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Three Texts on Architecture from Classical Antiquity: The Books of Vitruvius, Raphael’s Letter to Pope Leo X, Fragments of Writing


World Digital Library,


The ideas of the High Renaissance were realized in Rome during the papacy of Leo X (1513‒21), a great patron of the arts from the house of Medici. The artist Raphael (1483‒1520), who worked in Rome from 1508, obtained a number of important commissions in this period. After Bramante’s death in 1514, he was appointed architect of the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Cathedral and subsequently also as inspector of Rome’s ancient ruins. Raphael used the works of classical antiquity to help solve practical architectural problems. He took the humanist Fabio Calvo into his home to translate for him the architectural text book of the great Roman Vitruvius. He then set about reconstructing the plan of the ancient city of Rome by means of surveys and excavations. The manuscript presented here contains Calvo’s translations of Vitruvius into Italian. Bound with these manuscripts is the text of the famous letter to Leo X containing an appeal for the preservation of the ancient Roman monuments. Raphael is now known with certainty to be author of this letter, probably with some assistance from the Italian courtier and writer Baldassare Castiglione. The letter clearly sets out a method of recording buildings in plan, elevation, and cross-section. Work on Raphael’s project was cut short by his early death and by the sack of Rome in 1527, but this letter remains notable as the foundation of scientific archaeology. At one time owned by Pietro Vettori, these two important manuscripts later were acquired by the Palatinate and Bavarian elector Karl Theodor for the court library in 1783.
Translator: Fabio Calvo, Marco, approximately 1440-1527
Note: BSB shelfmark: Cod.ital. 37 a.b.c | This description of the work was written by Karl Dachs of the Bavarian State Library.
Place: Europe; Italy
Institution: Bavarian State Library
Physical description: 100 folios ; 33 x 24 centimeters