, Milan, Vita e pensiero, 2002.

F. P. Fiore, "Le De Architectura de Vitruve édité par Cesare Cesariano, à Côme en 1521", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Mémoire active, Lyon, 2004, pp. 355-358.

S. Gatti & E. Monducci, Nuovi documenti su Cesare Cesariano e la sua edizione del “De Architectura” di Vitruvio (Como 1521), Reggio Emilia, Tipolitographia emiliana, 1994.

C. H. Krinsky (ed.), Vitruvius De Architectura. Cesare Cesariano (Como, 1521), Munich, Fink, 1969.

A. Rovetta, "Note introduttive all'edizione moderna del primo libro del Vitruvio di Cesare Cesariano", M. L. Gatti Perer & A. Rovetta (ed.), Cesare Cesariano e il classicismo di primo Cinquecento tra Milano e Como, Milan, Vita e pensiero, 1996, pp. 247-308.

M. Tafuri, "Cesare Cesariano e gli studi vitruviani del Quattrocento", A. Bruschi, C. Maltese, M. Tafuri & R. Bonelli (ed.), Scritti rinascimentali d'architettura, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1978, pp. 387-467.