Author(s) Vitruvius
Ryff, Walther Hermann
M. Vitruvii Pollionis... de architectura libri decem... conscripsit : & nunc primum in Germania... excusi... Per Gualtherum H. Ryff... Sexti Iulii Frontini de aquæductibus urbis Romae... Nicolai Cusani De staticis experimentis...
Imprint Strasbourg, C. Egenolff, 1543
Localisation Los Angeles, The Getty Research Institute, NA2515 .V84 1543
Subject Architecture
Transcribed version of the text


As the first illustrated commentary on Vitruvius’ De Architectura and the first printed Italian translation, this work, printed in 1521 in Como by Cesare Cesariano, had a rapid impact in Northern Italy, first in Venice in 1524 and 1535, then in Perugia in 1536. In France, as early as 1523, Luxembourg de Gabiano published a pocket edition which was inspired by the Florentine editions of 1513 and 1522 attributed to the Giunti family, which he illustrated partially with Cesariano’s plates. The Milanese painter had taken root in Northern Italian culture and it certainly interested the Germanic milieus, for in the illustrations they found concrete propositions in the art of building. The master mason found precise models of bases, capitals and entablatures, but also facades of buildings with elaborated decoration close to the late Gothic spirit. In this way the 1521 Vitruvius influenced Herman Ryff, a doctor in Strasbourg who illustrated in particular the Latin edition under his name in 1543, in Strasbourg, from a few plates borrowed from Cesariano’s book. The edition was published by Georg Messerschmidt in the Knobloch workshop at the expense of the publisher Christian Egenolff, an important publisher and printer established in Frankfurt. In fact, Messerschmidt, known as “Machaeropoeus” had bought the Knobloch dispensary after having worked in the studio of Jean Albrecht who had taken over the shop after Johan II Knobloch died. A great number of illustrations from 1521 were deleted: thus book IV has only one engraving taken from Cesariano, whereas the entablature with dentils from book III (p. 91), and the Corinthian capital with its ichnography in book IV (pp. 101 and 102) were taken from Giocondo and from its derived editions. The Corinthian and Ionic orders (pedestal and base, capital and entablature), Doric and Tuscan orders (pedestal and base, capital and entablature) (pp. 96, 99) and in an entirely anachronistic way the composite (p. 100) refer to Serlio’s plate of the five orders (1537). The last five books are hardly illustrated. The plates of the Vitruvius representing the cathedral of Milan were replaced by engravings taken from chapter 1 of book V providing examples of ichnography, orthography and scenography. Some engravings are partial ones, others were separated, like to the one of the Persians, or developed. Lastly, others were freely interpreted. Messerschmidt promptly produced a second version of the Vitruvius of 1543, replacing Ryff’s dedication with his own.

In the Vitruvius Teutsch which he published in Nuremberg in 1548, shortly before his death, Ryff drew more on Cesariano. In fact one can find there a very large number of plates taken from the 1521 book. For example, the cathedral of Milan, a plan of Roman and Greek theaters are included in it, unlike the 1543 Latin edition. Cesariano’s influence can still be felt in the short treatise on the orders published by Ryff in 1547 and in the compilation called Bericht which appeared the same year under his name.

Frédérique Lemerle (CNRS, Tours, CESR) – 2022

Critical bibliography

I. Dann, “Walther Ryff”, H. Günther (ed.), Deutsche Architekturtheorie zwischen Gothik und Renaissance, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988, pp. 79-88.

H. Günther, “Les ouvrages d’architecture publiés par Walther Hermann Ryff, à Nuremberg en 1547 et 1548”, S. Deswarte-Rosa (dir.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire Active, 2004, pp. 501-503.

J. Jachmann, Die Architekturbücher des Walter Hermann Ryff: Vitruvrezeption im Kontext mathematischer Wissenschaften, Stuttgart, Ibidem-Verlag, 2006.

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.