Project XV (fols. 51v-53r)

Project XV corresponds to countryside Project XII. In the commentary to XII in the countryside (following Dinsmoor) I have already remarked, in my discussion of the complex chronology of the first version (the Columbia MS), that the Columbia Project M,12 (which corresponds to XII in the countryside) dates three years after the Columbia Project P (which corresponds to Project XV in the city). Hence the Project XV in the city predates that for XII in the countryside.

It is however obvious that, when comparing both to the model of the traditional Venetian palazzo, this project with its large atrium/sala going from front to back (and its nostalgic reference to Venice as the ‘the true mother of all those who labour in the worthy arts’) is a much more coherent and faithful copy than the Venetian/Roman hybrid character of the project for the countryside. Both in its design and graphic representation, here we have one of Serlio’s best schemes. Indeed it was not by accident that he was compelled by the complexity of the project also to include a section down the centre of the building showing the rooms at different depths. In fact, the project consists of two grandiose, symmetrical apartments, one on each floor, arranged around the large central atria/sale (called ‘portici’ by Serlio). Each apartment is subdivided (from front to back) into three distinct areas. Those at the front and back are equal on the plan and are distinguished only through the functions of the rooms (clearly those at the front being more ‘formal’ and those at the back being more ‘private’, as is shown by the placing of the chapel and the baths in the back at the very end of the building). Indeed these areas are present on all three floors of the building.

In-between are placed (symmetrically) the more original parts. Going from the centre outwards on either side, that is from the atrium to the perimeter walls, we encounter successively: an internal courtyard closed in on all sides (even the side towards the atrium is blocked by a transenna with arches and doors, for which Serlio gives the elevation); and a joining element which links the front and back parts of the edifice. The joining element is however only two storeys high and on top there is a terrace. In this element, on the ground floor, there is a room with a mezzanine and beside this (adjoining the perimeter wall) there are two ‘secret galleries’, one on top of the other, which free the apartments from dependency on the atria/sale for circulation. On the first floor (in addition to the usual access corridor along the perimeter wall) there is a ‘secret loggia’ facing the internal courtyard, curiously reserved (since it is enclosed in the very heart of the palazzo) for ‘daughters’, evidently a reflection of the, at that time, still rigid adherence of Venetian nobles to custom, in contrast to the freedom of French society.

The front and the back are divided fundamentally into three,



and this is represented on the façade by the Serlianas on the first and second floors which offer ‘a great amount of light’ to the central atria/sale. And this triple division is matched by the tripartite division from front to back, a fact which would be self evident (if viewed from the side) from the change in level between front and back caused by the joining element being only two storeys high. But in fact this side view is impossible since the palazzo is not isolated (indeed its Venetian style prohibits such a possibility, as Serlio underlines in the commentary).

Access to the upper floors is assured by, in addition to the series of small staircases, the large staircase, O, with ‘flights and returns’ (perhaps wooden) in the apartment on the left hand side of the design, adjacent to the entrance, A. This staircase rises, as Serlio says, right up to the attic. There are also the uncovered flights of stone steps marked E which go around the courtyards perpendicular to the atrium/sala. These flights, with their two opposing rakes, go only from the ground floor to the first floor and clearly act as a grand formal staircase, paralleled by the large Serlianas above which provide light and view, for the internal sale D and I, over the internal courtyards.

The transversal section perfectly illustrates the complexity of the building. And for the fifth decade of the 16th century, it is a rare example of the maturity reached in architectural drawing, only thirty years after Raphael’s innovations. It is clear that here we are dealing with different sections set side-by-side. The left-hand part of the design corresponds to the dead centre of the building, cutting halfway through one of the internal courtyards and one of the joining elements. The central section is a point somewhere in the atrium/sala seen looking from the back towards the façade. The part on the right, marked C, is presented by Serlio in the commentary as a simple technical example of the different heights and dimensions of the various larger and smaller rooms (mezzanines included) both at the front and at the back and, with reference to the plan, corresponds to a section through C,D or through L,I.

I have dwelt at length on this project because it seems to me to present, if only on a theoretical level, one of the greatest advances (in a technical and conceptual sense, as opposed to advances in the field of creativity and artistry) brought about by the architecture of the 16th century, namely the consideration of civic construction in terms of its habitability, in other words, everything which Serlio sums up in the term ‘commodity’.

The building does not appear to be comparable to royal buildings which Serlio could have known. The only exception might be the much smaller (and previously cited) Palazzo Cornaro-Spinelli a S. Angelo, following the 19th century description given by Diedo, where there was an atrium/sala flanked by two ‘small courtyards’ and these courtyards were separated from the atrium/sala by Serlianas. However in opposition to such a comparison remains the fact the Sanmicheli’s work on the palazzo, presumably on the atrium, must be later than 1542 (cf. Michele Sanmicheli, op. cit., pp. 148-50).

[Figure 188 - M. Sanmicheli?, Palazzo Cornaro-Spinelli a S. Angelo, Venice, longitudinal section (from the Sanmicheli catalogue)]

In the commentary, which is full of reference to Venetian taste, there is the noteworthy reference to balconies on the façade. Here Serlio repeats his remarks on such matters in Book IV, stating that balconies should not be placed on brackets but set on a protruding part of the Rustic of the ground floor, following the system of Bramante and Raphael.



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