the rhetorical hands of filarete
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The rhetorical hands of Filarete: a Vitruvian interpretation of 15th century disegno During site preparations in the building of the port city Plousiapolis, as recounted in Filaretes Trattato di Architettura, the characters of the Sforza court pause to read the descriptions of the beautiful buildings contained within the recently excavated Golden Book. Surprisingly, the court discovers that among drawings and narratives of wondrous buildings, the Golden Book explains in some detail what an architect should know and how an architect should practice. The court interpreter recounts the Greek text to his audience: ...It is necessary that he be ingegnoso and that [he is able to] imagine doing various things and demonstrate them with his hand[s]. When he has these two things, that is, he should know how to make with his hand[s] and that he is ingegnoso; in addition he should then know how to draw (disegnare), because he might be ingegnoso and know how to make with his hand[s], [but] if he does not have drawing (il disegno), he will not be able to 1 do correct or worthy things... In an analysis of the theory and practice of the early Renaissance architect, this short passage is remarkable, particularly for its account of the relatively problematic 15th century Italian concept of disegno. By means of a carefully constructed allegory of the making of an imagined city, Filarete recounts an equally complex rapport between ingengo and mano through the act of disegnare. The relationship of these three terms establishes the basis for a colorful and consistent theory rooted in the connection between the material imagination, drawing, and a reflective practice as expressed through the hand. Disegno, as promoted by Filarete and other artists and architects of the 15th century, thus becomes the primary vehicle of thought employed by architects caught between the roles of the medieval capomaestro and the socalled progressive architects concerned with a scienza of architecture. How an architect such as Filarete reflected upon his relative position in this schema reveals itself through a careful study of his disegno. In his Trattato Filarete speaks not like L.B. Alberti, as a man of lettere using cultivated Latin or accepted scholastic rhetorical devices, but rather as one who writes as he speaks (in the volgare) and has, in fact, drawn and made many things himself. 2 Filaretes disegno demonstrates an effort to unite the scienzie of an architecture allantica with his The Golden Book as discovered own history as a sculptor endowed with vast practical in Plousiapolis: Filarete, Trattato, experience. As such, the new persuasive or rhetorical role of fol. 108v an architect now removed from the building site is expressed through the handed language of the traditional bottega. A kind of architectonic embodiment, disegno is the medium by which architects transmit an idea to both patrons and builders alike, prying open the interpretive space of the architects imagination. In this way Filaretes disegno1
Antonio Averlino detto il Filarete, Trattato di Architettura, testo a cura di Anna Maria Finoli e Liliana Grassi, Milano, year... pg.428: 20-29. Bisogna che sia ingegnoso e che immagini di fare varie cose e di sua mano dimostri. Quando ha queste due cose, cio che sappi fare di sua mano e che sia ingenoso, ancora bisogna che sappia poi disegnare, perch potrebbe essere ingegnoso e saper fare di sua mano, se non ha il disegno, non potr fare cosa con forma, n cosa degna... English translations are by the author unless noted otherwise. cf. John Spensers English translation of Filaretes treatise (Filaretes Treatise on Architecture, Yale University Press, 1965). 2 Filarete, Trattato, pg. 11. ...perch in questi esercizii mi sono dilettato ed esercitato, come in disegno e in isculpire ed edificare....
constructs a didactic bridge able to cross between ingengo and mano; becoming the chief component in the making of correct and worthy things (cosa con forma...[e] degna). No doubt the relationship of the architect to disegno, as expressed by Filarete and many of his contemporaries, was undergoing rapid and profound changes during the quattrocento, particularly in southern Europe. The lingering remnants of a glorious and monumental past were now waking from hibernation. Along with it we find an entire gamut of differing interpretations filtered through late medieval scholasticism and the prevailing material culture as represented by the various trade guilds. The rising status of the visual arts within certain intellectual circles, as exemplified in Alberti up through Vasari and Zuccaro, demonstrate the continued philosophical influence of scholastic thought in this reconciliation of the sensible and intelletto. 3 As well, although showing signs of duress, the masons guilds exerted strong influences on building practice, providing a potent filter for the new architects concerned with scienzie. 4 Ancient texts, previously tucked away in monastic libraries, were being translated and propagated, bringing together a visual culture, eager to find new authority in antiquity, and a relatively conservative climate still churning in scholastic-aristotelianism. One such text was that of Vitruvius himself, which has passed scantily through the middle ages by way of isolated libraries and in the writings of early humanists such as Petrarch and Boccaccio. At the turn of the 14th century, the discipline of architecture was largely split between the clerical work of Latin scholars such as Hugh of St. Victor and its rudimentary application as practiced by the oral traditions of the medieval craftsman. 5 De Architectura was just beginning to enter wider interpretation among the progressive architects and patrons of the 15th century. 6 In 1415 a remarkably excellent manuscript of Vitruvius was discovered by the humanist Poggio Bracciolini in the library of the monastery of St. Gall, signaling the beginning of a new life for the ancient text. 7 Eagerly working to re-capture the lost knowledge of the ancients, the notion of a disegno conceived within architecture (as opposed to painting or sculpture) was born primarily from a reinterpretation of Vitruvius on the grounds of the progressive, yet still inherently medieval, early Renaissance architect: progressive, one might say, in advocating for an architecture which originates in intelletto, and is thus fit for inclusion in the liberal arts, free from the practical world of direct application; medieval, however, in that the culture of the capomaestro was still predominant, one
The general acceptance of the visual intelligence within the established canon of liberal thought was not without skeptics, especially on the grounds of poetrys claim to the highest form of inventione as embodied by Dante. Professional humanists such as Leonello dEste and Leonardo Bruni stand as notable partisans against the manus of painters and sculptors as having access to the divine imagination. See Martin Kemp, From Mimesis to Fantasia: The Quattrocento Vocabulary of Creation, Inspiration and Genius in the Visual Arts, Viator VIII, UCLA Press, 1977, pg. 358 and 386-7. 4 In Florence, perhaps the most progressive of cities in terms of its graduation from the old guild system, tensions between the traditional capomaestro and the modern architect are exemplified as early as 1434 when the stone masons guild in charge of the construction of the Duomo (arte dei maestri di pietre) had Brunelleschi imprisoned for not paying his guild dues. See Leopold Ettlinger. The Emergence of the Italian Architect during the Fifteenth Century, The Architect, Spiro Kostof, ed., 1977. This is additionally corroborated by the fierce conflicts between the masons guild of the Milan Cathedral and certain Northern architects invited to assess profound structural (i.e. theoretical, concerned with geometry) difficulties in the raising of the main piers. See James Ackerman, Ars Sine Scientia Nihil Est: Gothic Theory of Architecture at the Cathedral of Milan, Art Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 2, 1949. 5 Homann, Fredrick A., trans. Practica Geometriae, attributed to Hugh of St. Victor, 1991, pg. 12-13. See also, Joseph Rykwert, On the Oral Transmission of Architectural Theory, AA Files 6, May 1984, pg. 25-27. 6 See Filarete, Trattato, pg. 9, note 1. Grassi argues that there is no evidence of De Architectura in th th circulation in northern Italy between the second half of the 12 century and the first half of the 14 century. This quickly changed, however, with a sudden promulgation of the text at the time of Filarete. Rykwert points out that the number manuscripts of Vitruvius doubled in the first half of the quattrocento (Oral Transmission, pg. 16). See also, N. Pevsner, The Term Architect in the Middle Ages, Speculum, vol. 17(no. 4), 1942, pgs. 558-559. Pevnser contends that in Italy, as descendents of Vitruvius, the craftsman enjoyed a higher status than in the North, and perhaps the dual virtues of Vitruvius fabrica et ratiocinatione were never completely forgotten. 7 Ettlinger, pg. 98-99
where the architects primary role was to lead teams of handed executants through the employment of the artes mechanicae.
Personification of the builder and the architect, Andrea Pisano: relief sculpture on the Campanile del Duomo, Florence, th 14 century
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The rediscovered text of Vitruvius thus becomes a central source for Filarete and, by extension, is a key component in his theory of disegno. Like other fifteenth century architects, with the notable exception of Alberti, Filarete bases his educational programme almost exclusively on the text of Vitruvius. 8 In will be recalled that the scientia of architecture for Vitruvius depends on the familiarity of the architect with several disciplines: writing [litteras], drawing [graphida], geometry, history, philosophy, medicine, music, ju