Caporali, Giovan Battista

Title Architettura...
Imprint Perugia, G. Bigazzini, 1536
Localisation Einsiedeln, Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, A04d. app. 855
Subject Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


After the Venitian edition, published in Venice by Francesco Luci (known as Durantino) in 1524 and reissued in 1535, an Italian translation of Vitruvius came out, annotated and illustrated (Architettura con il suo commento et figure Vetruvio in volgar lingua raportato). The Perugia painter Giovan Batista Caporali (1476-1560) was its author. The dedication to Count Giano Bigazzini dated 1532, Clément VII’s priviledge, the fact that the edition was limited to the first five books – which the title does not specifiy – furthermore the absence of an index and a table of contents indicate that the undertaking was not brought to a conclusion, despite the decisive role of the patron Bigazzini who, after a military career, withdrew to his holdings in Perugia. He only seems to have acquired a typographical workshop for the Caporali edition of Vitruvius and a new edition of the Cinque primi canti di Sacripante by Lodovico Dolce (one copy is in the British Museum in London), already published in Venice by Francesco Bindone and Maffeo Pasini.
After having worked during his youth with Perugino and Pinturicchio, Caporali went to Rome where he was in contact with Bramante, Giuliano da Sangallo and Peruzzi ; in fact in his comments (IV, 7, f.102) he mentions a dinner at the home of Bramante together with Perugino, Signorelli and Pinturicchio. This Roman sojourn, probably undertaken between 1508 and 1509 was decisive in his training as an architect and theorist during the period when new langage in the antique style was taking shape in Bramante’s and Raphael’s circle. For his edition Caporali drew on Cesariano’s Vitruvius from which he repeated the type of page formatting initiated in 1521 (translation framed by a commentary in smaller typeface). He modernized the langage in Durantino’s editions, definitively erasing the archaic aspect of the 1521 edition and provided the work with a “ modern ” frontispiece, a Doric arch of triumph with one opening and his portrait to the left. He kept the 1521 illustrations, re-engraved and reinterpreted. In spite of a finer line in some of the illustrations, the engravings are of lesser quality than the originals. They were sometimes separated and became the subjects of two distinct engravings like the caryatids (f. 8v°), which allowed Caporali to develop the entrance on two levels as Cesarino had done for the illustration of the captive Persians. The details of the lower part of the original plate were reproduced in the following engraving. Similarly, the engravings of folios 29 and 29v repeat plate 21 of the Como edition. Others on the contrary were brought together ; thereby the engraving of f. 34 combines the illustrations of the Tower of the Winds in Athens and of the amussium (f. 24v°-25). Diagrams were added (f. 34v° and 35, 38v°, [left], 41). The plates of the Cathedral of Milan illustrating ichnography, orthography and scenography in the Como Vitruve were deleted but the ichonography and scenography were illustrated in a different way by repeating for example an illustration from book IV (f. 19v). Furthermore Caporali added two engravings of his own accord ; the most interesting one at the end of chapter 11 of book IV, which stands out because of its better graphic quality, shows six Corinthian and composite capitals, one Tuscan and one Corinthian base similar to those examples represented in contemporary codices. As it is, the partial edition of 1536 is the last avatar of the 1521 Vitruve in Italy. As his predecessor, Caporali wanted to anchor Vitruvian theory in contemporary practice and he was able to influence his disciple Galeazzo Alessi. He was Alessi’s first teacher. Daniele Barbaro undoubtedly read his work.

Frédérique Lemerle (CNRS, Tours, CESR) – 2022

Critical bibliography

F. Lemerle, “Le Vitruvio de 1521 dans la littérature vitruvienne”, F. Lemerle, Y. Pauwels & V. Zara (dir.), Il Vitruvio di Cesare Cesariano (Como° 1521), to be published.

L. Olivato, Galeazzo Alessi e la trattatisca architettonica del Rinascimento, Sagep, Genova, 1975, pp. 31- 140.

G. Poleni, Exercitationes, Vitruvianae, Padova/Venezia, Manfrè/Pitteri, 1739, pp. 37-39.

M. Tafuri, L’architettura del manierismo nel Cinquecento europeo, Roma, Officina Edizioni, 1966, p. 199.

M. Tafuri, “L’idea di architettura nella letturatura teorica del manierismo”, Bolletino del Centro internazionale di studi di architattura A. Palladio, 9 1967, pp. 369-398.

G. Vasari, Le vite de’piu eccelenti achetetti, pittori e scultori italiani...Firenze, Giunti, 1568, p. 516.

G. B. Vermiglioli, Biografia degli scrittori perugini, I, Perugia, Bartelli, 1829, pp. 271-273 (ed. facsimile : Bologna, Forni, [1973]).

A. Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, Architett,ra del Cinquecento, XI, I, Milano, Hoepli, 1938, pp. 886-895.