Vitruvius And The Renaissance Theorists

Vitruvius relied mainly upon Greek examples, taken at random from the previous five centuries, in order to give his formulations, intended for Roman use, a suitable cultural authority. He cited individual details of different buildings to authenticate his own formula for a single standard usage of the columnar orders. Alberti, intent on fostering a revival of the antique tradition in architecture, was disturbed by the lack of correspondence between Vitruvius's standard and what he had observed in Roman architecture. He was either unconcerned or unaware that most of the structures he had observed were designed and erected in the four centuries after Vitruvius's death. To resolve the discrepancy he sought justification for his own standard by citing specific instances from other ancient authors and from his own measurements among the ruins.

Later theorists of the Renaissance, such as Serlio and Palladio, likewise drew upon observations and measurements of ancient buildings to establish their own standard formulas. But they went much further in drawing upon uses of the past by systematically illustrating a coherent body of historical buildings. Without any precedent for doing so, they even reconstituted some of the buildings from ruins. With these illustrations they made ancient Roman architecture available as a source of design inspiration to anyone working anywhere. Because the illustrations were not burdened with extensive textual interpretations, they could be drawn upon at random and thus serve as an open-ended resource, which they did for centuries to come.

Serlio's book of antique architecture was the first ever to present plans, sections, and elevations of the major buildings of ancient Rome. It is difficult to exaggerate either the originality of his initiative or the importance of these drawings for professional practice and private delectation in the sixteenth century. His drawings of these monuments are conscientious representations of what he deemed to have been the buildings' original states—probably the first such effort in the history of human civilization. The illustrations are systematic in the sense that they present not only general views but also plans, sections, facades, and important details, thereby removing them from the much more limited tradition of topographical drawings (figs. 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4). In addition, the dimensions of the buildings were not approximations but measured. As diagrams the drawings were translatable, for whatever purpose, into concrete actualities, thanks to a scale provided on many of the plates and to dimensions reported in the text for the others. Although famous buildings like the Pantheon had long been well known

Figure 3-1

Serlio's plan of the Pantheon, drawn to scale.

Figure 3-2

Serlio's section of the Pantheon, drawn to scale.

Figure 3-2

Serlio's section of the Pantheon, drawn to scale.

by repute, no amount of verbal description could convey an accurate image to those unable to visit them. In this regard the plates of details were as important as the overall schemata. Indeed, whereas verbal specifications of the columnar orders heretofore had been confined to generalized usage, Serlio's drawings clarified the full effect of actual applications. Thirty years later Palladio's drawings republished virtually the same material but presented it more precisely and in greater detail. His drawings also widened the audience for and increased still further the cultural prestige of ancient Roman architecture.

Figure 3-3

Serlio's facade of the Pantheon, drawn to scale.

Figure 3-3

Serlio's facade of the Pantheon, drawn to scale.

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