Francesco di Giorgio and the Formation of the Renaissance Architect

Merrill, Elizabeth, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brothers, Cammy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Barolsky, Paul, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Summers, John, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the prodigious career of the Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439 – 1501), and considers the modes of his practice within the broader framework of the emerging early-modern architectural profession. The role of the early-modern architect is a subject of longstanding historical interest, as during this period the character of the building designer remained substantially undefined. Yet, whereas scholars customarily highlight the heterogeneity displayed by Renaissance architects – who followed diverse courses of training and executed a wide range of building commissions – my study draws attention to the skills, design procedures and social networks these practitioners shared in common. Francesco di Giorgio, I argue, is exemplary of the early-modern architect due not only to the breadth of his practice – which extends beyond the modern definition of architecture and challenges our historical understanding of this polysemic concept – but also the degree to which his activities may be examined through primary source documentation. Perhaps even more importantly, Francesco di Giorgio is a model of the early-modern architect due to his well-documented desire to delineate the nascent profession, an ambition which found a receptive audience in his popular Trattato di Architettura.

Previous scholarship on Francesco di Giorgio has tended to atomize his career – focusing on either his Trattato di Architettura, his work as fortification designer, or his tenure at the court of Urbino. These highly focused studies have created a fragmented vision of the important architect, glossing over crucial aspects of his life because they exhibit no immediate link to his cardinal architectural achievements. This thesis, by contrast, examines Francesco’s career in its entirety, drawing attention to the underlying conditions which structured his practice, and which in turn linked the many, seemingly disparate components of his professional life. Three conditions which structured Francesco di Giorgio’s career, and which I argue came to epitomize the profession more broadly, are technical training, travel, and social-political engagement. These three lenses provide not only an objective framework for understanding the complex architect, but also allow us more easily to draw comparisons between his work and that of his contemporaries. Beyond Francesco di Giorgio, this is a study of Renaissance building and design practices, and the development of artistic professionalism. The attention given to the technical nature of early-modern architecture – which often required knowledge of hydraulic engineering, machine design, and defense construction – is particularly noteworthy, as these themes have been substantially neglected in art historical scholarship, despite their central role in early modern practice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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