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The Practice of Theory in Vincenzo Scamozzi's Annotated Architecture Books

Isard, Katherine Graham

"The Practice of Theory in Vincenzo Scamozzi's Annotated Architecture Books" provides an examination of the architecture books owned and annotated by the Vicentine architect and architectural writer Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616). It is an established historiographical conviction that printed treatises fundamentally changed the practice and reception of architecture in sixteenth-century Italy. Surprisingly little is known, however, about the ways these treatises were received and employed at the time they were made. The traces of Scamozzi's reading reveal how a major architect and theorist processed and applied bookish knowledge. Taken together, they provide important new insights into the contemporary significance of printed books within the architectural culture of late sixteenth-century Venice.
Scamozzi is unusual in that a substantial number of his annotated books survive. This study considers this archive of response as a corpus for the first time. His annotations indicate the wide range of disciplines pertinent to early modern architecture, from mathematics to philology; indeed, his library is characteristic of the scholarly interests and practices of his day. For Scamozzi, architecture was a scienza rooted in universal principles, and architectural writing was essential to promote the utility of the profession. Reading itself, however, was not a straightforward activity. Scamozzi's reading depended on multiple factors, ranging from the nature of the material object to the probative methods of the author, and it was contingent upon his own interests and goals. Using Scamozzi's copies of Vitruvius (1550, 1556, 1567), Sebastiano Serlio (1551) and Pietro Cataneo (1567) as case studies, this study shows that Scamozzi used his books as instruments for literary and observational study, architectural practice, contemporary criticism, and as a platform to manufacture and control his public image. Scamozzi operated within an intellectual culture at once entrenched in the classical past and concerned with the advancement of present and future knowledge. His reading archive demonstrates how books shaped his understanding of each.
This account argues that our historical understanding of the Renaissance architecture treatise has been overdetermined by its text, treated in isolation. Scamozzi's books and reading notes challenge the notion that print had a prescriptive effect on architectural thinking, showing that our evolutionary narrative about the treatise has not taken sufficient account of the historical circumstances that conditioned its forms.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Benelli, Francesco
Rosand, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 9, 2014