De Re Aedificatoria / On Architecture

In Rome, Leon Battista Alberti had plenty of time to study its ancient sites, ruins, and objects. His detailed observations, included in his De Re Aedificatoria (1452, On the Art of Building), were patterned after the De Architectura by the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius (fl. 46–30 BC).

First page by De Re Aedificatoria, Leon Battista Alberti.
First page by De Re Aedificatoria, Leon Battista Alberti.

Alberti left Rome with the Pope at such times and spent time at the court in Rimini. Nicholas V, who was Pope from 1447 to 1455, was an enthusiast for classical studies and produced an environment much suited to Alberti.

In 1447, the year Nicholas V became Pope, Alberti became a canon of the Metropolitan Church of Florence and Abbot of Sant’ Eremita of Pisa.

Drawing upon a critical reading of De Architectura by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius and a first-hand antiquarian knowledge of Classical remains, he put forward the first coherent theory of the use of the five Classical orders of Greek architecture since Antiquity, relating their use to different classes of building.

The collaboration between Alberti and Nicholas V gave rise to the first grandiose building projects of Renaissance Rome, initiating among other works the reconstruction of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Palace. As the Este prince was now dead, it was to Nicholas V that Alberti dedicated in 1452 the monumental theoretical result of his long study of Vitruvius.

The work was the first architectural treatise of the Renaissance. It covered a wide range of subjects, from history to town planning, and engineering to the philosophy of beauty.

This was his De re aedificatoria (Ten Books on Architecture), not a restored text of Vitruvius but a wholly new work, that won him his reputation as the “Florentine Vitruvius”. It became a bible of Renaissance architecture, for it incorporated and made advances upon the engineering knowledge of antiquity, and it grounded the stylistic principles of classical art in a fully developed aesthetic theory of proportionality and harmony.

De re aedificatoria is subdivided into ten books and includes:

  • Book One: Lineaments
  • Book Two: Materials
  • Book Three: Construction
  • Book Four: Public Works
  • Book Five: Works of Individuals
  • Book Six: Ornament
  • Book Seven: Ornament to Sacred Buildings
  • Book Eight: Ornament to Public Secular Buildings
  • Book Nine: Ornament to Private Buildings
  • Book Ten: Restoration of Buildings

As the first comprehensive treatise on Renaissance architecture, this book is in many respects comparable with the earlier Della Pittura, although it was more a work of original research, and was more influential.

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