Fra Giocondo

Title M. Vitruvius per Jocundum solito castigatior factus cum figuris et tabula...
Imprint Venice, G. da Tridentino, 1511
Localisation Tours, Cesr, SR/8B (2994)
Subject Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


     The De architectura of Vitruvius was published in Venice in 1511 by Giovanni da Tridentino, also known as Tacuino. This very fine folio edition established by Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435-1515) marked a milestone, for the text the man from Verona put forward was considerably modified compared with those of the first three editions (c. 1486, 1496 and 1497). It included one hundred thirty-six woodcuts, since the illustrations of the original treatise were lost. At the twilight of his life, Giocondo, a renowned engineer, familiar with the technical and scientific texts of the Ancients, but all the same a competent philologue and informed epigraphist, and what is more an excellent connoisseur of ruins, brought his multiple abilities to making an incomplete and not easily accessible text easier to understand. The humanist-architect wanted to render the Vitruvian text readable, that is to say comprehensible and therefore usable by scholars as well as by artisans. To this end he added a valuable lexicon at the end of the work.
Giocondo’s meticulous corrections have often been retained by modern editors. The illustrations of books III and IV devoted to temples and their decorations, that is to say columns and their entablatures, like those of book VI on the house, constituted a precious commentary of the text which would influence Vitruvian studies for the long term. For example, the plate of folio 37 circulated the motif of the bucrane in the Doric frieze, whose decoration Vitruvius had not described. Always concerned with rendering the De architectura more accessible, Fra Giocondo completed the Vitruvian instructions in proposing an entablature model identical to that of the theatre of Verona, with which he was well acquainted, in which the triglyphs alternate with metopes embellished with bucranes and patera, not described by the Roman architect and rarely used in the antique monuments of Rome with the exception of the Æmilia basilica, destroyed at the beginning of the 16th century. The Veronian’s model would be followed by almost all of the theoreticians of the Cinquecento; one finds it again in the Medidas del Romano of Diego de Sangredo (1526), as in the series of plates engraved by Agostino Veneziano published by Serlio in Venice in 1528 and in his Regole generali (1537). It was then sanctioned by Philandrier in 1544, Vignola in 1562 and Palladio in 1570.
The Vitruvius of 1511 was re-edited in an octavo volume in Florence, with a few variations, by Filippo Giunta in 1513 and in 1522 by his heirs. These three editions were widely circulated and fell in the hands of architects like Antonio da Sangallo as well as humanists like Guillaume Philandrier. The Vitruvius edition published in Lyon by the Gabianos in 1523 drew its inspiration directly from them, in copying a certain number of illustrations, for example.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours– 2006)

     On the frontispiece of the copy in the CESR library in Tours which comes from the Dominican convent in Toulouse, there is the same handwritten note as in the copy in the Bibliothèque Mazarine (2° 4780-1 Res), but with one variant (codex instead of exemplar). The comments in the margins, apparently written by the same person, are also present, but only as far as page 19r°. There are only brief and sporadic comments in the rest of the text. The copy in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, the cover of which was probably rebound during the 18th century, bears an old half-erased number (25162), proving that it was acquired rather early since it can be found in the Inventory of December 9, 1690, with the note “Vitruvium Jocondi Venise 1511”. On the top of the frontispiece, the handwritten note, which for a long time was taken for an ex libris, is in fact a quotation from a book by Giovanni Battista Pio (Bologna, 1505), as Adolfo Tura has interpreted it. Its margins are covered with a great number of annotations written in Latin ; in spite of the different colors of the ink, it all certainly appears to have been written by the same person, a humanist, during the second half of the 16th century. These notes, with many quotations from antique authors and comments on terminology, fractional ratios and many internal references are particularly dense in the first seven books. Further on they become less numerous but continue all the same. The block prints are often enhanced with diverse indications, even “corrected” and sometimes even replaced with new images, carefully glued to the location of the original illustrations. Thus this is a working copy ; the current study should permit the identification of the owner and possibly the final work of which this represents the preparatory stages.

Pierre Gros (Institut, Paris) – 2013)



Critical bibliography

L. A. Ciapponi, "Fra Giocondo da Verona and his Edition of Vitruvius", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 47, 1984, pp. 72-90.

P. Gros, “Fra Giocondo lecteur et interprète de Vitruve La valeur de sa méthode et les limites de sa logique”, Monuments et mémoires de la fondation Eugène Piot, t. 94, 2015, pp. 201-241.

Vitruvius, De architectura, under the direction of P. Gros, translation and commentary by A. Corso and E. Romano, Torino, Einaudi, 1997. 2 vols.

F. Lemerle, "Le bucrane dans la frise dorique à la Renaissance: un motif véronais", Annali di architettura, 8, 1996, pp. 85-92.

P. N. Pagliara, "Vitruvio, da testo a canone", Memoria dell’antico nell’arte italiana, 3, Turin, Einaudi, 1986, pp. 33-37.

P. N. Pagliara, "Le De architectura de Vitruve édité par Fra Giocondo, à Venise en 1511", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 348-354.