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2 Intention and background of Tolomei’s letter

erstellt von Kulawik Veröffentlicht 05.06.2019 20:47, zuletzt verändert: 05.06.2019 20:47

In 1547 Claudio Tolomei published his Delle lettere di M. Claudio Tolomei libri sette.[Tolomei 1547] The collection includes a letter Tolomei had written in 1542 to Count Agostino de’Landi, then Papal Ambassador in Venice.2 This letter describes a vast program regarding the study of ancient architecture and numerous other aspects of the material culture of ancient Rome. The reason why — according to Tolomei — so many other classes of artifacts would have to be documented in study is their usability as additional sources of information about architecture which was the main aim of the entire program. Because the letter starts with a long list of planned books concentrating on the only surviving ancient book on architecture, Vitruvius’s De architectura libri decem = Ten books on architecture, the program has largely been discussed as a proposal to study only Vitruvius. Accordingly, Tolomei’s network of friends and collaborators has been called provisionally the «Accademia Vitruviana» by modern researchers.3But Tolomei actually demands a comparison between Vitruvius’s Ten Books and the still existing works of ancient architecture with this textual source. As a reason for this, Tolomei mentiones that the architects of his time long had realized that the ancient Roman architecture they had studied carefully did not comply to the rules given by Vitruvius. But even this interpretation is only one half of the truth, because the entire program consists of a plan to study, document, and annotate almost everything that could possibly help understand Vitruvius and ancient Roman architecture in its cultural, religious, historical and political contexts.

Therefore, the studies would have to include the urban development of the Urbs Roma in antiquity and all surviving or known buildings, artefacts — such as architectural ornaments, vases, statues, reliefs, inscriptions, coins, and paintings — that were used to embellish buildings or could help to identify and understand them. But even objects like machines (to be reconstructed from descriptions), instruments and tools, or aqueducts had to be studied, documented and compared — all of which could help to understand how architecture was constructed technically and how it was used. All these artefacts, buildings as well as works of art and other objects, should be documented and annotated with regard to their historical, mythological, architectural, and art historical contexts. This would be useful to date the objects and understand them in their specific historical context. So, even if nothing had come out of the project described by Tolomei, its astonishingly modern approach to historical objects — presumably derived from the methodology developed in philological studies since the 14th century — should have attracted more attention by modern scholarship.

Tolomei clearly states the aim of the program on the opening page:

[…] svegliare nuovamente questo nobile studio, e […] quasi da le tenebre, ne le quali si trova condurlo a qualche piu chiara luce, sperando aprir la via a molti altri, di aggiugnervi poi maggior chiarezza, e splendore.[Tolomei 1547, 81r]

[…] to (re-) awake anew this noble study [of architecture], and […] to lead it from the darkness in which it is found now to some more clear light, hoping to open the road to many others so that they may add even more clearity and splendour.

[Tolomei’s text is always cited in its original spelling; only the letters u and v are changed to their modern usage for ease of reading.]

This can be understood as a systematic plan to launch a renaissance of ancient Roman architecture by reviving its study — understood here as a comprehensive reconstruction of any knowledge about ancient architectural theory and practice. The intention of this program is, therefore, not only to please the curiosity of some ambitious antiquarians, but to lay a solid foundation for any contemporary and future architecture. Tolomei seems to have known exactly how to achieve this aim:

E perche quasi tutte l’arti, e principalmente l’Architettura son composte di teorica, e di pratica, è necessario per venire a qualche escellenza, non solo speculare, ma ancora porre in opera.[Tolomei 1547, 81r]

And because almost all of the arts, but most of all architecture, are composed of theory and practice, it is necessary not only to speculate but also to put something into being to achieve a certain excellence.

The project thus had to combine theory with practice. In essence, that meant that those who understood the theoretical basis of architecture (e. g., Vitruvius’s Ten Books) and cold read the Latin original would have to work together with practitioners who knew how to build, those who understood and could even possibly reconstruct the techniques and forms of ancient architecture. This might remind the modern reader of a short draft by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger from around 1531 (updated around 1539) for a preface («Proemio») to a new edition of Vitruvius in a manuscript at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze; a modern edition is available in: Scritti d’arte del Cinquecento, edited by Paola Barocchi, 3 vols. (Milan and Naples, 1971–77) = [Scritti d’Arte (1971–1977)] in vol. 3, pp. 3028–3031. Sangallo explains that the modern editions of Vitruvius’s De Architectura libri decem suffered from the fact that the philologists editing the text did not fully comprehend architectural practice — and that, on the other hand, practitioners had not mastered Latin well enough to understand Vitruvius correctly. Therefore, the ancient book often was regarded as dark and mysterious. Sangallo declares that his new edition of Vitruvius — of which we have no traces except his sketch of this Proemio — would overcome these obstacles because it would be published in close collaboration between practitioners like him (then the leading architect in Rome) and learned men. Interestingly, his description of the work that had to be done or taken into consideration reads like a first draft for the first half of Tolomei’s program. We know that Sangallo took part in the sessions of Tolomei’s network in the 1540s, where Vitruvius’s text as well as more fundamental matters were discussed. The bishop Girolamo Garimberto gives a good impression of such discussions in his De’ regimenti publici de la città (Venice, 1544) = [Garimberto 1544]. To demonstrate the importance of a good legal constitution as the foundations for the legal system of a state, he gives as a comparison two opposint views from a discussion between Sangallo and Jacopo Meleghino, who was also working as an architect on the construction of St. Peter’s in the Vatican: Sangallo declares, that based on the surving foundations an ancient Roman building could be reconstructed if its architect had followed the correct rules of proportion and decoration. Meleghino’s conter, that no-one would be able to reconstruct the Vatican Palace if only its foundations would survive, indirectly supports Sangallo’s view, because this palace had grown over centuries from some medieval nuclei with additions following very different concepts and styles. Therefore, a could not regarded as an example able to falsify Sangallo’s view.