The Text and the Detail. On methods of reading and systematizing Vitruvius in the Renaissance
For Renaissance architects, Vitruvius acted as the stabile point of reference, at times even as a rule, in connection to the heterogeneous ancient remains that were visible amongst the Roman ruins. The circumstance that Vitruvius’s text itself was a literary palimpsest formed the outset of a passionate Vitruvian exegesis. The many studies and publications of Vitruvius in the 16th century can therefore be perceived as efforts to arrange the ancient source in such a way that it became more comprehensible to a 16th century user. Based on two case-studies, the article explores the literary methods employed when Renaissance architects and humanists sought to come to terms with Vitruvius’s difficult text. The first turns to the private study space of the Florentine architect Giovanni Battista da Sangallo. Through formal observations concerning the notes and autograph drawings that the architect made in his own Vitruvius, this case-study attempts to establish a relationship between a textual description mode that enhances the detail and the reading act. In order to set this investigation of the field between text and reader into a broader context, the second case-study turns to then-contemporary studies of Vitruvius directed for the public, such as the Vitruvius-programme of the Accademia della Virtù and the many publications of Vitruvius in the first half of the 16th century. By focussing on essential literary systematization tools of structuring the ancient source that became prevalent, this case-study explores textual mechanisms at play with the advent of printing and their potential impact on Renaissance architectural thought.