In this treatise from the Art Trilogy, Leon Battista Alberti defines guidelines on how sculpture is meant to be intended and implemented by practitioners of the craft.
A Noble Tradition
This undated treatise was probably written when Leon Battista Alberti was in Florence. His interest in visual art arose during that period, and “On Sculpture” was the first essay in this field. It belongs to Alberti’s art trilogy (composed by “On the Art of Building” and “On Painting”), it is the less ambitious between the three. In this essay Alberti explores Renaissance innovations and the theory of sculpture, restoring its dignity. Sculpting, in fact, was still unpopular as compared to the other arts for its manually.
In nineteen chapters Alberti traces the historical tradition of sculpture, starting from the definition of plastic art, and dividing two different techniques: soft materials, such as waxworks and stone materials. The ultimate purpose of the “sculptor” should be the imitation of nature. For this reason, it is important to define the “dimensio” (or measure), a general and universal proportion, and the “finitio”, or the individual definition of the particular. And this study it’s noteworthy for the invention of a general system of measures: Alberti invented the “definitor”, an instrument to scaling down or up proportions in a standardized system.
A Scientific Approach to Arts
The relevance of this treatise is that Alberti tried to define a universal system, underlining the importance of sculpture. His scientific approach was fundamental in defining the “Renaissance perspective”, and for the study and the modular representation of the human body, which reached its peak with the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Probably Leonardo, the perfect embodiment of the “Renaissance Man”, was influenced by Alberti’s theory. About the past, he aimed to summarize and surpass the techniques of the ancient masters. His analysis of materials was conditional to the reach of the perfect, balanced representation of the real.
The Perfect “Renaissance Man”
It is impossible to categorize Leon Battista Alberti under a singular field in arts. In fact, his contribution to the Renaissance in Italy was immense: he provided the basis for the rediscovery of the classical style in architecture and arts. Author, artist, architect, poet, and philosopher, he came from a wealthy Florentine family, who secured his studies. This training would influence his lifelong rational approach, visible in the practical application of mathematical principles in several fields of study, arts included. His early formation also included humanistic subjects, especially Latin and ancient literature. Alberti’s trilogy on art is a testimony of his multidisciplinary interests. He is also known for several architectural commissions. His major work is the facade of the Rucellai Palace in Florence.