Palladio's "Master and Guide": Vitruvius and the Quattro Libri

During the EURIAS Fellowship at the Collegium Helveticum, Luigi Cellauro will work towards a monograph publication charting the influence of Vitruvius’s De architectura libri decem (Ten Books on Architecture) (c. 15 BCE) – the only architectural treatise to survive from Antiquity – on the I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura of the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). First published in Venice in 1570 by the printer Domenico de’ Franceschi, the Quattro Libri emerged, through its numerous editions and translations in foreign languages, as one important factor in the spread of Palladio’s far-reaching influence. Although Vitruvius’s text was known during the Middle Ages, in the early fifteenth century its status shifted from a compendium of practical knowledge to a blueprint of architectural theory, and with Palladio it became a benchmark for design throughout Western and Eastern Europe and North America. Vitruvius is indeed of great significance for Renaissance architecture, as his treatise can be considered as a founding document establishing the ground rules of the discipline for generations to come after its first reception in the early Quattrocento. Upon its rediscovery, translation, and publication in the fifteenth century (the editio princeps was published in Rome between 1486 and August 16, 1487 under the editorship of  the Italian Renaissance humanist and rhetorician Fra Giovanni Sulpizio da Veroli) the work of the Augustan architect would set the terms of architectural discourse for practising architects – Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554) and Palladio would both refer to him in their highly influential treatises as “master” and “master and guide” respectively. In the vast and impressive bibliography on Palladio, there is surprisingly little on the direct impact of Vitruvius’ De architectura libri decem on the Quattro Libri. Modern scholars have either focused on the influence of specific classical buildings and their details on Palladio’s architecture (see the numerous studies on this subject by Howard Burns or Palladio e l’antico by Pierre Gros, Venice: Marsilio, 2000) or on the collaboration of Palladio with Daniele Barbaro for his 1556 and 1567 Venetian editions of Vitruvius. Barbaro’s commentaries have indeed been studied in great detail by architectural historians since Wittkower’s pioneering volume Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism published by the Warburg Institute in 1949. So a comprehensive account of the influence of Vitruvius on the Quattro Libri as a whole is still lacking.

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