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Original article (non peer-reviewed)

Journal Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Volume (Issue) 38(2)
Page(s) 140 - 152
Title of proceedings Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
DOI 10.1002/bewi.201501722


The Origin of Scientific Notions in the Circle of the Roman Accademia della Virtù around 1550. Between c. 1537 and 1555 a group of humanists, clerics, architects and philologists known as the so-called Accademia della Virtù got together in Rome to work on a program which was formulated in a letter by the Sienese humanist Claudio Tolomei in 1542 and published in 1547. Starting out with the intention to understand the only surviving antique book on architecture and architectural theory – Vitruvius’ De architectura libri decem – the program describes a series of 24 books, eleven containing the classical text and its translation with commentaries, 13 books systematically illustrating and documenting all known and available material remains from Roman antiquity. This program for a scientific classical archaeology in a modern sense was not only intended to serve the intellectual curiosity of some humanist antiquarians but to help architects and their patrons to develop a new architecture of the same high quality as the idealized Roman examples. To achieve this practical as well as theoretical goal it was obviously necessary to re-create the antique vocabulary of architecture and its rules as well as to unify the contemporary usage of notions and norms in a canon. The first results of this project seem to be the In decem Libros M. Vitruvii Pollionis de Architectura Annotationes by Guillaume Philandrier (Rome, 1544) – up to this day a very valuable explanation of ambiguous parts in the Vitruvian text. Until the 1980s, it was believed that this book was the only outcome of the ambitious project; but then two codices of drawings after antique reliefs were identified as preparations for one of the other 23 volumes – and, because of their systematic approach, regarded as the ‘first systematic archaeological book’. Now it seems that there are some other corpora of manuscripts and drawings documenting antique artifacts that should be regarded as results of the Accademia’s work, too, showing antique buildings, inscriptions and coins. Other results of the unfinished project may be the theoretical and practical works of the two most influencial architects of the sixteenth century: Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Andrea Palladio.