Books & Arts | Published:

An architectural aside

Nature volume 430, page 835 (19 August 2004) | Download Citation


The Italian scientific revolution, championed by Galileo in the seventeenth century, shares its roots with the mathematical beauty of Renaissance architecture. Galileo, for example, found that studies by the sixteenth-century master architects Giorgio Vasari and Michelangelo came in handy for computing the height of mountains on the Moon. And the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio — whose Ten Books on Architecture (De architectura) is still required reading for architecture students today — drew on the proportions of the human body to scale his buildings, on astronomy for their accurate orientation with respect to the heavens, and, of course, on geometry.

The extensive margins of the first printed version (incunabulum) of the Ten Books on Architecture, in 1486, allowed for hand-written annotations. In 1520, Giovanni Battista Sangallo, a leading figure of sixteenth-century Roman architecture who worked with Raphael on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, filled the margin with annotations and beautiful drawings.

To celebrate its 400th anniversary last year, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Italy's national academy, has published a high-quality facsimile of this copy of Ten Books on Architecture. The page shown here describes the importance of the orientation of buildings for the health of their inhabitants. In a series of illustrated comments, Sangallo stresses the relevance of this for the Roman climate.

This exquisite book links the genius of Vitruvius' original text to its first printed edition, to the freshness of Sangallo's notes, and to a contemporary introduction by art historian Ingrid Rowland.

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