Sebastiano Serlio, Regole Generali di Architettura

Title | Regole generali di architettura
Author and Publisher |  Sebastiano Serlio (author); Francesco Marcolini da Forli (publisher)
Date | 1540 
Medium | Woodcut and letterpress on blue paper 
Format | 76 leaves: ill. (woodcuts); 34cm (fol) 
Institution | University of St Andrews Library and Museums, St Andrews
Credit line | Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums. Tutte l’opere d’architettura. Libro 4. Images by Laura Moretti and Alexa McCarthy
Theme | Composing Space and Creating Action
Museum number | TypIV.B40Ms 

Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1544) was born in Bologna and was trained as a perspective painter by his father. Sebastiano later moved to Rome for an apprenticeship with Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1586). Peruzzi bequeathed his works to Serlio upon his death, and they formed the basis of Serlio’s architectural compendium. Indeed, at the time of publishing, Serlio was accused of plagiarism. This did nothing to quell the success of his writings, which were hugely popular across Europe within his lifetime, and remained so after his death.

This particular work is Book IV of his compendium on architecture, and was the first to be published. It focuses on the orders architecture and calls for architects to fit the classical order to modern religious and domestic ends, providing theoretical and visual stricture. The blue paper functions as a catalyst for coherence within the work – drawing together the clarity of the printed text and creating a clear architectural space for the technical illustrations.

Serlio’s aim in writing was a practical one: to provide clear instructions for those interested in practicing architecture. He wrote in Italian, rather than Latin, demonstrating that he wanted his works to be widely accessible. This served as a marked departure from the first architectural treatise by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472), which was written in Latin and unillustrated.