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Monumenti antichi di Roma nei disegni di Alberto Alberti.

In a lecture to the Accademia dei Lincei over a century ago, Rodolfo Lanciani made public three codices of sixteenth-century drawings after the antique, presently in the collections of the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe. He attributed approximately half of the 200 drawings to Cherubino Alberti, and half to his brother Giovanni (whom Lanciani called "Berto") Alberti. Attributions of various sheets vacillated between the two artists until 1982, when G.M. Forni, author of the present volume, argued convincingly that neither Cherubino nor Giovanni could have been responsible for the material. (In 1928 a fourth and clearly related codex had been donated to the same repository.) Instead, the consistency of drawing style and the character of the handwriting clearly indicated that the brothers' father, Alberto Alberti, was actually the author of the drawings.

Alberto Alberti, architect, wood carver, and military engineer, was born in Borgo Sansepolcro in 1525 or 1526. Information about him, as well as his two sons, comes from autograph diaries now in the Uffizi. From them we learn that he worked for the Medici in Livorno (1558) and at Borgo Sansepolcro on fortifications (1561-68) and several churches (1563-89), during which time he also produced a drawing for the facade of San Petronio in Bologna and painted theater perspectives as well. Alberto first came to Rome in 1547 to see and draw the ruins; in 1566 he oversaw his own shop on the Via della Scrofa, and in 1568 the civic authorities on the Campidoglio recognized him as a carver. He worked in the Torre Borgia at the Vatican for Plus V (1571), for Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici (1569), and Cardinal Filippo Boncompagni (1578, 1584).

Some scholars attribute to Alberto an important role in the design and construction of the Medici villa on the Pincio, but his work there was more likely confined to furniture and carved ornament. In fact the list of his commissions for domestic and ecclesiastical furniture (including altars, tabernacles, and lecterns) is very long, and extends to regions that include Sansepolcro, Rome, Siena, Urbino, and elsewhere. Alberto died in Rome in 1598 and was buried in San Marco.

The four codices published here represent a small portion of the volumes of drawings by Alberto and his sons listed in the diaries. Alberto's lifelong passion for antiquities is evident from his first visit to Rome in 1547. From the codices come a series of dates beginning in 1570 and ending with a notation from September 1598, a month before his death. The proper attribution of the drawings therefore heralds the emergence from scholarly shadows of a deeply engaged student of ancient Rome.

Dimensions of the sheets are large, 400-600mm in height and 300-400mm in width. They contain records of some moldings and decorative details from a variety of monuments - Flavian Amphitheater, Baths of Diocletian, Old and New St. Peter's - that are nearly the size of full-scale template drawings. Other drawings depict much-reduced plans and elevations of the same sorts of buildings - Arch of Titus, Santa Costanza, the Capitoline Palaces. From this we must conclude that the collection was meant to serve a broad spectrum of purposes in the rediscovery and revival of Roman architecture, ranging from practical emulation to pure erudition. Inscribed measures are frequent but not ever-present. Verbal inscriptions are relatively few and terse, the most fulsome resembling that on a drawing of the entablature of the Temple of Serapis on the Quirinal identifying the source of the fragment ("palazo di nerone"), the location of the find, and its relation to other fragments. Many drawings have no inscription.

The reproduction of the drawings is excellent in quality, with crisp images on each page. The trade-off in convenience that results in general from the unbound plates is more than compensated by the occasional image that the editors have included as a larger, folded illustration among the others of more uniform size. The editing of the plates in the catalogue, which constitutes the balance of the book, is superb. The respective volumes are clearly indicated for each sheet, which has a full entry of technical data (materials, dimensions, inventory numbers), identification, transcribed inscriptions, and commentary. This is a model catalogue produced in an era of declining quality in such endeavors. It is an indispensable tool for ancient and Renaissance architectural historians, of course, but should also engage those contemporary architects who are busy reviving the vocabulary of classical architecture.

T.A. MARDER Rutgers University
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Author:Marder, T.A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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