Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Cesare Cesariano’s Di Lucio Vitruvio Pollione de Architectura was the first translation of the Latin text of Vitruvius into the vernacular. Printed in Como by Gottardo da Ponte on July 15th 1521, the folio format of the volume allowed space for translation, commentary and illustrations all on the same page, with striking graphic effect and ease of reference. In the tradition of the medieval gloss, the translated text of Vitruvius, printed in a larger font, takes up a sometimes less than a third of the page, while the densely printed commentary surrounds it, filling out the page.
In comparison to Alberti, Cesariano was quite different. First, he translated into the vernacular (not writing a new treatise in Latin), and second, the manner with which he treated antique architecture was completely different. He did not write a new treatise, but created a coherent, printed version of Vitruvius with comprehensive commentary that allowed the contemporary use of ancient methods. Whereas Alberti saw classical architecture, not only as a superior form, but a cornerstone upon which to recommence the same pursuit of beauty, Cesariano mainly sought to justify and improve current medieval practices in architecture through the integration of ancient practices. Cesariano’s task, according to Carol Herselle Krinsky, was “to reconstruct antique architecture by linking Roman prototypes with familiar buildings which appeared to have something in common with what was said in Vitruvius’s text.”
Cesariano’s commentary forms an encyclopedic and carefully crafted appendix in which he attempts to explain the selected readings from various versions of the text, and expand on their meaning. His approach seems to be the medieval and humanistic method of extracting from the text the most important points, thereby creating a collection of references necessary for the compilation of a personal system of cross-references. It contains numerous quotations from Classical authors, including Aristotle and Pliny, as well as contemporary opinions. It is also clear that Cesariano was familiar with the works of Alberti, Filarete, and Fra Giocondo. However, the commentary reveals little or no interest in the scientific investigation of actual ancient buildings. Cesariano tends to regard the past “in a medieval way, focusing on its continuity with the present, and its value as a confirmation of contemporary ideas,” rather than in the more Renaissance way, as a separate and distinct age that can provide insight into the construction of a renewed architecture.
For the most part, the translation itself can be considered “accurate, complete and free of gross misinterpretations.” There are, however, numerous areas of interpretation basic to a complete understanding of Vitruvius that remain fairly ambiguous. It is known that there were earlier partial, if not complete, translations of Vitruvius dating to the middle of the 15th century, but these were never published. In addition to consulting earlier editions of Vitruvius’ text, Cesariano relied heavily on Fra Giovanni Giocondo’s 1511 edition, and on the basis of this text, reorganized some of the work that he had already translated.
Cesariano’s updated Vitruvius gains most of its originality and independence not from its commentary, but from its illustrations. There are 119 woodblock prints illustrating his interpretation of Vitruvius. Cesariano drew heavily from Fra Giocondo’s first illustrated edition of Vitruvius as an iconographic source, altering the more ambiguous or limited solutions. He was not, however, limited to reinterpretations, but also included independent contributions, especially with regard to cities, temples and basilicas, and the explanation of individual architectural points that he found valuable or difficult to understand. He is the first to attempt a reconstruction of Vitruvius’s Basilica at Fano and the realism and care with regard to detail that is apparent in the illustrations point to the fact that Cesariano saw parts of the text such as this as the most crucial area for an increased understanding of Vitruvius. Although Cesariano’s basis for many of his drawings is in the work Fra Giocondo, who gave him some idea of Roman ruins, “he seems to have been incapable of imagining ancient temples as not resembling a church.” Thus, his illustrations of Vitruvian temples invert the structure, placing the columns on the inside with the solid wall surrounding them. “In this way the peripteral type of temple becomes a sort of basilica with nave and side aisles, with some relationship in its spatial proportions to the atrium of the Milanese basilica of Sant’ Ambrosio…The façade of the pseudodipteral temple is in every way similar to that of a Renaissance church.” Cesariano’s interpretation of the ancient treatise is full of such mistaken or intentional alterations of the Roman types to suite current understandings of building typology and religion.
Cesariano’s main addition to Alberti is, however, his development of the anthropomorphic analogy, which he gives us with a “dose of Neoplatonic eroticism.” In his illustration entitled The Measurement of the Human figure, and All Symmetries Corrected and Proportioned to Correspond with a Geometrical Program, he does just this by overlaying a sexually aroused and rather uncomfortable Vitruvian man over a 30X30 grid composed of three-fingers squares. This is significant not only in that Cesariano is attempting to reconcile Leonardo’s Vitruvian man (whose center is different for both circle and the square), “but because he makes it equally clear how impossible to follow these directions really are.” The figure’s proportions cannot be full cubic in this layout, not to mention the fact that they tend to distort the body. This aside, what is important to realize is that Cesariano attempted to fully integrate the then-current concern of the anthropomorphic analogy, and the idea of man as procreator of the building, with a literal reading of Vitruvius; and that he did so in a graphic demonstration. The grid that divides up the space surrounding the “homo ad quadrate” is the basis from which, according to Cesariano, all proportional modules are to be derived. The symmetry is all encompassing, and is generated from even the smallest parts of the body, including the knuckles and the spaces between them, and even the veins, nerves, skin, and muscles. “‘All flesh,’ even hairs and pores are modules. And they all must be numerically compatible when the body is used as the hidden structure of a building, or any form ‘built or to be built by architectural science’.” Unlike Alberti, who described the process of design as a thing “conceived in the mind, expressed in lines and angles, and realized by resourcefulness and learned talent,” Cesariano attempted a physical construction of the Vitruvian man as procreator.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Vivant Dr. Sampo, Dr. Mumbach, Miss Bonifield, Mr. Shea, Miss Enos, and the others! — Semper Sint in Flore
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The insert for the extended section. Two pieces of pipe with holes through the outer to allow welding between the two for extra rigidity.
Up next, replacing the old pucks with MLM performance pucks before I destroy my drive gear teeth again, new drive chain, new cables, new seat, cutting and angling the Simonini, and a possible new tank.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Concinnitas, Alberti’s powerful term for “the absolute and fundamental rule of Nature” denotes, with such a description and by its very nature, a difficult, and illusive theory. While Alberti makes no more specific statement than that concinnitas composes parts “according to some precise rule,” the very framework in which concinnitas is conceived will help the thoughtful architect, philosopher or political thinker in its pursuit, for concinnitas is more than a mere pattern book rule to be followed. Rather it is the way in which Beauty is reconciled to the particular example on earth. Concinnitas translates the ineffable idea of Beauty to us through minute adjustment of proportion, thereby rendering it perceptible to the senses. The pursuit of concinnitas is the highest goal of the architect, or indeed of man in general.
“Everything that Nature produces is regulated by the law of concinnitas, and her chief concern is that whatever she produces should be absolutely perfect.” Concinnitas flourishes in birth and death, in creation and destruction, and in every changing state between these extremes. Indeed, there can be no written formula for such an idea because it is not a static result, but a defining action whose very meaning is to take parts which are in every case different, and arrange them such that they form through their correspondence a complete and perfect whole. Concinnitas is the final and defining quality of architecture, or art in general. As such, it surpasses the crude necessities of shelter and protection, enters the realm beauty, and becomes something that arouses delight in the beholder.
Thus, a discussion of concinnitas must begin with the understanding that it is something which governs both the practical and aesthetic qualities of building; it is behind and above decisions concerning the material or order of building. What Alberti is telling us is that no truly functional thing can be made without concinnitas, and that any discussion of concinnitas must therefore govern and surpass that of firmness and commodity. Architecture, Alberti tells us, in agreement with Vitruvius, is worthy of praise when it is commodious, firm, and delightful. Yet for Alberti, the final requirement is the most vital. “Of the three conditions that apply to every form of construction – that what we construct should be appropriate to its use, lasting in structure, and graceful and pleasing in its appearance – the first two have been dealt with and there remains the third, the noblest and most necessary of all.” In other words, firmness and commodity are necessities not just of a palazzo, but also of a barn. What sets great buildings apart is that they delight our senses with the beauty arising from their proportions, not just relative to themselves, but to the cosmos.
“All care”, he tells us, “all diligence, all financial consideration must be directed to ensuring that what is to built is useful, commodious, yes – but also embellished and wholly graceful, so that anyone seeing it would not feel that the expense might have been invested better elsewhere.” Thus, architecture for Alberti is most concerned with beauty, in that every good which architecture brings to humanity is a result of its grace and appropriateness. “To have satisfied necessity is trite and insignificant, to have catered to convenience unrewarding when the inelegance in a work causes offense.” The task of the architect is to reach beyond necessity and evoke pleasure in the viewer. This is accomplished through concinnitas.
Central to Alberti’s theory of concinnitas is the idea that architecture is a composition of various individual parts that follows a rational arrangement. Beauty, Alberti tells us, “is that reasoned harmony of all the parts within a body, so that nothing may be added, taken away, or altered, but for the worse." It is in the correct manipulation of these elements that beauty is achieved. “When you make judgments on beauty, you do not follow mere fancy, but the workings of a reasoned faculty that is inborn in the mind… for every body consists entirely of parts that are fixed and individual; if these are removed, enlarged, reduced, or transferred somewhere inappropriate, the very composition will be spoiled that gives the body its seemly appearance.”
The theory of concinnitas is grounded in a perfect composition of the various parts. If these elements such as cornices, windows, walls, columns, doors, and porticoes are altered from their perfect manifestation in the whole, concinnitas will no longer be present in the work. Indeed, one might also say that, just as a “reasoning faculty is in born in the mind,” so too a “natural excellence” exists as a potential in every building. The individual building in this description already exists as a perfect idea which the art of the architect attempts to emulate. In other words, a failure to correctly arrange the parts according to the rules of concinnitas regulating the composition of the whole will results in an unsuccessful building, or one that does not attain the perfection it is innately capable of.
How then do we achieve this proportionate arrangement? If beauty is the reasoned harmony of all the parts, then that harmony may be described, Alberti tells us, using Number, Outline and Position. For Alberti number was a quantitative relationship between things in a formula, but more importantly, it was also a qualitative entity in its own right. As George Hersey so beautifully explains there were whole churches, cities, kingdoms and heavens of numbers, each with its own particular character and even genealogical structure. Outline is difficult to understand as it can mean several things. I believe it is directly tied to Alberti's idea of lineamente, or the lines and angles, which form the building (as opposed to the material, or structura). Regardless, it is something like the form, or type of the building, in that in the outline informs us of the building's purpose (to some degree this is also accomplished by ornament). Branko Mitrovic has called lineamente shape, which I think is not far from the truth. Position has to do with Alberti's use of the term collocation, or the placement of the parts of a body in such a relationship that the whole, which they form, has the quality of beauty. We will return to this.
“But,” Alberti continues, “arising from the composition and connection of these three is a further quality in which beauty shines full face: our term for this is Concinnitas; which we say is nourished with every grace and splendor. It is the task and aim of concinnitas to compose parts that are quite separate from each other by their nature, according to some precise rule, so that they correspond to one another in appearance.” In other words, concinnitas takes varying numbers of things which have different shapes, and lie in various positions, and creates (according to a “precise rule”) a complete and beautiful whole.
Concinnitas is not simple the combination of number shape and position, or a glorification of just of position, rather it is the manipulation of the three qualities such that each is altered to form a suitable and distinct whole, appropriate for its unique location and purpose on earth. To make this distinction more apparent, let us even say that position is sufficient to compose a literal version of a building’s heavenly counterpart, but that concinnitas breaths the life into an otherwise inanimate copy. Concinnitas fractures the perfect harmony of ideal beauty just enough for man to comprehend it. In short, concinnitas is like the bending of a perfect rectangle to fit the curvature of the globe it would otherwise be incompatible with.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The latest victim was attacked and mauled on Tuesday
Italian police are hunting a pack of stray dogs which killed a boy aged 10 and mauled a 24-year-old woman in the Ragusa area of southern Sicily.
They caught about 30 strays after the boy was dragged off his bicycle and killed on Sunday but about 20 dogs are believed still to be running wild.
The priest at the boy's funeral accused society of turning animals into icons.
It is an offence to kill a dog in Italy and the country lacks properly funded pounds in which to collect strays.
Reports suggest the dogs had been neglected and starved by a man entrusted with caring for them. A suspect has been arrested.
Animal rights groups estimate there are up to half a million stray dogs, mainly in the south of the country, many of them abandoned by their owners and left to run wild.
Although local town councils are supposed to round up strays and put them in public kennels, the law is often ignored as public funds are not provided for building dog pounds, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.
Health officials in Sicily are to meet on Wednesday to decide how to cope with the killer dog emergency.
In the latest attack, the 24-year-old, a German tourist, was seriously injured while walking on a beach near Ragusa on Tuesday.
"Her face was particularly disfigured," said Christian Ilardi, a rescue official who was on the helicopter that rushed the woman to Catania.
"Her life is in serious danger due to the wounds, which are very deep."
Local police killed two animals which tried to attack them during the day.
Some 7,000 mourners people attended the funeral of Giuseppe Brafa, the boy killed on Sunday.