Serlio, Sebastiano

Title [Libro sesto di tutte le habitationi...]
Localisation Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. Icon. 189

Domestic architecture

Transcribed version of the text


     In the introduction to Book VII (Il settimo libro d’architettura, 1575, f. a 3v), Jacopo Strada said that he had bought all of Serlios drawings with the corresponding sheets of text from him in Lyon in 1550. The Munich manuscript of Book VI, like the one for Book VIII (Della castramentatione di Polibio), which is also in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothk in Munich (Cod. Icon 190), must have been sold together by Serlio to Strada in 1552-1553 along with the manuscript for Book VII in Vienna (Nationalbibliothek Codex S. N. 2649) and its destroyed wood blocks (Jansen 1989, pp. 207, 213, 215, note 44). One of the paper fly-leaves of the Munich manuscript for Book VIII has a piece of paper glued onto it with an annotation of the Belgian bibliographer Samuel Quicchelberg who examined Hans Jakob Fuggers library in 1558. Strada sold books and manuscripts to Fugger and Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria before he became antiquarian to the Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria in 1564 : another paper fly-leaf of the Munich manuscript of Book VIII has the same two book plates of the Dukes of Bavaria as the Munich manuscript for Book VI. Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria acquired the library of Fugger in 1571. William Bell Dinsmoor found that the paper of these two fly-leaves was manufactured in Lorraine and used in Germany between 1558 and 1570. The Munich manuscripts of Book VI and Book VIII were in the library of the Dukes of Bavaria by 1585 when they were both consulted by Frederich Sustris, the court painter.
The Munich manuscripts of Book VI and of Book VIII remained unnoticed outside of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek until they were mentioned by Annemarie Cetto in her 1924 dissertation on the Abbé de Saint-Hilarion (1923/24, p. 16, note 1). The attribution to Serlio of both manuscripts was confirmed at the same time by Kurt Cassirer. Dinsmoor was the first scholar in 1942 to investigate in detail the relationship between the Munich and New York manuscripts.
Although Serlio included Book VI in his plan for his treatise on architecture in the introduction to Book IV (1537, f. Vr), the New York and Munich manuscripts were executed in France. In the notice to the reader at the end of Books I and II (1545, f. 74r), Serlio said that three-quarters of Book VI was finished. In Book V (1547, f. 33r), he stated that he could precede with the next two: the books on dwellings (Book VI) and on accidents (Book VII). In Book VII (pp. 1, 94), which was written at the same time as Book VI, Serlio stated that the book on dwellings had been completed and delivered to the public. The latter statement is problematic. Serlio may have been referring to the wood blocks, proofs of which are now in Vienna (Nationalbibliothek, 72.P 20), that he had prepared for its publication. Book VI was also mentioned in two letters sent to Duke Ercole d’Este II in 1546, one written by Giulio Alvarotti, his Ambassador to Francis I on May 5th, and a second written by his brother, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, Papal Legate to France, on October 16th. In the first, Giulio Alvarotti said that the book on dwellings was ready to be printed. Cardinal’s brother Duke Ercole II had paid for the publication of the first edition of Book IV (1537).
The Munich manuscript for Book VI is a presentation manuscript on vellum. It was designed to be read like a printed book with the text pages opposite the illustrations. There is no title page. Serlio used Roman numerals in two series to designate the different projects: I-XL for the country houses, and I-XXII for the city dwellings. A later hand added the folio numbers in a series of Arabic numerals, folios 1v-44r for the country dwellings, and folios 44v to 73r for the city houses. The recto of the first folio is an introduction to the first section on country houses entitled Delle habitationi di tutti li grade degli homini furoi della città. The text for projects I-II is on folio 1v with a title “Della casa del povero cittadino per questo gradi della povertà” opposite the illustrations on folio 2r. Every illustration is to the right of the reader with the corresponding text at the left. In contrast to the Avery manuscript, all of the folios of text in the Munich manuscript have titles like the illustrations. The city houses end on folio 73r; the verso of that folio is blank. There is a notice to the reader, “Discorso sopra alcune cose lassate a drieto per la brevita” (ff. 74r-74v).
In the introduction to the country houses (f. 1v), Serlio said that he was in the employment of King Henry II of France. I believe, in contrast to Hart and Hicks, that Serlio must have begun the execution of the Munich manuscript at Fontainebleau in April of 1547 before he was replaced as royal architect by Philibert De l’Orme on April 3, 1548. There are several allusions to King Francis I when Serlio speaks of buildings he designed specifically for the king: project XL, an oval villa (f. 42v), project XXIX, a small country house (f. 31v), and project XXII for the Louvre (f. 66v). In the description of project XV, the variant of Le Grand Ferrare (f. 14v), Serlio speaks of Francis I in the past tense as he does on folio 31v. In one project, a villa which Serlio said was built for King Francis I in the Avery manuscript (project 29, pls. XL-XLII), the name of the French king was changed to King Henry II in the corresponding project in the Munich manuscript (XXXIV, f. 38v). Serlio continued to work on the Munich manuscript in Lyon where he had gone with Cardinal Ippolito d’Este to organize King Henry II’s entry on September 23, 1548. The Cardinal's house in Fontainebleau, Le Grand Ferrare (1542-1546), which the Cardinal did not want to be included in the Avery manuscript, is depicted in two versions in the Munich manuscript, projects XV (ff. 14v-15r) and XVI (ff. 15v-16r). Serlio put a Tuscan loggia on the façade of the first variant of Le Grand Ferrare, project XV (f. 15r). The façade of the actual palace as it was built in the Avery manuscript (pl. XI) has no classical orders. Marco Rosci believes Serlio designed the two versions of Le Grand Ferrare in the Munich manuscript after the Cardinal’s departure from Lyon in 1549 but before 1550 when he completed the Munich manuscript.
In the notice to the reader at the end of Books I and II (1545, ff. 73v-74r), Serlio stated that he wanted each illustration opposite the text and folios of full page illustrations with fold-out flaps. However, these books were not printed as he wished. If the Munich manuscript for Book VI had been printed, it would have been the first architectural treatise published in Europe with full page illustrations facing the text on a separate page. Rosci has noted that Serlio discussed in the introduction to the Munich manuscript (f. 1r) the importance of well drawn illustrations to convey the architects ideas. To emphasize his point, Serlio used the Greek/Latin word “grafica” in addition to the Italian word “disegno”.
The Munich manuscript has the same general hierarchical order of country and city dwellings from the poorest citizen to the King as the Avery manuscript for Book VI. There are thirty-two country houses as in the Avery manuscript. Serlio mistakenly numbered the last country house XL in the Munich manuscript. The numbers of projects I to XIX are correct in the Munich manuscript as are those of projects XXVI to XXIX. However for each of projects XX to XXV, Serlio gave two numbers, making three projects instead of six. Projects XXX to XXXI are only one project. Serlio left out numbers XXXV to XXXVIII, and jumped from project XXXIV to project XL.
Serlio changed the social hierarchy of the country dwellings in the Munich manuscript. He raised the social level of the variants of the house of the Cardinal of Ferrara (projects XV to XVI) and of Ancy-le-France (project XVII) and its variant (project XVIII), to houses for princes rather than noble gentlemen. In the Munich manuscript, Serlio increased the number of villas for princes to ten (XV to XIX) from seven in the Avery manuscript. He also reduced the number of gentlemens villas to three (XII to XIV). He increased the number of fortified villas for princes to five (XVII to XVIII and XXVI to XXVIII) from three in the Avery manuscript. This was perhaps a response to the increase in hostilities between Protestants and Catholics which began in the 1540s and led to the Wars of Religion at the end of King Henry II’s reign.
There are twenty-two city dwellings in the Munich manuscript, one more than in the New York manuscript, since Serlio added a variant project to project P in the Avery manuscript, the house of a noble gentleman. These two corresponding projects in the Munich manuscript for Book VI are urban palaces XV and XVI. When we compare the two manuscripts for Book VI, we can see that Serlio made many changes in the text and illustrations of the Munich manuscript. He also regularized the layout of the individual pages. Since he had not been able to publish the first version of Book VI which he had written during the reign of King Francis I, Serlio edited the second version he wrote during the reign of King Henry II to take into account certain criticisms. He added allusions to the treatises of Alberti and Vitruvius in the introduction to the country houses as well as in the notice to the reader. He eliminated the discordant decorative elements found in the façades of the Avery manuscript such as the columns of the country house of the King, project, 29, plate XL of the Avery manuscript. Serlio was responding to the change in French architectural taste which had occurred after he had begun the Avery version of Book VI. Between 1548 and 1553, there was a much more doctrinaire attitude toward the theories of Vitruvius and Alberti. Jean Martin published in Paris in 1547 a French translation of Vitruvius treatise (Architecture ou art de bien bastir). It was followed in 1553 by Martin’s translation of Alberti’s treatise (L’architecture et art de bien bastir). Between the two, Jean de Tournes published in Lyon in 1552 an edition of Vitruvius in Latin with annotations by Guillaume Philandrier (M. Vitruvii Pollionis de architectura libri decem... Accesserunt, Gulielmi Philandri... annotationes).
Book VI was never published, because even the second version in Munich did not correspond to the desire by French architects and patrons to have buildings in the latest Italian style and to adhere more strictly to classical theories of architecture. In the projects of both of the versions of Book VI, Serlio did not use harmonic proportions for the dimensions of the rooms of his dwellings, nor did he use the proportions of the five orders he had presented in Book IV (f. VIr). Ironically, as noted by Marco Rosci, Serlio justified the “discordia concordante” of his country and city dwellings by his adherence to the Vitruvian principles of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. In the introduction to the country houses and in the conclusion of the Munich manuscript for Book VI, Serlio stated that specific French needs in planning (“commodità”), in decoration (“decoro”), and in climate, justified his departure from the classical norms of architecture. Furthermore “decoro” had to follow “commodità” in a well designed building.

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


Critical bibliography

A. Cetto, Der Proportionstraktat des Abbé de Saint-Hilarion und seine Bedeutung innerhalb der französichen Architectur des XVII Jahrhunderts, Cologne, Faculty of Philosophy, 1923/24.

W. B. Dinsmoor, "The Literary Remains of Sebastiano Serlio", The Art Bulletin, 24, 1942, pp. 54-91, 115-154.

F. P. Fiore, "Le manuscrit du Sesto Libro conservé à Munich", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 167-170.

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.

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.

M. N. Rosenfeld, "Sebastiano Serlio’s Contribution to the Creation of the Modern Illustrated Architectural Manual", C. Thoenes (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio, Milan, Electa, 1989, pp. 102-111.

M. N. Rosenfeld, "Recent Discoveries about Sebastiano Serlios 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, "Le dialogue de Serlio avec ses lecteurs et mécènes en France dans le Sesto Libro", S. Deswarte-Rosa (ed.), Sebastiano Serlio à Lyon. Architecture et imprimerie, Lyon, Mémoire active, 2004, pp. 145-154.

M. Rosci, Il trattato di architettura di Sebastiano Serlio ; Il Sesto libro, delle habitationi di tutti li gradi degli homini (facsimile of the Munich manuscript of Book VI), Milan, ITEC Editrice, 1966.

Sebastiano Serlio on Architecture, Volume Two, Books VI-VII of ‘Tutte lopere d’architettura et prospetiva’ with ‘Castrametation of the Romans’ and ‘The Extraordinary Book of Doors’ by Sebastiano Serlio, translated from the Italian with an introduction and commentary by V. Hart and P. Hicks, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. xxvi-xxxii, xlviii-xlix, liv; 1-155, 513-541, 617-620.