In July, 1562, Vignola’s son, Giacinto, sent the Regola delli cinque ordini d’architettura to Count Ottavio Farnese. It was certainly one of the very first printed copies, consisting of thirty-two copperplate folio engravings; the texts were not set, but also engraved on copperplates. The leaves were obviously sold separately, and could then be bound to make a book, but also, as the purchaser wished, be put together with other books or with other series of engravings. This explains the very great diversity of the copies we still have of this first edition. Furthermore, very quickly, Vignola modified the plates by giving current Italian names to the various parts represented (“base”, “capitello”, “colonna”, etc.) (2nd stage). In a paragraph added to the preface in smaller letters (plate III), he justifies these additions, saying that the book had reached a wider clientele than expected, unfamiliar with that vocabulary. The copy of the Regola at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts is one of the few copies known to this day which are without these changes. Nevertheless, the bookbinder inserted an additional leaf between the title page and the privilege (plates I and II). It is an inverted copy of the plate representing the five orders added to an subsequent anonymous edition, coming out around 1573. Therefore there is a total of thirty-three plates, corresponding to the handwritten numbering in Arabic numerals in the top right-hand corner, added by the buyer. In addition, he or a subsequent owner began to specifiy the names of the parts of the orders, even improving Vignola’s rather unclear indication “colonna” by writing “fusto della colonna” (plates IV and VII). The title page of the original edition specifies neither the name of the editor or the location of the printer. It seems that Vignola himself saw to the printing and distribution of his book. In that case, he might have collaborated with Antonio Labacco who had published his Libro appartenente all’architettura “impresso a Roma, in casa nostra” already in 1552. The two books are found frequently bindes; Labacco’s representation of antique buildings and Vignola’s account of the system of the orders complement each other, like Serlio’s Books III and IV. The privilege granted by Pius IV (plate II) was valid for ten years, after which a new enlarged edition had to come out. In the preface of the original edition Vignola had already implied that “altre cose maggiori in questo soggetto” was to follow if his work was received favorably. In the same way, Serlio’s Book IV already put forward examples of additional uses of the five orders (portals, porticos, façades). But Vignola’s death in 1573 ended the project. In all likelihood, he left drawings that he had done with that project in mind. Consequently his heirs had four portals and a chimney piece engraved in copperplate although their format does not correspond to the standards of the plates in the Regola. The heirs added them to the thirty-two engravings of the original edition, probably hoping to forestall the counterfeit copies that were going to follow. In fact, the editorial success of the Regola generated pirated copies immediately. The pontifical privilege, also valid for Venice, was ignored there; the printer Bolognini Zaltieri published a new edition as early as 1570, without being afraid to mention his name and the printing date on the title page. An anonymous pirated edition, without a date, appeared at about 1573, probably in Rome. It consists of exact replications of the thirty-two original plates from 1562, except that plate II, with the privilege, was replaced with an overview of the five orders freely inspired from Serlio. It was repeated in all later editions and even the Roman bookseller Andrea Vaccario, who reissued the original copperplates with the note Libro primo, et originale, repeated this engraving. From then on, the “Vignola” was subjected to innumerable copies, completed and developed with additions of all sorts. A recent bibliography consists of as many as five hundred titles, including translations in French, German, Dutch, Spanish, English, Russian, Portuguese and recently also Japanese. The global success of Vignola’s plates is based on the fact that they illustrate the book perfectly. These plates enable one, thanks to clear large illustrations, to visualize the shapes of the “five orders”. But at the beginning, Vignola intended something very different. As he specifies in the prologue, he had perfected a method to master the system of proportions of the five orders for his own use “solo per servirmene nelle mie occorenze”. Now he wanted to put it at the service of the public, or at least for professionals concerned by the subject (“quelli che habbino qualche introdutione nell’arte”), the issues being a matter for very experienced specialists. In fact the system of the “five orders” – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite – developed by Peruzzi and Serlio had been established in a general way without anyone creating a single canon which would govern the overall system. Since the measurements taken on the buildings were all different from each other, they resisted any type of standardization. Therefore, ideal proportions of the canon and measurements of details obtained empirically still remained juxtaposed in Serlio’s work, and the final choice was left to the “arbitrio del prudente architetto”. Vignola, a self-taught architect probably first educated by reading Serlio, could not become adapted to this situation. In all likelihood, he tackled the problem as soon as Serlio’s Regole generali came out in 1537, while he was working for Claudio Tolomei’s Accademia della Virtù in Rome. The solution he reached was radical: it rests upon a reversal – a revolution in the original sense of the term – of all the methods used up until then to determine proportions. Instead of piling up elements which have shapes defined by isolated proportions and therefore being incapable of getting a measurement of the whole, necessarily indeterminable, he took as his starting point the overall height given a priori, dividing it next into subparts. This approach corresponds inherently to his concept of architectural creation; he gives priority to the system as a whole, to the detriment of the design of specific motifs. Therefore he perfects a single “general rule” governing the five orders at the same time: the entablature must be a quarter of the height of the column, and in the case of a pedestal, it must be one-third of its height. This results in dividing the entire height of the order into 19 equal parts, of which 12 make up the column, 3 make up the entablature and 4 make up the pedestal. In the case of an order without a pedestal, there are 15 parts, 12 for the column and 3 for the entablature. It is only in a second stage that the columns get the particular proportions characterizing each of the five orders. In Serlio’s work and that of his predecessors, the columns “grow” starting from a diameter whose progressive multiplication determines their height; on the other hand, Vignola’s “general rule” starts from a constant height in which division gives one the diameter: one-seventh for the Tuscan, one-eighth for the Doric and so on. In accordance with Vitruvius’s example, Vignola then chose a “module” equal to a half-diameter which is the base of the system. All the other measurements are expressed in fractions or in multiples of this module. The result is an arithmetical model, and with its help each order, harmoniously proportioned, can easily be adapted to any given height, of a façade or an interior. From this point of view, Vignola’s Regola is a remarkable intellectual achievement. The reason it was neither understood or appreciated on its own merit, neither yesterday nor today, results from the way the author presented it. Instead of explaining his approach, he settled for a few instructions to guide the work on the drawing table. For each order, two key numbers are mentioned (for an order with a pedestal and for an order without), from which one can calculate the corresponding module. All the rest must be deduced from the plates; “in un’occhiata sola, senza gran fastidio di leggere”, the architect can find everything he wishes. The Regola was devised for practicians and not for readers. This earned it a reputation among theoreticians as being the stupidest of treatises. But the uniform line repeated five times, of a colonnade, an arcade, a pedestal with its base, a capital with its entablature, in no way results from a lack of imagination. It corresponds to the “ceteris partibus” of a scientific experiment; it attracts the eye to what changes from one order to another: the numbers. They are the actual essence of the work founding Vignola’s doctrines. All of which takes nothing away from the suggestive strength of the plates. None had ever seen the orders represented in this way: in folio format with exact gradations (each measurement indicated on the edge can be calipered with a compass on the plate) and an effect of relief rendered by the engraving, with the illustrations linked together with the precision of the parts of a machine. Whereas Serlio’s woodcuts were still devised only in connection with the buildings they referred to, Vignola’s copperplates substitute for the buildings, becoming objects themselves. It is true that one does find references to antique examples like the Doric order of the Theater of Marcellus and the frieze at the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, but their dimensions are subjected to the architect’s rigorous model, who moreover does not refuse to see it: “se qualche minimo membro non havrà cosi ubidito interamente alle proporzioni de numeri… questo l’havero accomodato nella mia regola”. This is where the revolutionary foundation of Vignola’s work appears: renunciation of the ideal of antique culture to the benefit of pure rationality. He had in view a drawing technique which was totally objective and arithmatically mastered, and in this sense he believed he would be able to contribute to his contemporaries’ improvement. Thanks to his method, even the “mediocri ingegni” would have been capable of creating good buildings, that is, architecture conforming to his rule. But this very approach contributed to isolate him, as a theoretician as well as a practioner, in relation to the dominant state of mind in Italy. His contemporaries did not ponder the problem in the same terms as Vignola did, the problems that he gloried in resolving. Except for a very few exceptions, the Regola remained an alphabet book for beginners, or a picture book for the “signori”. Vignola’s influence on architectural practice during the period remained negligeable.
By CHRISTOF THOENES (Rome, Bibliotheca Hertziana) – 2013
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