Cataneo, Pietro

Title L’architettura...
Imprint Venice, [P. Manuce], 1567
Localisation Getty Centre, Research Library, NA2517.C38 1567
Churches, Domestic Architecture, Geometry, Hydrology, Military architecture, Orders, Perspective, Urbanism
Transcribed version of the text


     The second edition of Pietro Cataneo’s treatise was radically changed and enlarged. The first four books published in 1554 were updated: three chapters on the layout of an army encampment during the Roman period were added to the first book and twelve “Vitruvian” chapters on temple styles were added to the third book as well as an illustration of Bramante’s tempietto (pp. 72-73). Noticeable are four new books devoted successively to the architectural orders, to water resources and baths, to geometry and to perspective. In this configuration, the Architettura becomes a complete treatise, which strives to vie with the books of Alberti and Serlio. It inspired Andrea Palladio to make this comment of praise: “una opera di Architettura, con la quale ha non poco illustrato questa professione” (1570, I, 13, p. 15). Perhaps it was this comment which gave Roland Fréart de Chambray the idea of becoming interested in Cataneo in order to associate him with Daniele Barbaro in his Parallèle, however with no great enthusiasm: “And his companion Pierre Cataneo (whom I give to Barbaro only in order to keep an equal conformity in the way in which I draw the parangon of the modern authors) will only be a minor clerk in the retinue of that great prelate, although he could be equal to most of the others” (1650, p. 20). The Architettura is quoted in Louis Savot’s “bibliography” (L’architecture françoise..., 1624, p. 322), and in his notes for Savot’s book, published in 1685, François Blondel gives a divided judgment: “there is much to be learned in Cataneo’s Book, particularly in that which concerns solidity and in several fine comments he makes which are useful for the beauty of the arrangement of the buildings; nevertheless the rules he gives for his orders of architecture must not be followed at all, not being in good taste” (1685, p. 347).
Nonetheless the treatise does offer great interest, for it is the first book on architecture which functions with a critical look at the previous literature. In book V, in order to give the proportions of the Doric capital, for example, Cataneo does not give his own method, but establishes a parallel among Vitruvius, Alberti and Serlio (pp. 113-115). He strikes out at the Florentine (“capitello molto mal proporzionato, e pero mostruoso”), and especially at the Quarto libro, criticizing the projection of the Serlian model and especially the author’s presumption, in daring to claim that his capital was proportioned better than Vitruvius’ “cosa veramente ridicula alli intellegenti”.
The animosity towards Serlio is constantly present in the Architettura. Probably it is caused by the fact that Cataneo received no inheritance from the illustrious Baldassare Peruzzi, whose papers, as Vasari recalls, were divided between Serlio and Jacopo Meleghino, and Serlio apparently drew heavily on this legacy for his Quarto libro. Even if Cataneo was to a large extent inspired by Serlio for the churches in book III, the geometric diagrams in book VIII and the orders in book V (in particular the composite, similar to the Serlian order), he doesn’t miss an occasion to strike out at him. The interpretation of the bucranes and the paterae on the Doric frieze as images of antique sacrifices is refuted, but Cataneo’s explanation is hardly more convincing (pp. 117-118). The Sienese goes so far as to repeat, on p. 119, a complete plate from the Quarto libro (1537, f. 21v°) in order to show that out of seven examples given as models to follow, five are in fact eminently inaccurate and objectionable.
The controversy did not necessarily make for success. In spite of undeniable qualities and a certain originality in treating technical problems, Cataneo’s treatise was not republished, for at its publication date, its comprehensively Serlian inspiration was obsolete; it had already been rendered out ofdate by Vignola in 1562 and it would be again by Palladio in 1570.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2012

Critical bibliography

E. Bassi, "Nota introduttiva", Pietro Cataneo, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola. Trattati di architectura, V-2, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1985, pp. 165-178.

R. Binaghi, "Pietro Cataneo Architettore nostro diletto ad Orbetello...", G. Beltramini, A. Ghisetti Giavarina & P. Marini (ed.), Studi in onore di Renato Cevese, Vicenza, Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, 2000, pp. 41-59.

F. P. Fiore, "Trattati e teorie d’architettura del primo Cinquecento", A. Bruschi (ed.), Il primo Cinquecento, Milan, Electa, 2002, pp. 517-519.

G. Nido, Pietro Cataneo trattatista d’architettura del Cinquecento. Saggio introduttivo per una lettura critica della sua opera, Raccolta Pisana di saggi e studi, 29, Florence, Marchi & Bertolli, 1968.

A. Secondo-Tessari, "In modo crucis: simbolismo religioso nel trattato sull’architettura di Pietro Cataneo", Storia della Città, 43, 1988, pp. 69-84.