Author(s) Serlio, Sebastiano
Title Regole generali di architetura...
Imprint Venice, F. Marcolini, 1537
Localisation Évreux, Bibliothèque - médiathèque, RA 101
Subject Orders
Transcribed version of the text


     Few books in the history of architecture have caused a sensation equal to that of the Regole generali, published by Sebastiano Serlio in Venice in 1537. The author, after a stay in Rome around 1525 in company with Peruzzi, had settled on the Laguna a little before 1528. Although he did not build very much there, i.e. he was recognized as a professore di architettura, an expert in architecture. A friend of the greatest artists and writers, Aretino, Lorenzo Lotto and Titian, he moved in the city’s humanist circles, particulary the group surrounding Giulio Camillo Delminio, the author of the famous “Theatre of Memory” and who taught at the prestigious universities of Bologna and Padua. Serlio, when ill, designated him as his sole beneficiary in his will signed in April, 1528. The same year he obtained a copyright to print a series of copperplates engraved by Agostino Veneziano representing the bases, capitals and entablatures of the “orders”.
Also known as Quarto libro, according to its place in Serlio’s complete treatise, the book is the oldest of the books he published. It occupies a major place in the history of the architectural theory of the early modern period, because for the first time the five orders of architecture which were going to be the foundation of architectural decoration for three centuries were expressed satisfactorily, as much from the point of view of their intrensic morphology as from the method of presentation. Between 1528 and 1537, keeping company with the learned milieu of Giulio Camillo had trained him in the demands of the rhetorical pedagogy revitalized principally by Melanchton in Wittenberg, a doctrine that the evangelical contacts of this milieu had familiarized him with.
The morphology of the orders corresponds by and large to the practices of the Roman environment during the 1520s. Bramante, then Raphaël and his pupils perfected a language which was in fact a synthesis of the Vitruvian indications and the lessons of archeology. Trained in this atmosphere, paying homage to Peruzzi whose teaching benefited him and an admirer of Giulio Romano, Serlio mastered these forms, already represented in his 1528 engravings. The vocabulary was already clarified, in particular the fifth order, the “Roman composite”, which he was the first to describe in the same capacity as the other orders.
But as a friend of Aretino and Delminio, Serlio’s literary culture allowed him above all to formalize a very effective arrangement of an extremely confused antique heritage, as much in the reading of the ruins as in reading Vitruvius’ text. In fact, the presentation of the Quarto libro follows a layout similar to that of the organization of a collection of topoi. Before being architectural ensembles made up of a column and an entablature, the five “orders” are the five chapter headings allowing rational classification of antique diversity. Under each one are organized not only column and entablature, but also doors, chimney pieces and façades relating to the same style. Inside each chapter, the first plate giving in fact the contents, Serlio describes systematically the morphology, the ornamentation – borrowed from antique examples – and models of composition playing a role of literary “topoi”, architectural ideas often reduced to a rather simple structure, intended to be copied, adapted and amplified according to the context. The architect’s cardinal virtues, who must be prudente and giudizioso, are the same virtues as those that Cicero accorded to the architect: consilium and prudentia on the one hand, judicium on the other, i.e. the ability to anticipate needs according to an overall project and the ability to weigh and choose the most effective arguments. These abilities guide the artist in the use of the decorative forms and the topos, the elocutio and the inventio.
Thanks to consistent forms, pertinent accounts and the use of the printing press, the Quarto libro was ensured an exceptional fate: the five orders, adopted for good, were put into practice by Philandrier, Vignola, Palladio et Scamozzi, by Goujon and Bullant in France, and by Blum and Vredeman de Vries in Northern Europe. Thus the suggested “topoi” were found in all the buildings from Andalusia to Flanders.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2012

Critical bibliography

M. Carpo, Metodo ed ordini nella teoria architettonica dei primi Moderni, Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 271, Geneva, Droz, 1993.

W.-B. Dinsmoor, "The Literary Remains of Sebastiano Serlio", The Art Bulletin, 24, 1942, pp. 55-91.

H. Günther, "Das geistige Erbe Peruzzis im vierten und dritten Buch des Sebastiano Serlio", J. Guillaume (ed.), Les traités d’architecture de la Renaissance, Paris, Picard, 1988, pp. 227-246.

H. Günther, "Serlio e gli ordini architettonici", C. Thoenes (éd.), Sebastiano Serlio, Milan, Electa, 1989, pp. 154-168.

D. Howard, "Sebastiano Serlio’s Venetian Copyrights", The Burlington Magazine, 115, 1973, pp. 512-516

F. Lemerle, "Genèse de la théorie des ordres : Philandrier et Serlio", Revue de l’Art, 103, 1994, pp. 33-41.

F. Lemerle, Les Annotations de Guillaume Philandrier sur le De architectura de Vitruve, Livres I à IV, Introduction, translation and annotations, Paris, Picard, 2000, pp. 36-40.

Y. Pauwels, "Les origines de l’ordre composite", Annali di architettura, 1,1989, pp. 29-46.

Y. Pauwels, "La méthode de Serlio dans le Quarto Libro", Revue de l’Art, 119, 1998, pp. 33-42.

Y. Pauwels, L’architecture au temps de la Pléiade, Paris, Monfort, 2002, pp. 27-58.

Y. Pauwels, Aux marges de la règle. Essai sur les ordres d’architecture à la Renaissance, Wavre, Mardaga, 2008, pp. 21-40.

M. Vène, Bibliographia serliana. Catalogue des éditions imprimées des livres du traité d’architecture de Serlio (1537-1681), Paris, Picard, 2007, pp. 50-51.