Project XXVII (fols. 27v-29r)

The first villa-fortress for the 'Tyrant Prince' is much more interesting for the commentary than for the villa project, that is, apart from the military features. The project is in fact a replica, with only one significant difference, of Project XVIII and hence another homage to Poggio Reale and the relevant Peruzzi 'inventions'. The difference (apart from the mechanical raising of the elevation from two storeys to three) consists in the rectangular instead of square plan, underlined in the porticoes around the courtyard by the five bays on the short sides and seven on the long sides. This represents a clear concession to French tradition.

Of much greater historical interest is without doubt the explicitly military part and the justification offered by Serlio for this. The two contrasted 'portraits' - of the liberal Prince, the honest lover of his people, versus the cruel, avaricious tyrant, the appropriator of other people's goods, the rapist of single and married women, the squatter on his subjects' property - have the clear stamp of Machiavelli, not only in the conceptual structure but also in the terminology and the structure of the discourse.

The connection is even more precise in the choice of the 'historical' example of Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, even if on this occasion Serlio introduces a peculiar contamination of his sources. Serlio (who, we would do well to remember, spent his first forty years between the Marches and the Romagna in a very troubled period of its history which reached its climax in the ambitious attempt at 'tyranny' by Cesare Borgia, in whose entourage were both Machiavelli and Leonardo) speaks of the Montefeltro successor's loss and his recovery of his duchy and of his safety in an 'unwalled' Urbino, inasmuch as he was 'guarded by his subjects' whose loyalty he had managed to win. All this refers to two distinct episodes in the life of Francesco Maria dell Rovere, and of his fierce persecution at the hands of Pope Leo X who had decided to drive della Rovere out in favour of Leo's nephew, Lorenzo di Piero de'Medici. Francesco Maria in fact lost the duchy in 1516 and got it back in 1517, but was once again pushed out in 1519, to return definitively in 1521 on the Pope's death. The Serlian passage must refer to this second phase in the struggle, inasmuch as we find mention of the destruction (on the orders of Leo X) of Urbino's walls in Guicciardini's History. Also in Guicciardini there is repeated emphasis on the loyalty of the subjects to the legitimate Dukes of Urbino, thanks largely to the good government of the last Montefeltro, Guidubaldo, which psychologically and sentimentally worked in favour of his adoptive successor, Francesco Maria della Rovere.

Serlio's remarks thus have a sound historical base. But the ethical value of this story from the life of Francesco Maria is linked to an exemplum obviously very dear to Machiavelli in reference not to Francesco Maria but to his predecessor Guidubaldo, he too driven out of Urbino in 1502 (by Cesare Borgia) and who returned in 1503 on the death of Alessandro VI and the consequent downturn in Cesare's fortunes. In this context, Serlio's remark in the commentary to Project XIV for a 'Gentleman Condottiero' - 'the Papal lands, the nest…of factiousness' - takes on its full meaning.

Machiavelli thus praises Guidubaldo's decision to destroy his own fortifications so as to make his lands seem less attractive to aggressors and also since he felt better protected by the loyalty of his subjects. Machiavelli makes this point twice: once in The Prince, 'Guido Ubaldo Duke of Urbino, once he had returned to his state from which Cesar' Borgia had driven him, razed the walls of all the fortresses in that province and was of the opinion that without them he was less likely to lose his state again' (Il Principe, Rome, 1532, fol.29r); and once in the Discorsi sopra la Prima Deca di Tito Livio, 'Guidubaldo Duke of Urbino son of Federigo, who in his time was so highly esteemed a military leader that on returning to his state when an occasion presented itself (he had been driven out by Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alessandro VI) he demolished all the fortresses in that province considering them harmful to him. He did not want these walls out of respect for his men because he was so greatly loved by them' (Opere, Milan-Naples, 1954, p.286). The conceptual similarities with Serlio are striking, particularly in the second citation. Nor is it surprising that Serlio is acquainted with Machiavelli. That Machiavelli was well known outside literary circles is proved by (amongst many other things) the literal transcription of the passage from The Prince in the very dry and technical treatise on the Fortificatione delle Città by the two specialist military 'ingegneri' Maggi and Castriotto (Venice, 1564, fols. 13v-14r). Machiavelli was thought to be also one of them because of his treatise, the Arte della guerra. Serlio can be connected with the theories of military buildings as shown in the treatises of Cataneo (1554), Maggi and Castriotto (1564) and Alghisi (1570) (Alghisi da Carpi, H., Delle fortificationi…libri tre, (Venice)) if slightly preceding them. This should not however lead us to think that Serlio was an innovator. In fact, as usual, he records accurately current ideas and forms which came from the military architectural revolution (brought about by the introduction of artillery) recognisable in the drawings of Giuliano da Sangallo and Leonardo and in the massive built work of the two Antonio da Sangallos and Sanmicheli.

[F/note: Cf. the still valid monograph by E. Rocchi, Le fonti storiche dell'architettura militare, Rome 1908.]

If anything, Serlio's work is, even by this early date, evidence for the ossification of the fundamental innovations of the great military architects of the first half of the century. Those innovations were symbolised in a certain sense by the elaboration of the fulcrum of the defence, the bastion, freely developed to respond to contemporary reality. Serlio brings back a schematic geometry which is more than evident in the military architectural treatises which follow him, particularly Alghisi, and this conditions the whole of military architecture in the 17th century, passing from Italy north to the France of Condé and Vauban.

Here in Project XVII Serlio's knowledge of military architecture is amply revealed. But we must also take account of the theoretical character and, even more importantly, the intended audience for the project. As regards the great Italian military architects, this project would have been alien to them, in that they would have considered a single fortress only in the context of a more complex system of urban defence. The villa-fortress form, effectively a castle, produces the square curtain wall with corner bastions which the treatises (and it must be said built work too) reject and avoid inasmuch as being inefficient from a defensive point of view, both in terms of the difficulty of protecting the fortress entirely with the artillery in the bastions and in terms of the broad sides open to the attacking artillery. Maggi and Castriotto, despite citing these defensive problems, do however allow the square as possible for castles and fortresses, justifying themselves with economic reasons, namely that such a form reduces the number of bastions and hence the number of men needed to defend the place (Maggi., G., I. Castriotto, op. cit., fol.10v).

In effect Serlio's design corresponds almost entirely (both generally and in detail, and particularly in the form and internal structure of the bastions) to a plate in Maggi and Castriotto's treatise.

[F/note: Maggi, G., I. Castriotto, op. cit., fol.43v. From a technical military point of view, the comparison is, however, to be made between Serlio and Cataneo, since their designs both lack, for example, intermediary piattaforme (platforms) on the curtain wall and also cavalieri (cavaliers).]

The bastions, with their high central piazza for the heavy artillery, the low, side piazze for the lighter guns, each with two cannon emplacements, the double flanks without orecchioni (but present in the following pentagonal project) are close to the type elaborated by Antonio da Sangallo 'the Younger'. The choice of the right-angle (which becomes obtuse in the following project) is also coherent with the theories of the time, theories which condemned the acute-angled bastion as weak. Of greatest interest is the remark referring to discussions about the extremity of the bastion, and whether it should be rounded off (a gombito) or cut to a corner (a rissalto a squadro). We find the first form in perhaps the prototype for the 'new' military architecture, the small fort in Nettuno on the Lazio coast, built in 1501-2 by Antonio da San Gallo 'the Elder', probably with advice from his brother Giuliano. Giuliano's connections with Leonardo are well known, and indeed this rounded form corresponds perfectly to Leonardo's military theories, theories whose originality stems from the linking of studies on military architecture with studies on ballistics. The angled extremity on the other hand is typical of the fortresses of Antonio da Sangallo 'the Younger'. A Solomonic solution to this debate (which obviously raged on for decades) is to be found in Alghisi's treatise (Alghisi da Carpi, H., op. cit., p.60) where he advises the angled extremity for the lower part of the bastion in the moat and a curved extremity for the top part which was more exposed to enemy fire. Another point of contact between Serlio and Alghisi is Serlio's use (but in this project alone) of the varco (man's pace) as a unit of measure, something which might lead us to believe that this was the usual measure for military architecture.

[Figure 174 - Maggi, G., I. Castriotto, Fortificatione delle Città, fol.43v]



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