Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Vitruvius to Palladio an Exhibit of Architectural Treatises

Greetings, reader!  Won't you come with me to the 5th floor?  I am quite eager to show you some of the Library's treasures.

You may remember a blog post or two ago I was rhapsodizing about the realization that the SJSU Library holds in its Special Collections a copy of Andrea Palladio's Rules and Examples of Perspective Proper for Painters and Architects printed in 1707.  This discovery lead to a more serious inquiry about the other types of books on architecture in Special Collections, and I have been richly rewarded in the search.  Featured on the 5th floor in five cases are architectural treatises ranging in date from 1636 to 1769 and in languages from Latin to Italian to French and English, some of them bilingual editions.

As I worked my way through subject headings and applied my mish mash of knowledge of languages to the titles I discovered, an obvious pattern appeared:  Vitruve, Vitruuio, Vitruvio, Vitrvvio.  Vitruvius! Who was Vitruvius?  Scholars have been asking this for centuries, and for centuries, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio has been influencing architecture.  The question of "Who was Vitruvius" is thoroughly discussed in a variety of publications; I will direct you toward the fine article by Barry Baldwin titled "The Date, Identity, and Career of Vitruvius" which appears in Latomus, T. 49, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1990), pp. 425-434.  If you are scholastically privileged, you can get the hook-up from JSTOR at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41535716.  To give you the upshot, Baldwin gives you a swift yet precise summary of research into Vitruvian timelines that have worked to establish when Roman architect and writer Marcus Pollio Vitruvius was working, pinning the composition of De Architectural Libri Decem (Ten Books On Architecture) between 30 and 10 BCE.

And who was Vitruvius to the Renaissance? The scope of the Vitruvian De Architectura's impact is thoroughly documented in the very interesting article titled "Vitruvian Paradigms" by Georgia Clarke which appears in Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 70, (2002), pp. 319-346, again JSTOR at http://www.jstor.org/stable/40311052. The Renaissance appreciation for antiquity and the development of the printing press coincided nicely for printing copies of the previously hand-copied Vitruvian manuscripts. But the stability of images provided by woodcuts and engravings added another dimension to the architectural treatise--illustrating the proportions of columns in a way that has caused concepts like Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian to be known into this century and this side of North America.

I hope as the semester begins, you'll find a bit of time to visit the 5th floor in King Library to see these texts that have traveled many years and miles.  You can have a virtual visit with the exhibit here:  http://libguides.sjsu.edu/treatises.

My appreciative thanks to Danelle Moon, Director of Special Collections, for her encouragement and assistance in creating this exhibit. If you can't visit in person, or if you want to preview the exhibit before you visit, please see the guide I have created as a companion:  http://libguides.sjsu.edu/treatises.

Title page of Rusconi's Dell Architecttura, Venetia 1660

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