Author(s) Rusconi, Giovanni Antonio
Della architettura… libri dieci
Imprint Venice, G. & G. P. De Ferrari, 1590
Localisation Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University, The George Peabody Library, 720 R952 1590
Subject Vitruvius, Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


In 1590 a book by Antonio Rusconi, Della architettura... libri dieci, was published by Giovanni and Giovanni Paolo de Ferrari with two distinct issues. Rusconi was born in Venice towards 1520 and died at the end of 1578. That undoubtedly explains the unusual contents of this posthumous book, reduced to 160 illustrations with brief comments or accompanied by a short presentation of the passage to which they refer following the separation of the ten books of the De Architectura, and preceded by a dedication to the Duke of Urbino, of a headword to the reader by Giovanni De Ferrari, by a table of contents and the list of illustrations. The translation of Vitruvius’ treatise should have accompanied it but is lacking.
Rusconi was the son of the Milanese publisher Giorgio Rusconi who had settled in Venice in 1500 where he was active until his death in 1522. Giovanni Antonio and his brother and partner Giovanni Francesco published twenty books between 1522 and 1524. Then their mother directed the business until 1527. Trained in his father’s workshop, Giovanni Francesco was in contact with the artists and engravers and could develop his talents as an artist there and be initiated in engraving.
Concurrently with his technical training, Giovanni Antonio received quite obviously a meticulous education as his inventory of his library shows. He was especially interested in the sciences, fortification and architecture and possessed three Latin editions of Vitruvius, among which were the princeps published in Rome (1486-1492) and Fran Giocondo’s (1511). Thus one finds that he took courses with Nicolò Tartaglia, with whom he learned algebra, ballistics and the mechanical arts. In fact in 1536 Tartaglia had succeeded the patrician Giovanni Battista Memmo as the chair of mathematics and gave his courses at the Scuola dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. In 1539 he counted Rusconi as his brilliant disciple next to Richard Wentworth, Henry VIII’s ambassador to Venice.
Undoubtedly encouraged by Fra Giocondo’s and Francesco Luci [Durantino]’s publications (1524 ; 1535), during the 1540s Rusconi undertook an illustrated Italian translation of De Architectura in the style of Cesariano’s edition, published in 1521, renewed by Caporali, who in 1536 proposed a smaller edition (books I-V) and modernised. He was also perhaps also encouraged by Guillaume Philandrier’s Annotationes (1544). These last two books were also present in his library. But the translation project, repeatedly announced and put off, never saw the light of day. Nevertheless the project was concluded in 1552 since at the end of that year Gabrieli Giolito De Ferrari, one of the most famous printer-booksellers of the Venitian Republic had engravings done and in 1553 obtained the privileges of the Venitian Senate and the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The competition of the translation commented by Daniele Barbaro illustrated by Andrea Palladio, published in 1556 as well as the reissues in 1567, then in 1584, seemed to have played a part in this. Barbaro had begun his work as early as 1547 and had picked it up again in 1551 when he returned from his mission in England. In 1554 he and Palladio went to Rome in order to perfect their knowledge by visiting notably the prestigious antiquities of the city and is surroundings. Thus Gabriele Giolito, understanding that he could not compete with the quality of the edition published at the shop of his confrere Francesco Marcolini by an individual as eminent and competent, considered it prudent to renounce an enterprise which had become risky.
When Gabriele died in 1578, his sons Giovanni and Giovanni Paolo who inherited the business, enacted an entirely different editorial policy. After Giovanni died in 1590, Giovanni Paolo never stopped selling off the “magazzino-libri” which took place in 1606. Owning the 300 plates which Rusconi created, he decided to put together a book from odds and ends, taking advantage both from the author’s high reputation even after his death, (Della architettura di Gio. Antonio Rusconi), and of the name of Vitruvius (secondo i precetti di Vitruvio). Rusconi’s translation does not appear. Only 160 plates out of the 300 announced in the fifties were included, accompanied by brief comments borowed word for word from Barbaro’s Italian edition, without always corresponding to them. Some of them are purely decorative in order to make this strange publication attractive (trees, pp. 41-44, plants, pp.114-116). The quality of the wood engravings is excellent : delicate and elegant lines, details extremely precise (the lower decoration of the Tower of the Winds, p. 19), the stone masonry, pp. 11-13…, primitive huts and shacks, diverse instruments and machines of war. It was not for nothing that Rusconi had worked as an engraver for Gabriele Giolito, illustrating particularly Ludovico Dolce’s books. He excelled naturally in his area of expertise in the sciences and techniques, illustrating realistically construction sites in their various phases (pp. 9, 100) also spreading construction techniques more Venitian than Roman, as certain plates demonstrate (pp. 61, 75, 99, 100…). The purely architectural or technical plates have letters which were supposed to refer to detailed captions or to a short more general comment. In fact illustrations which included public buildings (forums, basilicas, theatres, baths, palestras relating to book V) were ruled out, along with houses (book VI) and more curiously acqueducts (book VIII), the instruments which are used to measure time (book IX), various machines to raise water, mills, Archimedes’ screw, and hydraulic organs which first and foremost interested Rusconi the engineer. Not to mention some various war machines (catapults, ballistas) to the extent that one can wonder if the 300 illustrations announced in 1553 had really all been produced.
If Rusconi was inspired by his predecessors, such as Cesariano (Vitruvian figures : homo ad circulum, homo ad quadratum, pp. 46 and 47, the Tower of the Winds, p. 19, a Doric capital, p. 81) and even by the plate of the caryatids by Marcantonio Raimondi who had illustrated the Vitruvian passage in Raphael’s circle - Rusconi nevertheless separates the Persian caryatids which he places by threes in a distinct plate as did Giocondo (1511, f. 2-2v). He clearly was anxious to adhere as faithfully as possible to the Vitruvian text. In fact he was the only trattatist to illustrate the origin of the triglyph of the Doric entablature (pp. 74-75). When the antique architect does not describe the decoration, he furnishes Mannerist examples borrowed from Serlio (fluted and ringed columns on the Tower of the Winds), very far from Palladian purity. As for the presentation of buildings in oblique perspective (pp. 8, 36, 49, 52, 53, 61) or fragments of architecture such as entablatures (pp. 74, 76, 78) such as the first examples given by the Codex Coner at the beginning of the Cinquecento in Rome, it was anachronistic in 1590, but it already was in the 1550s. These representations, so similar to the ones in the Discours historial de l’antique et illustre cité de Nismes... by Poldo d’Albenas, published in 1559-1560 at the shop of Guillaume Roville imply that Rusconi could be the author of the architectural representations, especially as Roville (1518 ?-1589) had been trained in Venice at the workshop of the Gioloti di Ferrari and personally watched over the illustrations of the books he was printing. But in 1590 the apparent ignorance of antique architecture of which Rusconi could however have had an idea from neighbouring ruins in Rome limits the scope of his propositions concerning the orders.
In any event, this shortened “Vitruve” of 1590, without the text of De Architectura, would not do justice to Rusconi’s multiple skills, he who was at the same time an engineer, architect, illustrator and talented engraver but also a man of letters, a member of the Academia Peregrina founded by Giovan Francesco Doni whose secretary was Francesco Marcolini. He was the publisher who was eager to translate in ‘volgare’ the corpus of Latin and Greek authors. He associated with Jacopo Sansovino, Enea Vico, Titian, Giuseppe Salviati, among others. Often associated with Palladio for various projects and sometimes his direct competitor in the Venetian Republic, Rusconi was not famous for it. In fact he constructed very little. However the posthumous publication of the Della architettura as is attests to the vitality of the Vitruvian research conducted in Venetia since the first half of the Cinquecento by Fra Giocondo (1511), Francesco Durantino (1524), Sebastiano Serlio (1537), Daniele Barbaro (1556) and in the neighbouring duchy of Mantoua with Giovan Bartista Bertani (1558) who freed themselves little by little from Roman guardianship.
The book had a great editorial success and was reprinted right away (1590-2).

Frédérique Lemerle (CNRS, CESR, Tours) – 2023

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