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Sebastiano Serlio

Author of the Seven Books of Architecture

Illustration from the Books of Architecture

Born in Bologna, architect and draughtsman Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554) lived in Rome and worked under Sienese architect Baldassare Peruzzi. After the Sack of Rome in 1527, he came to Venice, where he remained until the early 1540s.

Serlio is believed to be the architect of the Palazzo Zen ai Gesuiti (on the Fondamenta Zen, south of Campo Gesuiti) in Cannaregio. But his most important contribution in Venice was in publishing. After requesting and gaining full copyright for his copper engravings from the Venetian Senate and with the enthusiastic support of Pietro Aretino), Serlio printed his richly illustrated master work, L'Architettura in various volumes during starting in 1537. Other volumes appeared posthumously until 1575.

His wasn't the first architectural treatise (the Florentine Leon Battista Alberti wrote one in Latin back in 1486), but Serlio's work in vernacular Italian quickly became popular as the first practical handbook for architects and builders. The first two volumes, On the Five Styles of Buildings (Regole delli Cinqui Ordine d'Architteura, 1537) which canonized the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite) and On Antiquities (1540) were printed in Venice. His writings and illustrations had a major influence on the new 'Roman' style of Venetian architecture Palladio, who would later produce his own Four Books of Architecture. Serlio's descriptions of theatres probably inspired Palladio's famous Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

Stage of Palladio's  Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

Serlio gave his name to the serliana, the classic three-part Palladian or Venetian window or door, featuring a semicircular arch over the central opening, supported on either side by entablatures on columns or pilasters, with flat-topped openings on either side.

L'Architettura so impressed King François I that he invited Serlio to work on the Château de Fontainebleau, and he remained in France until he died.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Typ 525.69.781, Houghton Library, Harvard, Bradley Griffin, Creative Commons License