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Theory in Antiquity &
• Leon Battista Alberti
• Andrea Palladio
• Architectural theory in the West begins with Vitruvius.
• The Ten Books on Architecture composed by this
Roman architecture, engineer, and artillery officer
achieve their special importance first by the breadth of
the undertaking, second, and more important, by the
historical fortune of being the only architectural treatise
to survive from antiquity.
• As such, Vitruvius has been the primary authority in
architectural thinking, setting the tenor of theory in the
West for much of 1800 years.
• His ten books on architecture, De Architectura
(trans. 1914) are the oldest surviving work on
the subject. They consist of dissertations on a
wide variety of subjects relating to architecture,
engineering, sanitation, practical hydraulics,
acoustic vases, and the like. Much of the
material appears to have been taken from earlier
extinct treatises by Greek architects.
• Vitruvius's writings have been studied ever since
the Renaissance as a thesaurus of the art of
classical Roman architecture. It's in Vitruvius
that we first see the classical orders of
architecture, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.
• The Need for a System of Proportions
• Architects and builders have always sought
systems of proportions, and Vitruvius was no
different. He wrote, "Symmetry is a proper
agreement between the members of the work
itself, and relation between the different parts
and the whole general scheme, in accordance
with a certain part selected as standard."
• And later, "Therefore since nature has
proportioned the human body so that its
members are duly proportioned to the frame as
a whole, . . . in perfect buildings the different
members must be in exact symmetrical
relations to the whole general scheme".
• Here Vitruvius uses symmetrical relationships to
mean the same proportions, rather than some
kind of mirror symmetry. Such a system would
use the repetition of a few key ratios, to insure
harmony and unity.
• It would have additive properties, so the whole
could equal the sum of its parts, in different
combinations. This would give a pleasing
design, and maintain flexibility. Finally, since
builders are most comfortable with integers, it
would be based on whole numbers.
circa 1487, drawn by Leonardo da Vinci
depicts a male figure in two
superimposed positions with his arms
and legs apart and simultaneously
inscribed in a circle and
square. The drawing and text are
sometimes called the Canon of
Proportions or Proportions of Man.
The drawing is based on the
correlations of ideal human
proportions described by Vitruvius, who
named the human figure as the principal
source of proportion for the Classical
orders of architecture.
• At the beginning of Book-I Vitruvius
separates the art into the realms of
practice (fabrica) and theory (ratiocinato).
The former is the manual activity
associated with building and construction;
the latter rationally demonstrates and
explains conventions and proportional
sytems governing design.
• Proportion is a correspondence among the
measures of the members of an entire work, and
of the whole to a certain part selected as
standard. From this result the principles of
symmetry. Without symmetry and proportion
there can be no principles in the design of any
temple; that is, if there is no precise relation
between its members as in the case of those of
a well shaped man. —Vitruvius,The Ten Books
of Architecture (III, Ch. 1)
• The art’s three main principles are strength (firmitas),
utility (utilitas), and beauty (venustas).
• Strength encompasses the soundness of the foundation,
the building’s structure, and the selection of materials;
utility concerns the convenient planning and social
suitability of the ddifice; beauty is the building’s visual
charm that arises chiefly out of proportional harmony.
• Beauty is further defined by six principles : order,
arrangement, eurythmy, symmetry, decorum, and
• These principles are often subdivided into three groups
whith order, eurythmy, and symmetry supplying the
proportional criteria for design; arrangement dictating the
correct planning and assembly of the work; decorum and
economy clarifying the appropriate use of the Orders, the
adaptation of the building to the site, and the correct
management of materials.
• Leon Battista Alberti
• San Andrea, Mantua - Early Renaissance
• The first major Renaissance theorist to rival Vitruvius in
importance was Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) with
his book “On the Art of Building”.
• Alberti sought to improve on the Roman author’s effort to
provide the Renaissance with a more coherent and
logical basis for theory. Aberti’s grounding of
Renaissance architecture in the imitation of nature, his
emphasis on its social or cultural importance, his
definition of it as a professional discipline, and the pre-
eminence he placed on beauty and harmonic proportions
established the theoretical focus of the next four
• The new conception of architecture begins with his
description of a building as “a form of body, which like
any other consists of lineaments and matter, the one the
product of thought, the other of nature” . The intent and
purpose of lineaments “lies in finding the correct,
infallible way of joining and fitting together those lines
and angles which define and enclose the surfaces of the
• “Beauty,” notes Alberti in Book IV, “is that reasoned
harmony of all the parts within a body, so that nothing
may be added, taken away, or altered, but for the
San Maria Novella : the facade of Santa Maria Novella completed the
exterior of a medieval church, and yet it has been rightly described as
'great Renaissance exponent of classical eurhythmia'
its dimensions are all bound to each other by the 1:2 ratio of the
musical Octave. The marble panels, which produce a mosaic like
effect of discrete color patches on medieval Italian church exteriors...
Here contribute to a sense of rhythmic, geometric unity...“
• Renaissance architecture was inspired by the Classical.
Renaissance architecture is the architecture of the
period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in
different regions of Europe, when there was a conscious
revival of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman
thought and material culture.
• The Renaissance style places emphasis on symmetry,
proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as they
are demonstrated in the architecture of classical antiquity
and in particular ancient Roman architecture, of which
many examples remained. Orderly arrangements of
columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of
semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and
aedicules replaced the more complex proportional
systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings.
• The revival of classical antiquity can best
be illustrated by the Palazzo Ruccelai.
where the columns are classical orders.
• Alberti’s belief in an absolute numerical
scheme for beauty and proportion was
perhaps his most important contribution to
• Palladio's architecture and theories
embodied Renaissance architectural
thought in the second half of the sixteenth
century. Although Palladio's works lack
some of the grandeur of other
Renaissance architects, he established a
successful and lasting way of recreating
• His early commissions consisted primarily
of palaces and villas for the aristocracy,
but he began to design religious buildings
in the 1560s. In 1570 he published his
theoretical work I Quattro Libri dell
'Architettura.. In the same year, he was
appointed architectural adviser to the
Although influenced by a number of
Renaissance thinkers and architects,
Palladio's ideas resulted independently of
most contemporary ideas. Creatively
linked to the artistic traditions of Alberti
and Bramante, Palladio used principles
that related to art and forms that related to
nature to generate his architecture.
Villa Capra (Villa Rotunda)
Called the Villa Rotonda because
of its completely symmetrical plan
¢ral circular hall, the building is
rotated 45’ to south, enabling all
rooms to receive sunshine.
Asymmetrically sited in the
topography, with each loggia,
although identical in design,
relating differently to the landscape
it fronts through variations of wide
steps, retaining walls and
embankments. The symmetrical
architecture in asymmetrical
relationship to the landscape
intensifies the experience of the
A major classic of the Pantheonic type
situated on the top of a hill outside the
town of Vicenza
Tetra Olimpico Modeled by Palladio after both his
studies of several ancient theaters and his own
illustrations of classical theater design, made for
Daniele Barbaro's translation of Vitruvius, this is a
lone surviving Renaissance theater.
San Giorgio Maggiore
Gloriously situated on the island of San Giorgio, San
Giorgio Maggiore's gleaming white facade faces across
the basin of San Marco to the great piazza.
Built as part of the Benedictine monastery on the island, the church's
facade is scaled to present a public face to the town of Venice.