Guido Beltramini – Architecture without Architects. Early Cinquecento Veneto literati as “directors” of the Refashioning of their own Houses

Event Date: 28 June 2018
The Lecture Room
Warburg Institute
Woburn Square,
London WC1H 0AB

The Warburg Institute presents:

Professor Guido Beltramini (Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Vicenza) – Architecture without Architects. Early Cinquecento Veneto literati as “directors” of the Refashioning of their own Houses.

Sebastiano Serlio, in the opening pages of his Regole Generali of 1537, after having listed the great architects active in Venice points out that “to these we can add [some] gentlemen of the nobility, who are no amateurs, but are as well-versed in this art as the best masters … [and] regularly employ some diligent master masons (maestri particulari) for their requirements”. Serlio is talking about a peculiar category of men in Venice in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They were true “alter egos” of the architects, and we can describe them as “gentlemen builders”.

The starting point of the talk will be around 1453, by which time the construction of the façade of Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai had begun in Florence, while in Venice, in the same year, work had begun on the Gothic-style Ca’ Foscari. From the mid-15th century to around 1540, the slow, gradual absorption in the Veneto of the new architecture, first from Urbino and Florence, and then from Rome, had not only involved architects, but also erudite aristocrats, writers and publishers, whose studies were the conceptual incubator – or even at times the practical model – for many aspects of the culture of architecture in the Serenissima Republic of Venice.

To build, you need a language and a programme. The Venetian and Veneto patricians who are the subject of the talk provided the maestri particulari with models and sources for the language and the strategies for the programme. That is: they provided access to the materials of the new culture based on knowledge of the ancient world (such as collections of manuscripts and drawings, printed books or even images on coins). While for the program, they furnished a strategic perspective for the realisation of that language and for the transformation of the present.

Of all the many important figures, the talk will focus on a group of them: Bernardo and Pietro Bembo, Pietro Barozzi, Alvise Cornaro, Giangiorgio Trissino and Giulio della Torre. Not so much because of their abstract mutual affinities – indeed, they are very different from each other – but for their role as trendsetters in some crucial aspects for subsequent architecture (the two Bembos for the revival of the cult of the villa, for example), or their capacity for practical action (in the case of Bishop Barozzi and Alvise Cornaro), and the ability to imagine a militant classicism, as Trissino did. And then because we have tangible evidence of their actions: the buildings they fashioned, to be read as objects, and, for Trissino and Cornaro, also architectural treatises, to be read as texts.

Introduction by Professor Bill Sherman (Warburg Institute):

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