Project XXXIV (fols. 38v-40r)

With its typically rigid symmetry, the Royal Palace in the countryside prefigures not only in function but also, coherently, in architectural conception the two final projects for the city, palaces for the ‘absolute’ Prince or the King. The basic idea for this palace is a series of apartments, comprising interconnecting rooms in a line, arranged geometrically around a complex symmetrical system of large internal, and in this case, octagonal, courtyards. Whilst for the projects in the city there is a clear (indeed fastidious) atmosphere of the ‘ideal’ (at least as regards the


architectural and social reality of the time), indeed a sense that these are gratuitous geometric exercises, here both the concept and the dimensions appear much more ‘human’, concrete and rich in cultural and historical implications. Behind the graphic forms of the two city palaces there is a clear and demonstrable knowledge of Francesco di Giorgio, with all the abstract intellectualism and embryonic Vitruvianism which that implies. The project for the countryside, however, is related to ideas by Leonardo, as appears on two folios of the codex Atlanticus, 348v c and 349v c. The dating of these two folios is disputed. Pedretti after first dating them to 1490 later dated them to the last years of Leonardo’s life.

[F/note: Pedretti, C., Studi Vinciani, Geneva 1957;

Pedretti, C., A Chronology…, op. cit., pp. 145-8. Pedretti notes the connection with Serlio, but only in reference to the Royal palace in the city, the presumed project for the Louvre.]

The clear influence of these folios on Serlio’s work would support the second date. It would be perfectly reasonable to imagine that designs of this sort (which Pedretti describes as ‘related to Romorantin’) were preserved at the Court of François I.

[Figure 183 - Leonardo, cod. atl. 348v c. (from Pedretti)

Figure 184 - Leonardo, cod. atl. 349v c. (from Pedretti)]

The vast graphic inheritance which has comes down to us of Leonardo’s drawings can only give a tiny indication as to how far and wide Leonardo’s architectural ideas travelled at the beginning of the 16th century. I believe that the correspondence between Serlio’s ‘royal’ palaces and the Escorial (founded in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo) can be explained by this broad European dissemination of Leonardo’s ideas. Indeed the Escorial’s relationship to this, rather than to the traditional spectrum of sources ranging from Diocletian’s palace in Spalato to Filarete’s Ospedale Maggiore and ‘Sforzinda’, is much more convincing. It is convincing in the sense that the relationship is based on a specific historical situation, that is, the nascent national absolutism of which François I and Henri II were the protagonists in France (from which comes, for example, the alteration of the Louvre from a château to a Royal Palace), and which Philip II gave a theological dimension to in Spain. Whilst Filarete was clearly far removed from such a climate, the same cannot be said for Leonardo, who was exceedingly sensitive to the ‘ragione di stato’ (politics), almost in the Machiavellian sense, nor for Serlio, who was in the thick of such matters.

On the plan here, we find closer parallels with the Escorial than we do with the two city palaces. Indeed on the level of the symbolic or programmatic values which cannot be denied in projects of this type, the Escorial and the royal palace in the countryside have in common the fact that they are both centred on a sacred building – a grand temple for the Spanish palace/convent, a chapel in the French villa/palace.

This relationship was first presented by Du Colombier and D’Espezel (L’habitation…, p.41) but here too Serlio is simply spokesman and translator for Leonardo. On the above-mentioned fol.349 of the codex Antlanticus, the octagonal fulcrum was a chapel with a central altar. In the details, Serlio broadens his cultural range: the large triangular pillars with niches which support the vaults of the porticoes to the sides of the octagons not built up against the building, providing a square perimeter, are clearly reminiscent of the projects for St. Peter’s beginning with Bramante.

Predating the Escorial and including elements of Serlio’s own invention (not related to Leonardo’s ideas), here Serlio gives form (unfortunately only on paper) to a concrete architectural symbol of the absolute monarch, the product of the marriage of a complex, centrifying eurhythmy and colossal dimensions. The theory and the associated architectural modes were to have broad success. The three-storied main building and the sides rising above those of the basecourt is paralleled (chronologically too) by Lescot’s Louvre. This arrangement was to become canonical in 17th century France, from Salomon de Brosse to Le Vau and Mansart. On a very limited level, the central chapel might have inspired Claude d’Urfé, the master of the Dauphin’s house in the Court of Henri II, regarding the commission in 1555 for the elegant tempietto in the garden of his château of La Bâtie.

[Figure 185 - P. Chambige? ‘Cour du Cheval Blanc’, Fontainebleau (from Du Cerceau)]

Here too Serlio cleverly adapted the (in a certain sense) fundamentally new ‘invention’ for the principal body of the building to French taste. He fronted the main building with a basecourt surrounded by buildings of a single storey, following the typical, formal tradition of Fontainebleau. Indeed the clear similarity of these buildings with original perimeter wings of the ‘Cour du Cheval Blanc’ in Fontainebleau led Du Colombier and D’Espezel to repeat Gebelin’s theory (op. cit., pp. 99-100) that this was Serlio’s only built work as the King’s architect. They found the reverse less logical, namely that Serlio was inspired by the already existing ‘Cour’, possibly the work in around 1540 of Pierre Chambige, a man registered that year in the Royal accounts at Fontainebleau. Since in Serlio’s first Royal project, Project XXIX, where the commentary clearly describes the ‘Cour’ as a large ‘basecourt’ with loggiamenti and merchant shops and workshops (and Serlio


gives not even the slightest hint that there was any of his own work in this place), I would err towards the second theory, that Serlio was influenced by Chambige, and that he based himself on Chambige with the precise aim of ‘Frenchifying’ as much as possible his Royal palace in the countryside.



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