M. Vitruvius Pollio.
There is scarcely an ancient writer of equal eminence, of whom so little is recorded, as of the author of that treatise on Architecture, without which the remains of ancient buildings would have been extremely difficult to understand, and which still forms a most important text-book of the science. Beyond the bare mention of his name by Pliny, in one of those lists of his authorities, which many critics believe not to be genuine, and one reference to him by Frontinus (de Aquaed. § 25), and passing allusions to him by Servius and Sidonius Apollinaris, all the information we possess respecting him is contained in scattered passages of his own work.
Respecting his birth-place, we have no information. The statement of some writers, that he was a native of Verona, arises from the mistake ‘of identifying him with Vitruvius Cerdo. Bernar-dinus Baldus, in his valuable Life of Vitruvius, prefixed to the Bipont edition, suggests the probability of his having been a native of Fundi or Formiae, on account of several inscriptions being found at those places, relating to the Vitruvia gens, and to individuals of it with the praenomen Marcus. See vaccus, vitruvius.
We learn from Vitruvius himself that his parents gave him a liberal education, both of a general and of a professional character. (Lib. vi. Praef.) He tells, however, that he pursued his studies chiefly with a view to his profession, and only followed other branches of knowledge so far as they might appear to be useful for that object. On this ground he apologizes, and not without cause, for his style of composition, inasmuch as he had not trained himself in literature, so as to become a first-rate philosopher or orator or grammarian, ” sed ut Arcfiitectus his literis imbutits, haec nisus sum scribere,” In the digressions, into which he is led by his plan of ascending to the first principles of each part of his subject, he shows a fair general knowledge of the various schools of Greek philosophy. In the theoretical part of physical science he is weak ; but this was a general defect of the ancient philosophers. Baldus shows reason for supposing that, in his views of natural philosophy, Vitruvius was a follower of Epicurus. That he was well acquainted with the literature both of Greece and Rome, is evident from his references to the numerous Greek authors, and to the few Romans, who had written upon architecture, and also to the great writers of both nations in the different departments of general literature.
So much respecting his education. Of his station in life he says but little. That it was respectable may be inferred from his education, and from other circumstances referred to in his works ; butthere are several passages in his prefaces, which show that he neither inherited great wealth, nor succeeded in acquiring it. The patronage of the emperor, to whom his work is dedicated, had early placed him beyond the reach of want for the remainder of his life (Lib. i. Praef.), and he was able to look with contentment, though not without indignation, upon the greater success of his rivals in obtaining the substantial rewards of their profession. His allusions to this subject are couched in that tone of semi-querulous contentment and half dissatisfied moderation, which judges of human character will interpret according to the bias of their own dispositions. He had no great advantages of person, being of low stature, and, at the time when he wrote his work, suffering from old age and bad health.
He appears to have begun his course in public life as a military engineer. He tells us that he served in Africa ; and it is important to quote his own words, as introducing the question of the time at which he lived: ” C. Julius, Masinthae (or Masinissae) films, cujus erant totius oppidi agrorum possessiones, cum patre Caesare militavit. Is hos-pitio meo est usus ; ita quotidiano convictu, &c. &c.” (viii. 4. s. 3. § 25, ed. Schneider). Again, in the dedication of his work to the reigning emperor, he uses this language :—” Ideo quod primum parenti tuo [de eo] fueram notus, et ejus virtutis studiosus ; quum autem concilium coelestium in sedibus immor-talium emu dedicavisset, et imperium parentis in tuam potestatem transtulisset, idem studium meum in ejus memoria permanens in te contulit favorem.” (The last words, by the way, are no bad specimen of the obscurity of his style.) He then goes on to say that he was appointed, with M. Aurelius and P. Numisius and Cn. Cornelius, to the office of superintending and improving the military engines (ad apparationem balistarum et scorpiomim reliquo-rumque tormentorum perfectionemfui praesto), with a pecuniary provision (commoda) ; and that the emperor, through his sister’s recommendation, continued his patronage to Vitruvius, after he had conferred upon him these favours. This emperor, we further learn from the dedication, was one who ” had obtained possession of the empire of the world, and by his unconquered valour had overthrown all his enemies, while the citizens gloried in his triumph, and all the nations subdued under him waited on his nod, arid the Roman people and senate, delivered from fear, were governed by his deliberations and counsels • and who, so soon as he had brought into a settled state those things which related to the public welfare and social liie. devoted especial attention to public buildings, with which he adorned the empire, ivhick lie had augmented by new provinces.^ We have set forth this passage at length, that the reader may judge for himself whether the emperor thus addressed can be any other than Augustus, when it is remembered that, by the confession of all scholars, the time at which Vitruvius wrote is confined between the limits of the reigns of Augustus on the one hand, and of Titus on the other. Of course no proof is needed that he wrote after the death of Julius Caesar, whom he also expressly mentions as dead (divi Julii, iii. 2) ; and that he did not live after Titus is proved, apart from the mention of him by Pliny already referred to, by his silence respecting the Coliseum, and most irrefragably by his allusion to Vesuvius and the surrounding country, the volcanic nature of which he takes pains to prove, one of his arguments being a tradition that there had been eruptions of the mountain in ancient times (ii. 6). We think it unnecessary to pursue the discussion through all its details. The judgment of scholars is now quite decided in favour of considering Augustus to be the emperor to whom the treatise of Vitruvius is dedicated ; and abundant confirmatory evidence of that position has been derived from other passages of the work. The other opinion, that that emperor was Titus, is elaborately maintained by Newton, in the Observations on the Life of Vitruvius prefixed to his translation of the work. Some of Newton’s arguments are ingenious, but unsound; many are weak, and even puerile; some are at direct variance with the evidence, and some inconsistent with one another ; and the best of them, which are intended to prove that Vitruvius wrote after the time of Augustus, only prove, allowing them their utmost force, that he wrote somewhat late in that emperor’s reign, a fact which he himself states in the Dedication, where he says that he formed the design of his work at the beginning of the new reign, but that he feared to incur the emperor’s displeasure by intruding upon him when he was fully occupied with public affairs ; but that, when he saw the care which his patron bestowed upon buildings, both public and private, and that he both had erected and was erecting many edifices, he hastened to execute his design, and to present the emperor with a set treatise, explaining the exact rules and limits of the art, as a standard by which to test the merits of the buildings he had already erected, or was intending to erect. (Con-scripsi praescriptiones terminates, ut eas attendens et antefacta et futura qualia sint opera per te, nota posses kabere.) Before noticing the further light which this somewhat remarkable language throws on the design of the treatise, it is necessary to observe the more exact limits within which the time of the author may now, with great probability, be defined. We may assume him to be a young man when he served under Julius Caesar, in the African war, b. c. 46, and he was old, nay broken down with age (see above) when he composed his work, at a period considerably subsequent to the complete settlement of the empire under Augustus, and after the erection of several of that emperor’s public buildings. Moreover, that his book was written some time after the name of Augustus had been conferred upon the emperor (b.c. 27) is evident from the passage (v. 1) in which he speaks of the basilica at Fanum, of which he himself was the architect, as erected subsequently to the temple of Augustus at that place. Again, from the way in which he mentions the emperor’s sister in his dedication, it appears probable, though, it must be confessed, not certain, that she was still alive. Now Octavia, the favourite sister of Augustus, died in b.c. 11. Hence the date of the composition of the work lies probably between b. c. 20 and b.c. 11. At the former date, Vitruvius would be about 56, if we assume him to have been about thirty when he was in Africa with Caesar. This date is confirmed by the way in which he speaks of Lucretius, Cicero, and Varro, as quite recent authors.
The object of his work appears to have had reference to himself, as well as to his subject. We have seen that he professes his intention to furnish
the emperor with a standard by which to judge of the buildings he had already erected, as well as of those which he might afterwards erect; which can have no meaning, unless he wished to protest against the style of architecture which prevailed in the buildings already erected. That this was really his intention appears from several other arguments, and especially from his frequent references to the unworthy means by which architects obtained wealth and favour, with which he contrasts his own moderation and contentment in his more obscure position. The same thing appears from his praise of the pure Greek models and his complaints of the corruptions which were growing up ; and also from his general silence about those of the great buildings of the age of Augustus, which, if the date assigned to him be correct, must have been erected before he wrote. This silence is perfectly intelligible if we understand those to be the very buildings, which he wished the emperor and his other readers to compare with his precepts, while he himself was content to furnish the means for the comparison, without incurring the odium of actually making it. In a word, comparatively unsuccessful as an architect, for we have no building of his mentioned except the basilica at Fanum, he attempted, like other artists in the same predicament, to establish his reputation as a writer upon the theory of his art; and in this he has been tolerably successful. His work is a valuable compendium of those written by numerous Greek architects, whom he mentions chiefly in the preface to his seventh book, and by some Roman writers on architecture. Its chief defects are its brevity, of which Vitruvius himself boasts, and which he often carries so far as to be unintelligible, and the obscurity of the style, arising in part from the natural difficulty of technical language, but in part also from the author’s want of skill in writing, and sometimes from his imperfect comprehension of his Greek authorities.
His work is entitled De Architectures Libri X. In the First Book, after the dedication to the emperor, and a general description of the science of architecture, and an account of the proper education of an architect, in which he includes most branches of science and literature, he treats of the choice of a proper site for a city, the disposition of its plan, its fortifications, and the several buildings within it. The Second Book is on the materials \ used in building, to his account of which he prefixes some remarks on the primeval condition of man and the invention and progress of the art of building, and on the views of the philosophers respecting the origin of matter. The Third and Fourth Books are devoted to temples and the four orders of architecture employed in them, namely, the Ionic, Corinthian, Doric, and Tuscan. The Fifth Book relates to public buildings, the 6^7* to private houses, and the Seventh to interior decorations. The Eighth is on the subject of water ; the mode of finding it ; its different kinds ; hot-springs, mineral waters, fountains, rivers, lakes, and the curious properties ascribed to certain waters ; the use of water in levelling ; and the various modes of convejdng it for the supply of cities. The Ninth Book treats of various kinds of sun-dials and other instruments for measuring time ; and the Tenth of the machines used in building, and of military engines. Each book has a preface, upon some matter more or less connected with the subject; and these prefaces are the source of most of our information about the author.
The work of Vitruvius was first published, with that of Frontinus de Aquaeductibus, by Jo. Sulpitius, at Rome, without a date, but about a. d. 1486, fol.; then at Florence, 1496, fol. ; at Venice, 1497, fol., reprinted from the Florentine edition, which was more accurate than the Editio Princeps ; these three editions all follow the MSS. closely. A more critical recension was attempted by Jucundus of Verona, Venet. 1511, fol., with rude wood-cuts ; and another edition by the same editor, and with the same wood-cuts, but smaller and ruder, was printed by Giunta, Florent. 1513, 8vo., and reprinted in 1522 and 1523 ; the conjectural emendations in these editions are extremely rash. Of the numerous subsequent editions, a full account of which (up to 1801) will be found in Ernesti’s edition of Fabric. Bibl. Lat. vol. i. c. 17 (also prefixed to the Bipont edition), the most important are those of J. de Laet, Amst. 1640, fol. ; of A. Bode, in 2 vols. Berol. 1800, 4to., with a volume of plates, Berol. 1801 ; the Bipont, 1807, 8vo. ; that of J. G. Schneider, in 3 vols. Lips. 1807, 1808, 8vo., a most valuable critical edition, with a new and more rational arrangement of the chapters of each book, but without plates ; of Stratico, in 4 vols., Udine, 1825—30, with plates and a Lexicon Vi-truvianum ; and of Marini, in 4 vols., Rom. 1836, fol. The work has been translated into Italian by the Marquess Galiani, with the Latin text, Neapol. 1758, fol., and by Viviani, Udine, 1830 ; into German, by D. Gualtherus and H. Rivius, NUrn-berg, 1548, fol., Basel, 1575, fol. and 1614, fol. ; and by August Bode, in 2 vols. Leipzig, 1796, 4to. ; into French, by Perrault, Paris, 1673, fol. ; 2d ed. 1684, fol. ; abridged 1674, 1681, fol. ; and into English (besides the translation of Per-rault’s abridgement, Lond. 1692, 8vo., often reprinted), by Robert Castell, with notes by Inigo Jones and others, 2 vols. Lond. 1730, fol. ; by W. Newton, with notes and plates, 2 vols., Lond. 1771, 1791, fol. ; by W. Wilkins, R. A., Lond. 1812, containing only the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth books, and those not complete ; and by Joseph Gwilt, 1826, 4to. There are several other translations of less importance, especially into Italian.
(Bernard. Baldus, and Fabricius, as above quoted; Schneider, Prolegomena and notes to Vitruvius ; Genelli, Exegetische Briefe uber Vitruv. Baukunst, Braunschweig and Berlin, 1801—4, 4to. ; Stie- glitz, Arch’dol. Unterhaltungen, Lips. 1820 ; Hirt, Geschichte d. Baukunst bei den Alien., vol. ii. pp.308, foil.) [P.S]
- by William Smith (1870)
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