VITRUVIUS POLLIO, Marcus

(c. 80 BC - c. 25 BC)
   Vitruvius was an Ancient Roman architect and engineer famous for his treatise on construction called De architectura, known today as The Ten Books on Architecture. Little is known of the life or architectural constructions of Vitruvius. Born in Rome around 80 BC, he was probably an army engineer under Julius Caesar and then an architectural advisor under Augustus, to whom he dedicated his architectural treatise. This book remains important today as the sole existing practical treatise written in Ancient Rome.
   Unlike the theoretical discussions of Greek artists, Vitruvius described actual Roman building materials and practical plans for a variety of different building types, and he also laid out an aesthetic code for architects to follow. The three fundamental architectural considerations he discussed are firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, which meant that buildings were to be strong, useful, and beautiful. Vitruvius agreed with Ancient Greek architects that buildings were to be constructed according to systems of human proportions and that buildings imitated things found in nature, such as columns that were modeled on tree trunks. Thus, in addition to the Greek Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders of columns, he discussed the Composite order as a late variant of the Corinthian. This order first appeared on the Arch of Titus in Rome, from AD 82. Vitruvius also defined more specifically the idea of the "Vitruvian Man," drawn in the Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci as a nude male body with arms outstretched within both a circle and a square system of measurement.
   Beginning with a preface dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, the treatise is divided into 10 books. The first focuses on the education of the architect and describes the fundamental design principles of construction. These include order, eurythmy, symmetry, propriety, and economy, and then the ideals of commodity, firmness, and delight. Vitruvius then focused on practical concerns of site, climate, and materials. He discussed different building types such as temples, homes, recreational buildings, fortifications, and machines. His fullest discussion dealt with the capital orders and the idea of symmetry. Chapters on color, harmonics, and astrology complete the text. The book encompasses not only discussions of architectural style, but also landscape architecture and garden designs, as well as such engineering concerns as plumbing, aqueducts, and machines used for the military and for entertainment. Architects in antiquity were considered technicians, or technical advisors, and had a wider range of commissions than contemporary architects.
   In 1414, Vitruvius's text was rediscovered in a northern European library by the Florentine scholar Poggio Bracciolini, who promoted it widely. Such Renaissance architects as Leon Battista Alberti in the 1400s and Andrea Palladio in the 1500s modeled their own architectural treatises on Vitruvius. The treatise was first translated from its original Latin into the Italian vernacular, and copies were then printed in many different languages and found across all of Europe, which helped to make popular the enduring, socalled Vitruvian style of classical architecture from the Renaissance through the Neo-Classical era.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

Look at other dictionaries:

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