Project XXXII (fols. 35v-37r)
With remarkable insouciance, Serlio states that this project could either be a ‘pleasure palace’ for the King or a temple with a central altar. This latter detail, if somewhat curious and indicative of the Pironnian atmosphere in François’s Court, helps in identifying the cultural sources of this unusual building. This project is essentially a variant of the, often cited, model of the centralised ‘Roman’ villa, invented by Giuliano da Sangallo and which enjoyed considerable success up to Palladio’s Rotonda and Scamozzi’s Rocca Pisani. As in Project II of Book VII, Serlio adopts
a central sala with an octagonal (instead of circular) plan. Hence because of his mania for symmetry, he is driven to design the smaller rooms on the diagonal in the four corners of the square of the plan. Even with this extreme abstract and geometrical style (almost like an ‘ideal’ project) the points of contact with Scamozzi’s Rocca Pisani in Lonigo (Vicenza) are noticeable. Despite adopting a circular form for the central sala, Scamozzi tends as it were to use rhythmic elements to attenuate the circularity of the room and the hemispherical nature of the dome by inserting niches on the diagonals (like Serlio) and marking with painting the lines of the cupola. At the base of the cupola he inserts fragments of entablature into the cornice of the sala, thus mirroring on the inside the external octagonal form of the drum of the cupola. Rocca Pisani is thus a compromise between Palladio’s approach with the Rotonda and that of Falconetto with the Cornaro Odeon and of Serlio here. Even from the point of view of distribution, the relationship of the full height of the central sala and the mezzanined rooms around it is identical in the schemes by Scamozzi and Serlio.
[Figure 181 - Leonardo, codex B fol.16r]
When we pass to the elevation, the clear reflection of Venetian chromaticism disappears. The Doric Order of the pilasters is ‘colossal’, from the archetype of Villa Madama, encompassing the principal rooms and the mezzanines (which are particularly high-ceilinged, as the section on fol.37r shows). Indeed the relationship of the heights of the principal rooms and the mezzanines corresponds explicitly to that between the classical windows and the free-style windows, corniced after the elegant form pioneered by Peruzzi on Palazzo Massimi. Above the heavy cornice (obviously including the parapet of the terraced roof around the large sectioned cupola) emerges the extraordinary crown of the circular ‘camerini’, in fact tiny pavilions or booths, arranged around the octagon of the base of the cupola and alternating with the truncated obelisks of the chimneys. Serlio states that four of these camerini cover the tops of the principal spiral staircases. This function of ‘tourelles d’escalier’ only serves to underline the Franco-Italian tone of the invention. Indeed it ‘regularises’ (in the sense of ‘gives rule to’), by its form and classical rhythms, the wild and fantastical Renaissance-Gothic which crowns the ‘donjon’ in Chambord, finished in around 1533-4.
There is a well-known theory (put forward principally by Heydenreich) that both in the wooden model (lost but known through Félibien’s drawings) and in the built edifice, the donjon of Chambord reflects (in a very distorted and Gothicised way) the ideas and designs by Leonardo for Romorantin. One could also say that the innovation of roof terraces in Chambord came from the same source; it is certainly a very common feature in Leonardo’s villa and palazzo designs. The flat terminal ‘platea’ of Serlio’s design, with its crown of small pavilions, also lies within the same tradition, but the correspondence stops at this generic level. Serlio’s design here is much more reminiscent of his own bizarre and fantastical synthesis of villas for the pleasure of a King, in other words Project XXXIX (see below).
If however we consider the alternative proposal for the building and see it as a ‘temple’ with a central plan and the altar in the middle, the connections with Leonardo are more striking. As a ‘temple’, Serlio’s project in its plan is a slight variant of the church in Book V which is ‘octagonal inside but square on the outside’. Siebenhüner indeed claims that this derives from Sansovino’s project for S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome (cf. Chapter II, note 5). But as for the elevation here in Book VI - the central, sectioned dome surrounded by a crown of cylinders with small cupolas - this finds correspondence in a whole series of drawings by Leonardo in Codex B for centrally planned churches. I cite for example fol.22r, where, amongst other things, the colossal Order appears on the quadrate body which forms the base.
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