On the Art of Building in Ten Books
De Re Aedificatoria, by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), was the first modern treatise on the theory and practice of architecture and in its time a model of learned Latin writing. Its importance for the subsequent history of architecture is incalculable; yet this is the first major English translation based on the original text on which Alberti's reputation as a theorist is founded.
Joseph Rykwert and his colleagues have been scrupulous in following Alberti's original intentions. Their version is based on the critical text published in 1966 by Giovanni Orlandi. It replaces the only other significant English version, by the Venetian architect James Leoni, whose source was not the original Latin but an Italian translation dating from the sixteenth century.
Rykwert's substantial introduction discusses Alberti's life and career - as papal functionary, writer on a wide variety of topics, and architect and discusses the De Re Aedificatoria itself - its relation to the De Architectura of Vitruvius, its influence on contemporary and later architectural theory and practice, and its bibliographic history. The apparatus also includes an index and a glossary of terms. The translators were fortunate to have the help of eminent Alberti scholar Hans-Karl Lücke of the University of Toronto.
Alberti set out to replace Vitruvius's authority, which had been undisputed for over a thousand years. In a Latin which was both more elegant and more precise than that of his ancient predecessor, he succeeded in framing a coherent account of the fragmented knowledge of antique architecture as it had survived through the dark and middle ages. His was the one book which established architecture as an intellectual and professional discipline rather than a craft and gave it a proper theoretical context; by showing how the great examples of ruined antiquity could be emulated in practice, it provided a theoretical basis for the architecture of the Renaissance.
Alberti organizes the work of the architect according to solidity, use, and grace. The ten books begin with a book of definitions; there follow two books devoted to materials and constructional methods; books four and five discuss the uses of the parts of the building and the different building types. The bulk of the second part, books six through nine deal with grace: the problems of designing sacred buildings, the problems of beauty and ornament, of proportions. Book ten takes up problems of restoration, water supply, and minor adjuncts to building.
"A new and valuable resource which immediately relegates to the category of a curiosity Rykwert's earlier republication of James Leoni's translation.... Now all those involved with architecture... can listen to Alberti and find that be has much to say that will interest them."
—John Onians, Building Design
"Brilliantly translated... Rykwert and his team have restored the pleasures of Alberti's writing for English readers.... This undoubtedly deserves to become the standard English translation."
—Anthony Hughes, Times Literary Supplement
"This English edition surpasses the earlier one in a number of significant ways.... It will no doubt soon find a place on all architectural reading lists, and deservedly so."
—Paul Davies, Art History