Project XV (fols. 14v-15r)
Only at this point can we advance the hypothesis that Serlio changed his mind in arranging the sequence of the projects. Logic requires that following XIV, the villa-fortress in the Italian style, should come the two villa-fortresses in the French style, namely XVII and XVIII (that is, Ancy-le-Franc and the following variant), only then rising to the next rank of 'Illustrious Prince' for XV-XVI (Grand Ferrara and the following variant).
Before the discovery of Book VI and the firm proof that Ancy was by Serlio, Grand Ferrara and the Zen houses in Venice were the only constructions securely attributable to Serlio with their contemporary documentary evidence, notably for Grand Ferrara the letters from Alvarotti to Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara, sent in 1546. Hence, notwithstanding its complete disappearance (apart from the Rustic gateway), Grand Ferrara has excited great interest amongst Serlio scholars, beginning with Charvet. More recently, with Schreiber and Blunt, the Hôtel has been seen not only as an isolated example of the creativity of its author but also as an historically fundamental work in the context of 16th century architecture in France.
The building, commissioned in 1544, was finished in May 1546. A year later a 'ball game court' (which figures in the designs in Book VI) was added, as the two letters of October and November from Alvarotti to Ercole testify. Serlio indeed gives three different versions of the building in the two MSS of Book VI and in Book VII (Project XXIV), not including the two 'variants' with their notable modifications (projects O,14 of the Columbia MS and XVI of the Munich MS). Dinsmoor's conclusions are for the most part to be accepted. He recognises that the original project is in the Columbia MS, basing himself both on 16th century sources and also on what Serlio himself says in both the Munich MS and Book VII, namely that in the Munich MS Book VI he had added 'some elements of beauty' and that in Book VII the project is 'in a more perfect form' with respect to the project actually built. Dinsmoor is less convincing when he states that the two other projects represent successive phases, that in Book VII preceding that in the Munich MS. They are in fact two independent developments of the core-project. And even though the elevation in Book VII appears closer to the core-project, nevertheless it does not have the side courtyards present in the Munich design.
The core plan and the distributive characteristics remain unaltered in all three designs. And this fact would suggest that Serlio felt that he had reached the solution to a problem, indeed had created an architectural 'type', towards which the preceding projects are the hard thought out elaborations, starting it must be emphasised from rural buildings. This is not intuitive, inspired 'invenzione', something with which Nature had not endowed Serlio. Rather this is the meeting of Italian culture (ranging from Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Te to Sansovino's Pontecasale) with a French experience stemming from his immediate comprehension of De l'Orme's St Maur, all seen through the eyes of a practical craftsman. And it gives birth (not only on paper) to the schema of the private 'Hôtel', built for 'commodity[,] not as a grand residence'. The corps-de-logis comprises, to the left of the 'vestibule/corridor', the succession of the three rooms anticamera, camera, retrocamera, and to the right of it, the sala, described in detail in Alvarotti's letter of 5th May 1546. On the plan, 'below' the retrocamera is the disrobing room, and beyond that the 'hot room for washing, painted with very beautiful grotesques' (Alverotti's letter)
[F/note: It is interesting to note that the comment in the Munich MS and the words of Alvarotti's letter coincide exactly in placing the bath house 'below' the Cardinal's apartment. All this would suggest that the Duke of Ferrara's ambassador was basing himself not only on designs but also on a text written by Serlio.]
- grotesques which a 17th century description attributed to Primaticcio. With a final development of Project XI, the two large wings
stretch out from the corps-de-logis. The left-hand
[F/note: As already noted by Dinsmoor (pp. 127, 146), unlike Serlio's other designs which take account of the left/right reversal for printing, those for Grand Ferrara seem to reproduce the true planimetric organisation of the building. This would naturally have caused a reversal in the printed edition (if the MS had ever been printed) with respect to the actual building. This does not happen in Book VII where the galleria ('gallery') and the chapel are represented as in the left-hand side. There is a further complication brought about by the texts of the two MSS. The Columbia MS (according to Dinsmoor) has the Cardinal's three rooms (with baths beneath), the gallery and the chapel on the right-hand side, thus Serlio would seem to be taking account of the future inversion for the printed edition. But these rooms are described as on the left in the Munich MS, as in the design (and presumably in reality), something which would thus have caused a discrepancy between the text and the figure in the printed edition.]
wing has within it the typically French large 'galleria', and at the furthest extremity a chapel which in the two MSS is a Latin cross but which in Book VII is octagonal. The right hand wing included the camere for guests (forestieri in Alvarotti's letter) - probably those marked F and G on the plan - and the two service apartments separated by the vestibule/corridor which passes from the main courtyard to the stable yard. The other courtyard on the left, the ball game court, is only accessible via the Cardinal's corps-de-logis. The system of three courtyards is clearly a development of Project XIII.
The only explanation for Serlio's description of a (missing) rear flight of steps (under which there is a door which leads to a place for storing wine) via which you descend from the vestibule/corridor of the corps-de-logis to the garden, is confusion between his various plans. The text is mostly the same as the parallel version in Book VII. But the Munich MS differs from the Columbia MS and Book VII in that the latter two show this flight of steps. In the Munich MS the doorway Q gives onto thin air since, as Serlio tells us in the text, the difference in level between the floor of the corps-de-logis and level of the garden is five feet. The form of this flight of steps as represented in both the figures and texts of the Columbia MS and Book VII is therefore significant, with its two ramps and small doorway leading to the cantine - it is also a 'functional' motif adopted frequently by Palladio for his villas.
[Figure 151 - Columbia MS version of Grand Ferrara]
In the three elevations there are more significant differences. Dinsmoor is absolutely correct in his theory that the figure in the Columbia MS is the one which most closely represents what was actually built - notably an uncovered flight of steps in the form of a truncated pyramid which gives direct access from the courtyard to the door of the corps-de-logis, corresponding exactly to the number of steps (12) cited by Alvarotti in his letter of 17th May 1546. The solution for the central corps-de-logis, including the flight of steps, clearly recalls (but in forms less ornamented and more linear) the corps-de-logis of St Maur in its primitive version illustrated in De l'Orme's Architecture. The limpid drafting of this elevation, with the bare rhythm of the tall subtly corniced windows with the 'dormers' for the galetas above, give us an exceedingly valuable example
[F/note: The term galatas or galetas (perhaps originating from the glazed top of the Galata tower in the Bosphorus) was used in France in the 14th century to indicate the attic rooms under the roof which were inhabitable because of the steep sloping roofs and which were lit by 'dormers'. These rooms are in effect those which from 1600 were to be called 'mansarde'. Godefroy cites a passage from the Heptameron by Marguerite of Navarre: 'Elle s'en alloit en sa chambre qui estoit en galletas'.]
[Figure 152 - Axonometric reconstruction of Hotel Ferrara according to the Columbia MS
Figure 153 - De l'Orme, Original façade of the corps-de-logis at St Maur
Figure 154 - Serlio Book VII, chapter 24 (variant of Hotel Ferrara)]
of the purest and most primitive 'Renaissance' architecture, to be set alongside both St Maur and the Grand Jardin at Joinville.
The main difference added to the woodcut of the elevation in Book VII is the more complex formation and ornamentation of the principal flight of steps. It still has three ramps (central and lateral) but the ramps have been separated and now rise to a landing covered by a sort of pronaos/aedicule open at the front in a large Serliana. This motif is particularly original and interesting, and the first comparable feature which springs to mind is Michelangelo's solution planned for the top of the flight of steps up to the Palazzo Senatorio in Campidoglio, but never built. But since Michelangelo's project is contemporary with the designs in Book VI it is difficult to establish a link. Here we must also however record Gilles le Breton's masterpiece (no longer in its original form) of the grand flight of steps in the Oval Courtyard at the Palace of Fontainebleau, with the three-bayed portico and loggia set in-between the flight of steps and the entrance to the pavilion 'des Enfants de France'. It is not accidental that this flight of steps used to be attributed to Serlio.
[F/note: In addition to his obsession with the Bramantesque concave/convex flight of steps, Serlio's interest in staircases (both functional and decorative) is obvious. And this corresponds perfectly with a nascent architectural taste, which in France at the beginning of the 16th century quite clearly precedes that in Italy, for monumental staircase designs. That being said, and while still bearing in mind the famous examples in Blois and Chambord, we must not forget the genius evinced by solutions in designs by Leonardo. As regards the flight of steps in the Cour Ovale in Fontainebleau, a documented work by Gilles le Breton c. 1531-41, Blunt has remarked on the similarity between it and the designs of staircases in perspective by Serlio in Book II. Other grander examples of staircases can be found in Projects XXIV and XXV in the country and Project XIX in the city.]
[Figures 156 and 157 - Staircases in perspective from Serlio Book II]
The innovations of the elevation in the Munich MS are numerous. In fact this elevation looks more like an autonomous, more radical (and actually much less satisfying) 'variant' of the original project, rather than a third phase after the Columbia MS and Book VII. The insertion of a second storey not only contradicts the extended horizontal rhythm, it also ignores the building's historical antecedents in the Palazzo del Te and St. Maur, roots which give a rich cultural substance to Serlio's master work. On the other hand, whilst the explicit homage to Giulio Romano (the rear façade of the Palazzo del Te) in the form of the forward portico on the ground level of the corps-de-logis does perhaps 'enrich' the building, as Serlio affirms, nevertheless the result is decidedly incongruous for the building as a whole (and also with respect to the climate, as Blunt so correctly remarks). There is however an interesting parallel with the analogous (and absolutely contemporary) solution by De l'Orme for the château at Anet, of the portico forward of the corps-de-logis with paired columns surmounted by architraves.
Also at Anet, the detached, autonomous Orangerie is reminiscent in many respects of the Hôtel Grand Ferrara.
[Figure 155 - Gilles le Breton's large flight of steps in the 'Cour Ovale' at Fontainebleau
Figure 158 - De l'Orme's Orangerie at Anet, from Du Cerceau]
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