De architectura libri dece. [Translated by Cesare Cesariano. Commentary by Cesariano, Benedetto Biovio, and Bono Mauro].

Como: Gottardo da Ponte for Agostino Gallo and Aloisio Pirovano, 1521.

First edition in the vernacular, and a superb large copy untouched in its first binding, of one of the finest illustrated books of the Italian Renaissance. “This handbook on classical architecture is the only Roman work inspired by Greek architecture that has come down to us. It is therefore important as a prime source of many lost Greek writings on the subject and as a guide to archaeological research in Italy and Greece. By exemplifying the principles of classical architecture it became the fundamental architectural textbook for centuries. Vitruvius, who lived during the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus, and probably composed his book prior to 27 BC, was basically a theoretical rather than a practising architect and his only known work is the Basilica at Fano. The 10 books of ‘On architecture’ deal with principles of building in general, building materials, designs of theatres, temples, and other public buildings, town and country houses, baths, interior decoration and wall paintings, clocks and dials, astronomy, mechanical and military engineering. There are many ingenious devices for dealing with the echo in theatres and ideas on acoustic principles generally; on methods of sanitation – Vitruvius is believed to have been responsible for the new plumbing system introduced when Augustus rebuilt Rome; on correct proportions, proper location of building, town planning, and much on ballistic and hydraulic problems. The classical tradition of building, with its regular proportion and symmetry and the three orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian – derives from this book. In recent times Vitruvius’s considerable importance in the history of science has also been recognised as he made some valuable contributions to astronomy, geometry, and engineering. Although his influence on practical architecture during the Middle Ages was obviously small, at least 55 manuscripts of the De Architectura are known … It was with the Renaissance that his influence began. Alberti, Bramante, Ghiberti, Michelangelo, Vignola, Palladio and many others were directly inspired by Vitruvius. The first printed edition appeared in Rome (ca. 1483-90), the first illustrated one in Venice, 1511, and French, German, Italian and Spanish translations soon followed, The Como edition of 1521 is the first in Italian – by Cesare Cesariano (1483-1543), a pupil of Bramante. It has splendid new illustrations, some of which are now attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and is the most beautiful of all the early editions” (PMM). The text by Vitruvius, in the translation by B. Mauro da Bergamo and B. Jovio da Camasco, occupies the center of the page in large letters; Caesarino’s commentaries, which stop at chapter VI, are printed around it, in a smaller type. The 117 woodcuts, which form the iconography, mark, according to Roland Recht, an essential moment in Western architecture. Printed alternately on a black and white background, these woodcuts are considered as models of their kind; they were executed according to the designs of Caesarino, Massimo Bono Mauro da Bergamo and Benedetto Giovio (1471-1545). The publication of this work was initiated by Cesariano with the financial support of two sponsors, Augustino Gallo and Aloysio Pirovano, and was to have been carried out in Milan, but the arrival of the French in this city resulted in the work being printed in Como; Gottardo da Ponte was brought specially to Como to carry out the printing, which may have been a print-run of 1300 copies. As recorded in the concluding editors’ address to the reader, Cesariano abruptly abandoned the project after quarreling with Gallo and Pirovano in May 1521; his commentary ends at Chapter 6 of Book IX, and the remainder was completed by Giovio and Mauro. The present copy is in the first state, with the error ‘tuta lopera’ uncorrected in the heading on f. Z8r.

Provenance: Christoph Andreas IV. Imhoff (1734-1807), numismatist (ex-libris); Alfred Ritter von Pfeiffer (Cat. I, Leipzig, 4-6 May 1914, No 696, “magnificent copy of Vitruvius, whose well-preserved specimens are the greatest scarcity”), with his 19th century armorial bookplate and what could be his shelfmark accompanied by a crowned label [AP]; Pierre Berès (1913-2008) (Cat. IV, Cabinet books, 2006, No. 7), described as “the king of French booksellers” in his New York Times obituary and as “a legendary figure in the world of art, collecting and publishing” by French culture minister Christine Albanel; Alde, March 6, 2014, lot 6 (€158,600).

“The known facts of Vitruvius’ career are that he worked in some unspecified capacity for Julius Caesar; that he was subsequently entrusted with the maintenance of siege engines and artillery by Caesar’s grandnephew and adopted heir, Octavianus, later the Emperor Augustus; and that on retirement from this post he came under the patronage of Augustus’ sister, Octavia (I, praef., 2). It is often suggested, on the evidence of Frontinus (De aquis urbis Romae, 25), that book VIII of De architectura may have been the fruit of personal experience as a hydraulic engineer during Agrippa’s construction of the Aqua Julia in 33 B.C.; but Frontinus is in fact quoting Agrippa and Vitruvius as possible alternative sources for his information, and the relevant passages in Vitruvius contain some surprising technical errors. Vitruvius’ only excursion into civil architecture was the building of a basilica at Fanum Fortunae, the modern Fano, on the Adriatic Coast (V, 1, 6–10). This commission, coupled with what appears to be a personal knowledge of many of the Roman cities in the Po valley (for instance, I, 4, 11; II, 9, 16; V, 1, 4), suggests that, like many of those prominent in the culture of Augustan Rome, Vitruvius may have been of north Italian origin. It should be noted that in the first century of the Christian era, a freedman of the same family, Lucius Vitruvius Cerdo, is named as architect of the Arch of the Gavii at Verona.

“Vitruvius’ writings belong to the last period of his life (II, praef., 4). The books were all dedicated to his patron, Octavianus, after the latter had achieved undisputed rule of the Roman world by his victory at Actium in 31 B.C. but before the title of Augustus, conferred on him in 27 B.C., had passed into general use. The later title is found only once (V, 1, 7), used in reference to a temple of Augustus (aedes Augusti) annexed to the basilica at Fano; otherwise he is addressed throughout as Caesar or Imperator. Moreover, although Vitruvius makes it clear that his patron was already launched on the great building program that was to change the face of Rome, the buildings specifically cited all belong to that program’s earliest years.

De architectura comprises ten books, each with a separate preface. Book I, after a long introductory section defining the nature of architecture and the personality and ideal training of the architect, discusses town planning in very broad terms. Book II covers building materials (brick, sand, lime, stone, timber) and methods. Books III and IV are devoted to religious architecture and to a detailed discussion of the classical orders, and book V to other forms of public architecture, with special emphasis on the theater. Book VI deals with domestic architecture, and book VII with such practical matters as types of flooring, stuccowork, painting, and colors. Book VIII turns to the sources and transport of water, by conduit or aqueduct. After a long excursus on astronomy, book IX describes various forms of clocks and dials; while book X covers mechanics, with particular reference to water engines, a hodometer, and artillery and other forms of military engineering. The illustrations that accompanied the text had already been lost when the earliest surviving manuscripts were transcribed.

“To modern readers this may seem a rather curious mixture of subject matter, but antiquity did not recognize the nineteenth-century distinction between architecture and mechanical engineering. The two available sources of architectural training were apprenticeship to an established builder or, as in the case of Vitruvius, service as a military engineer. Thus, the great Roman architect Apollodorus was equally at home building Trajan’s Forum in Rome or bridging the Danube for his armies. The scheme of De architectura does in fact follow closely the tripartite subdivision of the subject enunciated in the introduction: on building (aedificatio) in books I–VII, on the making of timepieces (gnomonice) in book IX, and on mechanical devices (machinatio) in book X; hydraulics, which included both aedificatio and machinatio, bridges the transition in book VIII. Whether this classification was derived from some earlier authority, or whether it was Vitruvius’ own, designed to embody his special interests, it would not have seemed illogical to a Roman reader.

“As defined in book I, Vitruvius’ architect is, according to R. Krautheimer. ‘a strangely ambiguous being … both a practitioner and a theoretician, and in the latter capacity a walking encyclopedia: versed not only in draftsmanship, geometry, and arithmetic but also in history, philosophy, and science, with a good smattering of musical theory, painting and sculpture, medicine, jurisprudence, astronomy and astrology.’ The theme of architecture as one of the liberal arts is ostentatiously picked up and dropped at intervals throughout the work, but at very few points can it be said seriously to illuminate the main subject matter. De architectura illustrates the range of scientific knowledge that might be available to a well-read professional man of Vitruvius’ time: and it reflects what other, more critical minds held to be the ideal relationship between (to use a modern distinction) science and the arts. But in the context of a treatise on real architectural practice, it is little more than a pretentious literary exercise.

“Any appraisal of the historical significance of Vitruvius’ treatise has to begin by recognizing that his writings reflect the two distinct aspects of his architectural personality: the practitioner and the theoretician. The former is well represented, for example, in book II (on materials) and in book VII (on the techniques for laying floors and for finishing and decorating walls), both of which contain a great deal of practical information that would have been part of the stock in trade of any competent working builder. Without such knowledge Vitruvius would have been unable to handle the specifications for his basilica at Fano or to supervise the work on it. The mark of personal experience is revealed in his comments on such matters as the qualities of stone available around Rome and how to use them (II, 7); on the relative merits of the concrete building finishes known as opus incertum and opus reticulation (II, 8, 1); and, in a section that otherwise relies heavily upon the early Hellenistic writer Theorpharastus, his remarks on the qualities of the north Italian larch tree. At the same time, and very characteristically, Vitruvius shows no awareness of the larger significance of the concrete-vaulted architecture of which both opus incertum and opus reticulatum were manifestations; and from the list of earlier Italian architects whose opinions he would have valued (VII, praef., 17) he omits Lucius Cornelius, the trusted architect of the censor Quintus Lutatius Catulus, whose building of the Tabularium at Rome in 78 B.C. and whose restoration of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, completed in 69 B.C., were among the most important and forward-looking architectural events of their time. Equally characteristic is his sweeping denunciation of contemporary trends in interior decoration (VII, 5, 5–8), as represented in the wall paintings of the Pompeian Second Style and their equivalents in Rome. His familiarity with contemporary building practice did not entail approval of contemporary architectural taste.

“That Vitruvius’ tastes were strongly conservative is unquestionable. He makes no attempt to conceal his contempt for the innovations introduced by many of his contemporaries. This fact has, however, led to much misunderstanding of the extent of his influence upon the architecture of his own time. It would seem natural to accept Vitruvius as a spokesman for the traditionalist architects of his day. He was living at a time when the forces of traditionalism and of innovation were still very evenly balanced, the former represented by the established formulas of column, architrave, and timber roof inherited from Greece and quintessentially present in the use of the classical orders, and the latter represented by the new, forward-looking, concrete-vaulted architecture of late Republican Latium and Campania. In a great many respects the monumental architecture of the Augustan age was a product of the lively creative dialogue between these two forces; and despite his staunch conservatism, Vitruvius could still have been a significant contributor to the great Augustan building program that in so many respects was to remain the touchstone of architectural excellence for centuries to come.

“This view does not stand up to critical examination. Books III and IV, discussing temple architecture and the classical orders, are central to Vitruvius’ own interests and to his conception of architecture; yet both in his selection and handling of source material it is evident that he is expressing a highly personal – and on many points a positively antihistoric – point of view. In the preface to book VII he quotes a number of earlier writings, almost exclusively in Greek and consisting largely of accounts of individual buildings written by their builders or treatises on particular aspects of architecture, such as proportions and machinery. He was probably right in claiming that no previous writer had tried systematically to encompass the whole field of architectural theory and practice; his own achievement, he claims, was the first really comprehensive study (corpus architecturae: II, 1, 8; see IV, praef., 1, disciplinae corpus). But in practice Vitruvius was very selective. His own preferred sources were Pythius, architect of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (fourth century B.C.) and, above all, Hermogenes (active ca. 200 B.C.); and the models on which he constructed his own system almost exclusively used the Ionic order and were located in Asia Minor. If he had read, for example, Ictinus’ account of the Parthenon, he can have had little sympathy with it; and in practice he disregarded it. The great Doric temple architecture of archaic and classical Greece is dismissed (IV, 3, 3) out of hand: ‘because of this [the difficulty of producing a consistent arrangement of triglyphs and metopes at the outer angles of the frieze] it seems that the ancients avoided the Doric order in their temples.’ In its place he does, it is true, offer a prescription (IV, 3, 3– 10) for laying out a Doric temple in accordance with his own modular principles —how else could he justify his claim to be presenting a conspectus of the whole of architecture?-but the result is patently an exercise in Vitruvian method, not an objective analysis of the work of the great historical masters.

“It is this readiness to define perfection in quantitative terms, and to lay down finite laws governing planning and perfection, that constitutes the essence of Vitruvian method. The history of architecture is to be regarded as that of an evolution based on a series of revelatory discoveries leading to certain definitive achievements (finitiones) that it was Vitruvius’ task to expound. In this view he was following a line of late Hellenistic thinking to which many educated Romans of his day would have subscribed. But whereas, for example, Cicero in Deoratore could see the possibility of a diversity of manifestations of perfection, Vitruvius’ approach lacked any such flexibility. By imposing a system of strict numerical analysis upon his models, he contrived to reduce temple planning to a series of rules based on the ‘correct’ dimensions of each constituent element relative to a constant module. There is no hint of awareness that this modular formulation of the laws governing the proportions of the orders is no more than a convenient device for classifying the infinite variety of real architectural practice. Modular planning was already a familiar concept, but there is nothing in the monuments to suggest that the precise forms propounded by Vitruvius were those actually used by contemporary architects. Many Augustan temples were pycnostyle, in the generalized sense that they had close-set columns (III, 3, 1-2); but none of those preserved was laid out in strict accordance with the Vitruvian formula. Again, many Augustan architects, like Vitruvius, were looking back to Greek models; but many of these models, among them the Erechtheum, were quite different from those preferred by Vitruvius. Even on his chosen ground Vitruvius was not in the mainstream of conservative trends in contemporary architectural thinking.

“Vitruvius the theorist left little mark on the official Roman architecture of his time. To us this aspect of his writing is a valuable source of information about current intellectual attitudes toward the arts and sciences, and about many aspects of Hellenistic and late Republican architectural history; but his influence on subsequent Roman architecture seems to have been limited almost entirely to those parts of his work in which Vitruvius the architect and builder was speaking from personal experience. The best evidence for this lies in the works of two late Roman writers, Marcus Cetius Faventinus (ca. A.D. 300 [?]), who wrote and annotated an abbreviated compendium of parts of De architectura, and the somewhat later Palladius, a wealthy landowner who made liberal use of Faventinus’ compendium in compiling his own treatise on the management of a typical late Roman estate. Both of these authors were writing manuals for practical use, and both clearly regarded Vitruvius’ work as the natural point of departure for their own. Their subject matter tells its own story. Apart from a ritual gesture to culture in Faventinus’ introduction, what mattered to them were such things as finding and exploiting a water supply, the siting of domestic buildings, the best use of materials, the techniques of vaulting, and the method of constructing a set square or a simple timepiece. Traditional columnar architecture and the classical orders did not concern them. Such matters were past history.

“During the Middle Ages very little of De architectura was relevant, but manuscripts of it continued to be copied in monastic scriptoria (the earliest one surviving was produced at Jarrow in the ninth century). In the fifteenth century, classical architecture suddenly became a matter of direct and lively concern to architects and humanists alike. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini’s ‘rediscovery’ in 1414 of two manuscripts of De architectura was a major event. There was no printed edition until 1486, but there are more than twenty fifteenth-century manuscript copies, made for circulation among humanist scholars, architects, and artists. To the extent that the architecture of the Quattrocento represented a deliberate return to the models of antiquity, De architecture, the only surviving ancient treatise on the subject, was bound to become the ultimate authority for true doctrine. When Leone Alberti, between 1452 and 1467, wrote the first great Renaissance treatise on architecture, his debt extended even to the title used, De re aedificatoria, and to the work’s subdivision into ten books; he wrote in Latin (a self-consciously ‘purer’ Latin than the Hellenized Latin of Vitruvius); he cited Vitruvius frequently and borrowed from him even more frequently. Not that he always agreed with him: there are a great many criticisms, both expressed and implied, of principle and of detail. But for matters of historical fact, for such technical details as the making of bricks or the laying of pavements, for the classical orders, and for the description of a number of classical building types (such as palaestrae, theaters, and forums) about which the Quattrocento had little direct information, he drew heavily on Vitruvius.

“Even so, Alberti’s debt was often more one of formal presentation and of detail than of real substance. The genuine wish to use Vitruvius as a guide to building in the antique manner came up against formidable difficulties, among them the obscurities of Vitruvius’ style, the loss of his illustrations, and the lack of surviving models. On many topics, Krautheimer states, ‘his book remained sealed, its terminology unintelligible, its references to building types and extant monuments obscure.’ Moreover, the shifts of intellectual attitude were often too great to be bridged by direct borrowing. However much De re aedificatoria may have set out to reshape De architectura for contempoary needs, it found itself turning more and more to the monuments of antiquity and to contemporary building practice. To be serviceable, the works of antiquity, monuments and writings alike, had to be interpreted, reconstructed, and, where necessary, improved, in accordance with the Quattrocento vision of antiquity.

“In all of this Alberti, the great architectural theorist, was speaking also for the practicing architects of his day. Whatever its ultimate inspiration, Renaissance architecture had to chart a course of its own. Vitruvius continued to be a quarry of detailed information for would-be classical purists, but it was only among scholars that his authority as the source of pure doctrine remained virtually unchallenged. Because of his manifest admiration for Greek architecture, his reputation survived the shock of the subsequent rediscovery of Greece and of the great monuments of Greek classical architecture: indeed, the advent of systematic archaeological research in Italy, which might have supplied a corrective, seemed only to confirm the established opinion that the history of Roman imperial architecture was one of decadence and steady decline from the models of Greek perfection. Where the monuments did not fit the Vitruvius formulas – and few of them did – it was the monuments that were out of step, not Vitruvius. It is only during the twentieth century that a growing appreciation of the true qualities and significance of Roman imperial architecture has enforced a critical reevaluation of his reputation” (DSB).

Perhaps the most famous illustration in De architectura is that of the ‘Vitruvian man.’ “In Book III, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3, Vitruvius writes about the proportions of man:

‘Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.’

“It was upon these writings that Renaissance engineers, architects and artists like Mariano di Jacopo Taccola, Pellegrino Prisciani and Francesco di Giorgio Martini and finally Leonardo da Vinci based the illustration of the Vitruvian Man. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion. The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, of the universe as a whole” (Wikipedia).

This edition is known for its striking illustrations: “Some subjects follow the 1511 edition, but the execution is highly original and the illustration is much more detailed than that provided by Tacuino … Blocks have black backgrounds and strong black lines. Aloisio Pirovano’s ‘Oratio’ to the people of Milan on leaf [-]8r refers to the collaboration of ‘molti excelle[n]ti pictori.’ On leaves B6r, B7r, B7v are full-page plans and elevations of Milan cathedral. Cesariano’s introduction of a gothic building into a classical text, apparently the first such illustration of gothic architecture, is typical of his individual approach to Vitruvius … The influence of Leonardo on these illustrations has been generally noted" (Mortimer, Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, 16th Century Italian Books, no. 544).

Adams V-904; BAL, IV, 3519 (19th century calf, 420mm tall); Berlin Kat. 1802; Dibner, Heralds 170; Fowler & Baer, 395 (old vellum, 415mm); Millard Italian, IV, 158 (modern binding, 399 x 265mm); Mortimer, Harvard Italian, II, 544; PMM 26 (for the first edition in Latin); RIBA 3519. Krautheimer, ‘Alberti and Vitruvius,’ The Renaissance and Mannerism, II (1963), pp. 42–52.

Large folio (431 x 296mm), ff. 192 leaves, 117 text woodcuts, 9 of them full-page, block on X6r signed with the initials of Cesariano, who drew many of the illustrations (minor damp staining, ff. G6 and Y7 lightly browned). Contemporary blind-tooled calf over wooden boards (probably executed at Nuremberg), remains of brass clasps (spine cracked and fragile). The Pfeiffer catalog notes that “the blind-stamped binding shows rich decorative ornaments and figures, medallion portraits of kings, including Maximilian I [of the Holy Roman Empire (1459-1519)], the Nuremberg eagle, etc.” A fine and very large copy, entirely unrestored. Very rare in this condition.

Item #5374

Price: $325,000.00