Author(s) Serlio, Sebastiano
Il settimo libro d’architettura... Architecturæ liber septimus...

Frankfurt am Main, A. Wechel & J. Strada, 1575

Localisation Paris, Ensba, Gonse 479

Domestic architecture

Transcribed version of the text


     In 1575 Jacopo Strada (1515-1588) brought out the Settimo libro d’architettura by Sebastiano Serlio in Frankfurt in a bilingual edition (Italian and Latin) at the printing presses of André Wechel, a Huguenot printer-bookseller, who had just settled in Germany after having escaped the Saint Bartholemew’s Day massacre. Imperial architect and scholar of antiquities, Strada recalls in the preface how he had managed to buy the material of the last book of the whole treatise from Serlio whom he had met in Lyon in 1550. Serlio had planned to print all of it and had already published the first five books of the treatise (1537, 1540, 1545, 1547). Strada acquired it with the manuscripts of Book VI and of the Castrametation from Polybius. Serlio, in France since autumn of 1541, had settled in Lyon after the death of François Ier and the departure of his protector Hippolyte d’Este, in order to finish publishing his treatise. Losing hope of seeing his project come to a successful completion, Serlio had accepted Strada’s offer in these precarious conditions. In 1552 he had finished writing the text and drawn all the illustrations for Book VII. The following year Strada paid “a pretty sum”, in his own words, for all of it. Book VII, without doubt the most technical book, was therefore the last one Serlio worked on, and he was to die soon after, exhausted by his efforts (Jansen 1989, 2004). The book is his last reflection on the architect’s profession, a subject that theoreticians approached in a limited way, and on the various sorts of responses to a certain number of constraints (the site, the environment, and the restoration or modernization of more or less recent buildings). It was the opportunity to offer a collection of appropriate solutions to professionals lacking inspiration.
The content of Book VII is rather miscellaneous, since Serlio had not completely finished revising his manuscript when he sold it to Strada ; the preliminary version is now in Vienna (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Ser. Nov. 2649), but the illustrations were already completed, the woodcuts made in Venice (Fiore & Carunchio 2004). The text was revised for the edition by Mino Celsi (1514-1575), a famous Protestant exile from Siena, then revised again just before printing by a certain “Dottor Mantuano”, hence some differences in the manuscript: the printed text was enlarged and the contents were reorganized. The last part of the book devoted to villas was thus enlarged with new examples. The Latin translation of Serlio’s Italian text was perhaps done by the Marquis d’Oria, Giovanni Bernardino Bonifacio, a Protestant exile whom Strada had hired to translate the book on castrametation.
The book begins with the tables of contents in Italian and Latin (“Breve narratione delle cose che sono nel settimo libro”/“Brevis eorum expositio, quæ in hoc loco septimo libro afferuntur”), followed by a dedication to Wilhelm von Rosenberg, the head of a powerful family from Bohemia, by the word to the readers by Strada (Italian-Latin), by the privilege from Emperor Maximilian (in Latin) and by that from the French King Charles IX (in French). From then on the text is presented in two columns (in italics for the Italian, in Roman characters for the Latin). After a brief one-page introduction, Serlio gives twenty-five models of residences (twenty-four villas and one palace) (ch. 1-25), which are like his Book VI, which remained unpublished. In chapters 26-39 he presents a series of decorations (fireplace facings, windows, dormers, jubes and fortified doors). Next he considers thirteen “accidents” which can come up during construction (ch. 40-54). After these accidents, in which each one furnishes opportunities to develop his own models, Serlio considers irregular sites (ch. 55-75), giving a series of seven plans and elevations of urban dwellings, which obey the rule of good architecture, “judicious architecture”, which adopts the principles of symmetry, appropriate proportions and decoration in the antique style. He completes the series with difficult sites, outside the city, with buildings on several levels making the best use of running water (ch. 64, 65, 69).
The daily lot of the architect, even among the most prestigious ones, is, as Serlio made it very apparent, to restore and modernize existing buildings which are more or less old. During the Renaissance one rarely built ex nihilo. It was also common to reuse available material. In Book VII Serlio thus makes a theory out of his own experience which he illustrates with a certain number of his projects: the ballroom at Fontainebleau (ch. 40-41), the Loge du Change in Lyon (ch. 73) and the château de Lourmarin (last part, ch. 2). One sees in the decoration a positive taste for capriccio, originality, exuberance and sophistication going even as far as the characteristic strangeness of Serlio’s late style in the tradition of the Extraordinario libro (Frommel 2002).
Book VII had an immediate repurcussion. The model of the thirteenth of the twenty-four country houses was used by Marcantonio Pasi for the project of the ducal palace at Mesola for Alfonso II d’Este, built between 1583 and 1586 (Scotti 2004). Confronted with the French architectural tradition, the Italian created models which inspired architects and captivated the patrons of all of Europe.
The six palace projects at the end of the book with their own numbering (ch. 1-6) were added by Jacopo Strada to fill out the original manuscript: they are by Serlio as the frontispiece indicates (“Ad finem adiuncta sunt sex palatia, ichnographia & orthographia variis rationibus descripta, quæ ruri à magno quopiam Principe extrui possint. Eodem autore...”). Strada was not entirely satisfied with the edition (inelegant characters, paper of mediocre quality and some woodcuts damaged during transport from Venice to Frankfurt). The Ensba copy is the first copy in which the Italian title precedes the Latin title (Vène 2007, p. 120).
During the 17th century Serlio was supplanted by Vignola, Palladio and Scamozzi. Nonetheless, Jean-François Félibien (ca. 1658-1733), the elder son of the secretary of the Royal Academy, translated the Book VII and presented it to the Royal Academy of Architecture on February 18, 1680 (Procès verbaux, 1, p. 274). It was never published. Serlio was permanently passé.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2014

Critical bibliography

J. B. Bury, “Serlio. Some bibliographical notes”, C. Thoenes (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio, Milan, Electa, 1989, pp. 92-101.

M. Carpo, Metodo ed ordini nella teoria architettonica dei primi Moderni. Alberti, Raffaello, Serlio e Camillo, Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 271, Geneva, Droz, 1993, pp. 87-91.

T. Carunchio, “Le manuscrit du Settimo Libro conservé à Vienne”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon, Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 194-197.

T. Carunchio, “Le Settimo Libro, Francfort-sur-le-Main, 1575”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio 2004 cit., pp. 198-201.

W. B. Dinsmoor, “The Literary Remains of Sebastiano Serlio”, The Art Bulletin, 24, 1942, pp. 77-83.

F. P. Fiore & T. Carunchio (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio, Architettura Civile, Libri Sesto, Settimo e Ottavono nei manoscritti di Monaco e Vienna, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1994, pp. 247-485.

F. P. Fiore, L’architettura. I libri I-VII e Extraordinario nelle prime edizioni, Milan, Il Polifilo, 2001, vol. 2 (facsimile).

S. Frommel, Sebastiano Serlio architecte de la Renaissance, Paris, Gallimard, 2002, pp. 356-359 (1st ed.: Milan, Electa, 1998).

V. Hart & P. Hicks (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio on Architecture, Books VI and VII of ‘Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospettiva’ with ‘Castrametation of the Romans’ and ‘The extraordinary Book of Doors’ by Sebastiano Serlio, New Haven & London, Yale UP, 2001, pp. 157-385 (Eng. trans.).

D. J. Jansen, “Jacopo Strada editore del Settimo libro”, C. Thoenes (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio 1989 cit., pp. 207-215.

D. J. Jansen, “Le rôle de Strada comme éditeur du Settimo libro de Serlio”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio 2004 cit., pp. 177-184.

D. J. Jansen, “Le catalogue d’éditeur de Jacopo Strada”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio 2004 cit., pp. 185-187.

F. Lemerle, “Architecture et accidents”, paper at the international colloquium Hasard et providence, Tours, Cesr, July 3-8, 2006.

H. Lemonnier(ed.), Procès verbaux de l’Académie d’Architecture (1671-1681), Paris, Jean Schemit, 1911.

A. Scotti, “Un exemple de la fortune du Settimo libro à l’époque baroque: la villa en forme de moulin à vent de Serlio”, S. Deswarte Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio 2004 cit., pp. 205-210.

M. Vène, Bibliographia serliana. Catalogue des éditions imprimées des livres du traité d’architecture de Serlio (1537-1681), Paris, Picard, 2007, pp. 119-120.