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HIST 1061, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome (Jobin) - Rare Books Collection: Vitruvius' de Architectura: the Roman World in Renaissance Architecture

Vitruvian Heirs

Vitruvius served as a military engineer, architect, and theoretician under Caesar Augustus in the first century BCE.  His Ten Books on Architecture (de Architectura), written roughly 20-30 BCE, focused on the following themes:  firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty).  Although critical to architectural theory for over two millennia, Vitruvius' ten books were rooted in the experiential knowledge of craftsmanship, with engineering and the materials of building a focus in eight of the ten books.    

The only work on architecture to survive antiquity, de Architectura was lost for much of the Middle Ages before being rediscovered by Poggio Braccolini (secretary to one of three contenders for the papacy during the Council of Constance) in 1416/17 in the library of the monastery of St. Gall.  The rediscovered theoretical and practical work of Vitruvius proved to be highly influential among Renaissance and modern architects.  To name only a few, Leonardo da Vinci, Francisco di Giorgio Martini, Sebastiano Serlio, Andrea Palladio, and Thomas Jefferson, incorporated both Vitruvian design and theory that built on the relationship between the human form and the built environment.   

Francesco di Giorgio Martini

Trattati di Architettura Ingegneria e Arte Militare

Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library

Trattato di Architettura, Facsimile Edition

Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries

The British Library holds an early manuscript of Vitruvius' treatise, which may have been copied at the scriptorium associated with the court of Charlemagne and which may have served as the source for later manuscripts. 

Vitruvius' work is readily available in print, translated and augmented by later architects.  Special Collections holds Claude Perrault's Les Dix Livre d'Architecture de Vitruve (1684), for example, which includes Perrault's copious notes and detailed engravings, that below detailing the development of the Corinthian order. 

A fully digitized, searchable copy of this French edition is available through the Internet Archive

Vitruvius, Les Dix Livre d'Architecture de Vitruve, Paris: Coignard, 1684.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Special Collectons, CU Boulder Libraries

Special Collections holds early printed editions of the work of Sebastiano Serlio (Terzo libro di Sabastiano Serlio Bolognese) and Andrea Palladio (The First Book of Architecture), both of which are featured below. 

Access Sebastiano Serlio's work at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University (The Digital Serlio Project), which features his manuscripts and published editions as well as essays on his work. 

Sebastiano Serlio, di Architettura di Sebastiano Serio di Bolognese, Venice, 1555.

Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries

Andrea Palladio, The First Book of Architecture, London, 1663

Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries

Andrea Palladio's First Book of Architecture (this first English edition was published by Godfrey Richards in 1663) features an engraved title page, with a muse holding a dividing compass and detailed architectural plans. 

Access Special Collections' digitized copy of Palladio's First Book on Architecture here.  

The City of Rome

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Teatro di Marcello, c. 1757

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beyond the importance of the theoretical work of Vitruvius in the early modern and modern architectural imagination was the presence of the city of Rome itself.  Poorly preserved ruins and re-purposed Roman structures alike contributed to the mystic of Rome, serving as inspiration for architects and artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

The Theatre of Marcellus, seen here, was begun under Julius Caesar and dedicated by Caesar Augustus to his deceased nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 13 BCE. 

For this image of the theatre, see the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This etching is also held by the CU Art Museum, along with other Piranesi holdings. 

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1749-50

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Working in the eighteenth century, Piranesi romanticized ancient Roman remains with etchings of the ancient city that drew from surviving architecture.  His work, however, also depicted a Rome that could never have been.  For example, here, an imaginary harbor is set against a backdrop of amphitheater and temple in implausible, spatially ambiguous surroundings.     

For more on this piece, see the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a view of 18th century Rome, see Wellesley College's Piranesi in Rome, which includes a map to the ruins recorded by the artist. 

For more Piranesi etchings closer to home, see the CU Art Museum