Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
(ca 80-70 BC - ?) was a Roman
, active in the 1st century BC. Little is known about his life. Even his first name Marcus
and his cognomen Pollio
are uncertain. They are only mentioned by Cetius Faventinus. Most data about his life are extracted from his own work.
He was born as free Roman citizen, most likely at Formiae in Campania. He is believed to have served in the Roman army in Spain and Gaul under Julius Caesar. He was probably one of the army engineers, constructing war machines for sieges. In later years he was employed by his sponsor, the emperor Augustus, entitled with a pension to guarantee his financial independence. His date of death is unknown, which suggests that he had enjoyed only little popularity during lifetime.
He was the author of De architectura
, known today as The Ten Books of Architecture,
a treatise in Latin on architecture
, dedicated to the emperor Augustus, and perhaps the first complete work about this discipline. It is the only surviving major book on architecture from classical antiquity. Mainly known for his writings, Vitruvius was himself an architect. Frontinus mentions him in connection with the standard sizes of pipes (Aq. I.25)
. The only building, however, that we know Vitruvius to have worked on is, as he himself tells us (de Arch. V.i.6)
, a basilica
at Fanum Fortunae, now the modern town of Fano. The basilica has disappeared so completely that its very site is a matter of conjecture., by Leonardo da VinciVitruvius is most famous for asserting in his book
De architectura that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of
firmitas, utilitas, venustas - that is, it must be strong or durable, useful, and beautiful. According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature. As birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements. When perfecting this art of building, they invented the architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. It gave them a sense of proportion, culminating in understanding the proportions of the greatest work of art: the human body. This led Vitruvius in defining his Vitruvian Man, as drawn magnificently by Leonardo da Vinci: the human body inscribed in the circle and the square (the fundamental geometric patterns of the cosmic order).
Vitruvius is sometimes loosely referred to as the first architect, but it is more accurate to describe him as the first Roman architect to have written on his field. He himself cites older works, but less complete. He was less an original thinker or creative intellect than a codifier of existing architectural practice. It should also be noted, that Vitruvius had a much wider scope than modern architects. Roman architects practiced a wide variety of disciplines; in modern terms, they could be described as being engineers, architects, landscape architects, artists, and craftsmen combined. Etymologically the word architect derives from Greek words meaning 'head' and 'builder'.
His book "De Architectura" was rediscovered in 1414 by the Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini. To Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) befalls the honour to make this work widely known in his seminal treatise on architecture
De Re Aedificatoria (ca. 1450). The first known edition of Vitruvius was in Rome by Fra Giovanni Sulpitius in 1486. Translations followed in Italian (ca. 1520), French (Jacques Martin, 1547), English, German (Walter H. Rivius, 1575) and Spanish and several other languages. The original illustrations had been lost. New woodcut illustrations, based on descriptions in the text, were added in the 16th century, probably by Fra Giovanni Giocondo in Venice in 1511. The surviving ruins of Roman antiquity, the Roman Forum, temples, theatres, triumphal arches and their reliefs and statues gave ample visual examples of the descriptions in the Vitruvian text. This book then quickly became a major inspiration for Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture.
Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture; MIT Press 2004 ISBN O-262-63306-X
The Date, Identity, and Career of Vitruvius. In: Latomus 49 (1990), 425-34
The Ten Books on Architecture online: cross-linked Latin text and English translation
The Ten Books on Architecture at the Perseus Classics Collection. Latin and English text. Images. Latin text has hyperlinks to pop-up dictionary.
Latin text, version 2