Sebastiano Serlio
Sebastiano Serlio was an Italian Mannerist architect
An architect is a person trained in the planning, design and oversight of the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to offer or render services in connection with the design and construction of a building, or group of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the...

, who was part of the Italian team building the Palace of Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau
The Palace of Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres from the centre of Paris, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The palace as it is today is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards...

. Serlio helped canonize the classical order
Classical order
A classical order is one of the ancient styles of classical architecture, each distinguished by its proportions and characteristic profiles and details, and most readily recognizable by the type of column employed. Three ancient orders of architecture—the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—originated in...

s of architecture in his influential treatise variously known as I sette libri dell'architettura ("Seven Books of Architecture") or Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospetiva ("All the works on architecture and perspective").


Born in Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

, Serlio went to Rome in 1514, and worked in the atelier of Baldassare Peruzzi
Baldassare Peruzzi
Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi was an Italian architect and painter, born in a small town near Siena and died in Rome. He worked for many years, beginning in 1520, under Bramante, Raphael, and later Sangallo during the erection of the new St. Peter's...

, where he stayed until the Sack of Rome
Sack of Rome
The city of Rome has been sacked on several occasions. Among the most famous:*Battle of the Allia – Rome is sacked by the Gauls after the Battle of the Allia*Sack of Rome – Rome is sacked by Alaric, King of the Visigoths...

 in 1527 put all architectural projects on hold for a time. Like Peruzzi, he began as a painter. He lived in Venice from about 1527 to the early 1540s but left little mark on the city.

Serlio's model of church façade was a regularized version, cleaned up and made more classical, of the innovative method of providing a facade to a church with a high vaulted nave flanked by low side aisles, providing a classical face to a Gothic form, that was first seen in Alberti's Santa Maria Novella in Florence (c. 1458). The idea was in the air in the 1530s: several contemporary churches compete for primacy: but Serlio's woodcut put the concept in every architect's hands. As a civil engineer he designed fortifications.

Serlio's publications, rather than any spectacular executed work, attracted the attention of François I
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

. Serlio's career took off when the king invited him to France, to advise on the construction and decoration of the Château of Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau
The Palace of Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres from the centre of Paris, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The palace as it is today is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards...

, where a team of Italian designers and craftsmen were assembled (including such luminaries as Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola was one of the great Italian architects of 16th century Mannerism. His two great masterpieces are the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Jesuits' Church of the Gesù in Rome...

 and Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, painter, soldier and musician, who also wrote a famous autobiography. He was one of the most important artists of Mannerism.-Youth:...

). Serlio took several private commissions, but the only one that has survived in any recognizable way is the Chateau of Ancy-le-Franc
Château d'Ancy-le-Franc
The Château d'Ancy-le-Franc, designed by Sebastiano Serlio and constructed 1544-1550, is one of the sites where the Italian Renaissance was introduced, full-blown, to France...

, built about 1546 near Tonnerre in Burgundy.

Serlio died around 1554, after spending his last years in Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....


Treatise on architecture

Serlio’s major contribution remained his practical treatise on architecture. Although Leon Battista Alberti produced the first book-length architectural treatise of the Renaissance (c. 1450, published in 1486), it was unillustrated, written in Latin, and designed to appeal as much to learned humanists and potential patrons as to architects and builders. Serlio pioneered the use of high quality illustrations to supplement the text. He wrote in Italian, some of his books being published with parallel texts in Italian and French. His treatise catered explicitly to the needs of architects, builders, and craftsmen.

In the introduction to Book IV, Serlio credits his recently deceased mentor for much of its content: "As for all the pleasant things which you will find in this book, you should give the credit not to me but to my teacher, Baldassare Peruzzi from Siena..." The extent of Peruzzi's contribution to the treatise is unknown. "Peruzzi had been the guiding spirit in the detailed study of the remains of antiquity, and he had left his drawings to Serlio. Vasari
Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.-Biography:...

 and Cellini would give most of the credit for the book to Peruzzi, but more recent writers defend Serlio's part in the study and his good faith in completing the work of his companion."

Plan and publication

4 1537 Venice On the Five Styles of Buildings
3 1540 Venice On Antiquities
1 2 1545 Paris On Geometry, On Perspective
5 1547 Paris On Temples
X 1551 Lyon Extraordinary Book of Doors
7 1575 Frankfurt On Situations (posthumous)
6 1966 Milan On Habitations (posth; MS facs)
Y 1994 Milan On Polybius' Castrametation
Publication order of the books, compared with Serlio's numerical order.
By 1537, when the earliest of his books was published, Serlio had been working on the treatise for at least a decade and had already organized it as a work in seven books. Although Serlio completed all seven projected books, only the first five books were published during his lifetime. The sixth remained in manuscript until the 20th century. He composed two additional books, which can be thought of as appendices: the Extraordinary Book of Doors, the last book he saw through the press; and On Polybius' Castrametation, a discussion of ancient Roman military camp design, whose state of completion and intended relation to the other books are both uncertain.

It is not certain what title, if any, Serlio intended for the work as a whole -- possibly General Rules of Architecture, as is given on the first-published book, but this soon became attached specifically to that book. Various collections were known as the Five or Seven Books on Architecture, depending on their content. Often it is referred to simply as Serlio's Architettura, and several significant editions take the title Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospetiva ("All the works on architecture and perspective"); though the first time that all nine existing books (or even all seven numbered books) were in fact published in a single edition was in the 2-volume English translation of 1996-2001.


Although the books apparently appeared more or less in Serlio's desired publication order, his nominal order provides a distinct flow from general to specific:

Serlio's reader moves from: first, the Euclidean 'heaven' composed of the definitions of geometry comprising point, line and perfect (square) planes; second, the underlying, three-dimensional forms of Nature represented through the theory of perspective; third, the architectural embodiment of perfect form reflected in the Pantheon and the 'idealised' monuments of antiquity; fourth, the rules of the Orders, progressing from Tuscan to Composite, as evidenced in antique ruins and the text of Vitruvius, and the universality of the Orders in composing doors, fireplaces and palace façades; fifth, the use of the Orders in temples of Serlio's invention; sixth, the use of the Orders in house designs (again graded, ascending from hut to palace); concluding at the lowest, seventh stage with 'accidents' or practical problems which the architect might encounter.

Significantly, the last few pages of the second book, "On Perspective", contain three theatrical scenes (comic, tragic, and satiric) and a stage plan and cross section which were highly influential in Renaissance theater.


Serlio's volumes were highly influential in France, the Netherlands, and England, as a conveyor of the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

 style, and quickly became available in a variety of languages. His plans and elevations of many Roman buildings provided useful repertory of classical images, often reprinted.

Within five years of its original publication, the Flemish scholar Pieter Coecke van Aelst published, in Antwerp, adaptations of Book IV in Flemish, German, and French; Serlio considered these unauthorized versions of his work to be inferior forgeries; nevertheless they served as significant vectors in the spread of his influence. Coecke van Aelst's pupil the Dutch architect and engineer Hans Vredeman de Vries
Hans Vredeman de Vries
Hans Vredeman de Vries was a Dutch Renaissance architect, painter, and engineer. Vredeman de Vries is known for his publication in 1583 on garden design and his books with many examples on ornaments and perspective ....

 propagated Serlio's style and ornaments north of the Alps. And a Dutch version of Books I-V -- published in Amsterdam in 1606 and based largely on Coecke van Aelst's work in Flemish -- served as the basis for the English translation of Books I-V published by Robert Peake
Robert Peake the Elder
Robert Peake the Elder was an English painter active in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign and for most of the reign of James I. In 1604, he was appointed picture maker to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry; and in 1607, serjeant-painter to King James I – a post he shared with John De Critz...

 in London in 1611. Fourth-hand though it was, it remained the most complete English edition of Serlio for almost four centuries. Its example countered the influence of the engravings of Antwerp Mannerism
Antwerp Mannerism
Antwerp Mannerism is the name given to the style of a largely anonymous group of painters from Antwerp in the beginning of the 16th century. The style bore no direct relation to Renaissance or Italian Mannerism, but the name suggests a peculiarity that was a reaction to the "classic" style of the...

 that were the main inspiration for Jacobean architecture
Jacobean architecture
The Jacobean style is the second phase of Renaissance architecture in England, following the Elizabethan style. It is named after King James I of England, with whose reign it is associated.-Characteristics:...

. Later Serlio's book was in the libraries of Sir Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren FRS is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history.He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710...

 and John Wood, the entrepreneur who laid out Bath. Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...

 possessed Italian editions, which he annotated.

Books III & IV were published in Spanish in 1552 in Toledo
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

 by Juan de Ayala with the same illustrations as the original Italian editions.

External links

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