Serlio, Sebastiano

Title [Libro sesto di tutte le habitationi...]
Localisation Vienna, Nationalbibliothek, 72.P.20 (printer’s proofs)

Domestic architecture

Consult in image mode
Transcribed version of the text


     These printer’s proofs were unknown to William Bell Dinsmoor and Marco Rosci. They were discovered by Konrad Oberhuber (1968, pp. 2-3) and first published in the 1978 facsimile of the manuscript for Book VI in the Avery Art and Architecture Library of Columbia University, New York (Rosenfeld 1978).
In a letter written by Serlio to François II de Dinteville, Bishop of Auxerre, on May 19, 1552 (Paris, BnF, Collection Dupuy, ms. 728, folio 178r-178v), discovered by François-Charles James and published by Sabine Frommel (1998, pp. 36-39), Serlio stated that he had just completed drawing the illustrations of Book VII on wood blocks and cutting them: “... e le planse [i.e. wood blocks] sono tutte disegnate...”. The original wood blocks which Serlio executed for Book VII were damaged in transit from Venice to Frankfurt according to a letter which Ottavio Strada wrote to his father from Nuremberg on September 5, 1574 (Vienna, Nationalbibliothek, Codex 9039, ff. 112r-113v; Rosenfeld 1974, pp. 401, 409). This letter also mentions printer’s proofs which had been made from the original wood blocks. The technique Serlio must have used in the preparation of the wood blocks is indicated by a drawing in pen and brown ink, The Marriage of Mopsis and Nisa (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), which Pieter Brueghel executed in 1566 directly on a piece of paper glued onto the surface of a wood block which he partially cut. The wood blocks for Book VI were probably executed by Serlio at the same time as he was working on those for Book VII, since the format of the folios in the printed version of Book VII (350 mm by 234 mm) is almost similar to that of the Vienna printer’s proofs. According to Sabine Frommel (1998, pp. 346-351) the manuscript from which the wood blocks for Book VI were made was earlier in date than the Munich manuscript of Book VI. However, I agree with Paolo Fiore (2001, pp. 29-31) that since the Vienna printer’s proofs contain variations of the illustrations of both the Avery and Munich manuscripts, this lost manuscript must have been the latest in date of all three (Rosenfeld 1996, pp. 1-8). The existence of the wood blocks made for the illustrations of Books VI and VII confirms Henri Zerner’s suggestion (1988, p. 282) that Serlio was trained to execute wood blocks rather than engravings. The known engravings after his designs were all executed by other artists.

Myra Nan Rosenfeld (Victoria University Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto) – 2012


Critical bibliography

F. P. Fiore, "Les épreuves d’imprimerie du Sesto Libro conservées à Vienne", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 171-173.

S. Frommel, Sebastiano Serlio architetto, Milan, Electa, 1998 (Engl. tr : London, Phaidon Press, 2003).

D. J. Jansen, "Jacobo Strada editore del Settimo Libro", C. Thoenes (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio, Milan, Electa, 1989, pp. 207-215.

K. Oberhuber, "Sebastiano Serlio", Albertina Informationen, 5, 1968, pp. 2-3.

M. N. Rosenfeld, "Sebastiano Serlio’s Drawings in the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna for his Seventh Book on Architecture", The Art Bulletin, 56, 1974, 3 (September), pp. 401-409.

M. N. Rosenfeld, "Recent Discoveries about Sebastiano Serlio’s Life and his Publications", preface to Sebastiano Serlio: On Domestic Architecture (paperback reprint of the 1978 facsimile without the text of the Avery Manuscript), New York, Dover Publications, 1996.

M. N. Rosenfeld (ed.), S. Serlio, Serlio on Domestic Architecture, New York, Architectural History Foundation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978 (facsimile of the Avery Manuscript of Book VI), Adolf K. Placzek, foreword ; James S. Ackerman, introduction.

F. P. Fiore & T. Carunchio (eds.), S. Serlio, Architettura Civile, Libri Sesto, Settimo e Ottavono nei manoscritti di Monaco e Vienna, Milan, Il Polifilo, 1994.

F. P. Fiore (ed.), S. Serlio, L’Architettura; I Libri 1-VIII e l’Extraordinario nelle prime edizioni, Milan, Il Polifilo, 2001.

H. Zerner, "Du mot à l’image: le rôle de la gravure sur cuivre", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture à la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 281-287.