Translated from the Italian with an Introduction and Commentary by
Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks
Published Yale University Press, 1996
Few Renaissance theorists have influenced the development of western architecture as much as Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554). The collection of books which represents his lifetime's work was to become invaluable to the majority of northern European architects who, never having seen Rome, none the less marvelled at Italian antiquities. Hence when Christopher Wren designed St Paul's cathedral, and when John Wood designed the streets of Bath, both architects had Serlio's books to hand. On his death Serlio had published the first five volumes of the planned seven-book treatise, and had witnesses their enormous popularity, especially amongst the many patrons and architects eager to emulate the splendours of antiquity and of Italian courts which sought her renaissance.
Serlio's treatise begins with the rules of geometry and perspective, decribed in Books One and Two respectively, knowledge of which formed the traditional preserve of the painter. Serlio's beautiful woodcut illustrations in Book Three record the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, her Baths, Temples, Palaces and Arches, whilst his text in Book Four outlines the rules for designing modern elements ranging from fireplaces to façades based on these monuments. To the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns which had been discussed by the Roman author Vitruvius and the great Quattrocento philosopher-architect Leon Battista Alberti, Serlio added the Composite and thereby established the canon of five Orders which held authority for over a century. The Fifth Book illustrated the use of these Order in twelve temple designs of his own invention.
Serlio's treatise represents one of the first attempts to codify the rules of a design language that harnessed tradition whilst facilitating invention. In this he is no different from architects of the twentieth century who have attempted to establish an architectural order through rules governing proportion and form.
This translation of Serlio's first five books by Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks replaces the only other English version, that produced in 1611 by Robert Peake, whose source was not the original Italian but a corrupt Dutch translation. As such this is the first English translation of Serlio's work to be based on his own editions and the first collection in any language of all five books taken from Serlio's corrected originals. It represents a major step in the recognition of Sebastiano Serlio as the most important architectural writer of the sixteenth century.
Frontispiece of Books I and II (1545), colour washed. In the library of François I, from the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
The book can be ordered from Yale University Press and from the amazon.com on-line bookshop.
Times Literary Supplement, 8 November 1996
'...Now for the first time the publication...of an excellent translation of the first five of these [books] gives the English reader direct and fresh access to what is not only the most influential architectural treatise of the sixteenth century but one of the most innovative in the European tradition. In a period when so many translations and republications have been fatally flawed in language, visual presentation or commentary it is a pleasure to acknowledge a publication which has been well planned and carefully prepared. From the judicious introduction, which in a few pages corrects the misperceptions of centuries, to the notes and bibliography, the work does honour to its subject and nowhere more than in the way it re-creates the impact of the appearance of the original sixteenth-century layout by inserting the English text in exactly the spaces the Italian so cleverly filled, that is inside, around and opposite the illustrations. The volume is also a satisfying size and a delight to handle...'.
Apollo Magazine, 1 January 1997
'...This new edition will prove to be an indispensable tool for every English-speaking person concerned with Renaissance architecture... As a rendition of the original Italian, the new edition is vastly superior to the commonly available fascimile of the English edition of 1611, which is a version of very dubious pedigree, having been 'translated out of Italian into Dutch' (or rather into Flemish and then into Dutch), 'and out of Dutch into English'. It is, moreover, admirably based on the last editions of the original text to have been produced under the supervision of Serlio himself, and it is thus free of subsequent editorial interventions...it is...difficult to imagine a product of better value.'
The Architects' Journal, 9 January 1997
'...this edition, which includes excellent reproductions of Serlio's plates, makes a long-awaited and very valuable addition to the published literature on Renaissance architecture, and on the theory and practice of Classical design.'