LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI (Italian: ; February 18, 1404 – April 25,
1472) was an Italian humanist author, artist, architect , poet ,
priest , linguist , philosopher and cryptographer ; he epitomised the
Renaissance Man . Although he is often characterized exclusively as an
architect, as James Beck has observed, "to single out one of Leon
Battista's 'fields' over others as somehow functionally independent
and self-sufficient is of no help at all to any effort to characterize
Alberti's extensive explorations in the fine arts." Although Alberti
is known mostly for being an artist, he was also a mathematician of
many sorts and made great advances to this field during the 15th
century. Alberti's life was described in
Giorgio Vasari 's Lives of
the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects .
* 1 Life
* 2 Publications
* 3 Architectural works
* 3.1 Tempio Malatestiano,
* 3.2 Façade of
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella
* 3.5 Sant\' Andrea,
* 3.6 Other buildings
* 5 Contributions
* 6 Works in print
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
Leon Battista Alberti was born in 1404 in
Genoa . His mother is
unknown, and his father was a wealthy Florentine who had been exiled
from his own city, allowed to return in 1428. Alberti was sent to
boarding school in Padua, then studied Law at
Bologna . He lived for
a time in
Florence , then travelled to
Rome in 1431 where he took holy
orders and entered the service of the papal court. During this time
he studied the ancient ruins , which excited his interest in
architecture and strongly influenced the form of the buildings that he
Alberti was gifted in many ways. He was tall, strong and a fine
athlete who could ride the wildest horse and jump over a man's head.
He distinguished himself as a writer while he was still a child at
school, and by the age of twenty had written a play which was
successfully passed off as a genuine piece of Classical literature.
In 1435, he began his first major written work, Della pittura , which
was inspired by the burgeoning pictorial art in
Florence in the early
15th century. In this work he analyses the nature of painting and
explores the elements of perspective, composition and colour.
In 1438 he began to focus more on architecture and was encouraged by
the Marchese Leonello d\'Este of Ferrara, for whom he built a small
triumphal arch to support an equestrian statue of Leonello's father.
In 1447 he became the architectural advisor to
Pope Nicholas V and was
involved with several projects at the Vatican .
His first major architectural commission was in 1446 for the facade
Rucellai Palace in Florence. This was followed in 1450 by a
Sigismondo Malatesta to transform the Gothic church of
San Francesco in
Rimini into a memorial chapel, the Tempio
Malatestiano . In Florence, he designed the upper parts of the facade
for the Dominican church of
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella , famously bridging
the nave and lower aisles with two ornately inlaid scrolls, solving a
visual problem and setting a precedent to be followed by architects of
churches for four hundred years. In 1452, he completed De re
aedificatoria , a treatise on architecture, using as its basis the
Vitruvius and influenced by the archaeological remains of
Rome. The work was not published until 1485. It was followed in 1464
by his less influential work, De statua, in which he examines
sculpture. Alberti's only known sculpture is a self-portrait
medallion, sometimes attributed to
Alberti was employed to design two churches in
Mantua , San
Sebastiano , which was never completed, and for which Alberti's
intention can only be speculated, and the Basilica of Sant\'Andrea .
The design for the latter church was completed in 1471, a year before
Alberti's death, but was brought to completion and is his most
As an artist, Alberti distinguished himself from the ordinary
craftsman, educated in workshops. He was a humanist , and part of the
rapidly expanding entourage of intellectuals and artisans supported by
the courts of the princes and lords of the time. Alberti, as a member
of noble family and as part of the Roman curia , had special status.
He was a welcomed guest at the Este court in
Ferrara , and in Urbino
he spent part of the hot-weather season with the soldier-prince
Federico III da Montefeltro
Federico III da Montefeltro . The Duke of
Urbino was a shrewd military
commander, who generously spent money on the patronage of art. Alberti
planned to dedicate his treatise on architecture to his friend.
Among Alberti's smaller studies, pioneering in their field, were a
treatise in cryptography , De componendis cifris , and the first
Italian grammar . With the Florentine cosmographer
Paolo Toscanelli he
collaborated in astronomy, a close science to geography at that time,
and produced a small
Latin work on geography, Descriptio urbis Romae
(The Panorama of the City of Rome). Just a few years before his death,
Alberti completed De iciarchia (On Ruling the Household), a dialogue
Florence during the
Alberti, having taken holy orders, remained unmarried all his life.
He loved animals and had a pet dog, a mongrel, for whom he wrote a
panegyric , (Canis). Vasari describes him as "an admirable citizen, a
man of culture.... a friend of talented men, open and courteous with
everyone. He always lived honourably and like the gentleman he was."
Alberti died in
Rome on April 25, 1472 at the age of 68.
Mathematics and architecture
Mathematics and architecture
Alberti regarded mathematics as the common ground of art and the
sciences. "To make clear my exposition in writing this brief
commentary on painting ," Alberti began his treatise, Della Pittura
(On Painting), "I will take first from the mathematicians those things
with which my subject is concerned."
Della pittura (also known in
De Pictura ) relied in its
scientific content on classical optics in determining perspective as a
geometric instrument of artistic and architectural representation.
Alberti was well-versed in the sciences of his age. His knowledge of
optics was connected to the handed-down long-standing tradition of the
Kitab al-manazir (The Optics; De aspectibus) of the Arab polymath
Ibn al-Haytham , d. c. 1041), which was mediated by
Franciscan optical workshops of the 13th-century Perspectivae
traditions of scholars such as
Roger Bacon ,
John Peckham and Witelo
(similar influences are also traceable in the third commentary of
Lorenzo Ghiberti , Commentario terzo). English title page of the
first edition of Giacomo Leoni’s translation of Alberti’s De Re
Aedificatoria (1452). The book is bilingual, with the Italian version
being printed on the left and the English version printed on the
In both Della pittura and De statua, Alberti stressed that "all steps
of learning should be sought from nature." The ultimate aim of an
artist is to imitate nature. Painters and sculptors strive "through by
different skills, at the same goal, namely that as nearly as possible
the work they have undertaken shall appear to the observer to be
similar to the real objects of nature." However, Alberti did not mean
that artists should imitate nature objectively, as it is, but the
artist should be especially attentive to beauty, "for in painting
beauty is as pleasing as it is necessary." The work of art is,
according to Alberti, so constructed that it is impossible to take
anything away from it or add anything to it, without impairing the
beauty of the whole. Beauty was for Alberti "the harmony of all parts
in relation to one another," and subsequently "this concord is
realized in a particular number, proportion, and arrangement demanded
by harmony." Alberti's thoughts on harmony were not new—they could
be traced back to Pythagoras—but he set them in a fresh context,
which fit in well with the contemporary aesthetic discourse.
In Rome, Alberti had plenty of time to study its ancient sites,
ruins, and objects. His detailed observations, included in his De Re
Aedificatoria (1452, On the Art of Building), were patterned after
the De architectura by the Roman architect and engineer
46–30 BC). The work was the first architectural treatise of the
Renaissance. It covered a wide range of subjects, from history to town
planning, and engineering to the philosophy of beauty. De re
aedificatoria, a large and expensive book, was not fully published
until 1485, after which it became a major reference for architects.
However, the book was written "not only for craftsmen but also for
anyone interested in the noble arts," as Alberti put it. Originally
published in Latin, the first Italian edition came out in 1546. and
the standard Italian edition by
Cosimo Bartoli was published in 1550.
Pope Nicholas V , to whom Alberti dedicated the whole work, dreamed of
rebuilding the city of Rome, but he managed to realize only a fragment
of his visionary plans. Through his book, Alberti opened up his
theories and ideals of the Florentine
Renaissance to architects,
scholars and others.
Alberti wrote I Libri della famiglia—which discussed education,
marriage, household management, and money—in the Tuscan dialect. The
work was not printed until 1843. Like
Erasmus decades later, Alberti
stressed the need for a reform in education. He noted that "the care
of very young children is women's work, for nurses or the mother," and
that at the earliest possible age children should be taught the
alphabet. With great hopes, he gave the work to his family to read,
but in his autobiography Alberti confesses that "he could hardly avoid
feeling rage, moreover, when he saw some of his relatives openly
ridiculing both the whole work and the author's futile enterprise
along it." Momus, written between 1443 and 1450, was a misogynist
comedy about the Olympian gods. It has been considered as a roman à
clef —Jupiter has been identified in some sources as Pope Eugenius
IV and Pope Nicholas V. Alberti borrowed many of its characters from
Lucian , one of his favorite Greek writers. The name of its hero,
Momus, refers to the Greek word for blame or criticism. After being
expelled from heaven,
Momus , the god of mockery, is eventually
castrated. Jupiter and the other gods come down to earth also, but
they return to heaven after Jupiter breaks his nose in a great storm.
The dramatic facade of Sant' Andrea, Mantua, (1471) built to
Alberti's design after his death The unfinished and altered facade
of San Sebastiano has promoted much speculation as to Alberti's
Alberti did not concern himself with the practicalities of building,
and very few of his major works were brought to completion. As a
designer and a student of
Vitruvius and of ancient Roman remains, he
grasped the nature of column and lintel architecture, from the visual
rather than structural viewpoint, and correctly employed the Classical
orders , unlike his contemporary,
Brunelleschi , who utilised the
Classical column and pilaster in a free interpretation. Among
Alberti's concerns was the social effect of architecture, and to this
end he was very well aware of the cityscape. This is demonstrated by
his inclusion, at the Rucellai Palace, of a continuous bench for
seating at the level of the basement.
Rome he was employed by
Pope Nicholas V for the restoration of the
Roman aqueduct of
Acqua Vergine , which debouched into a simple basin
designed by Alberti, which was swept away later by the Baroque Trevi
Some studies propose that the
Medici in Fiesole might owe its
design to Alberti, not to Michelozzo, and that it then became the
prototype of the
Renaissance villa . This hilltop dwelling,
commissioned by Giovanni de\'
Cosimo il Vecchio
Cosimo il Vecchio 's second
son, with its view over the city, may be the very first example of a
Renaissance villa: that is to say it follows the Albertian criteria
for rendering a country dwelling a "villa suburbana". Under this
Medici in Fiesole could therefore be considered
the "muse" for numerous other buildings, not only in the Florence
area, which from the end of the 15th century onwards find inspiration
and creative innovation here.
TEMPIO MALATESTIANO, RIMINI
Tempio Malatestiano in
Rimini (1447, 1453–60) is the
rebuilding of a Gothic church. The facade, with its dynamic play of
forms, was left incomplete.
FAçADE OF PALAZZO RUCELLAI
The design of the façade of the
Palazzo Rucellai (1446–51) was one
of several commissions for the Rucellai family. The design overlays a
grid of shallow pilasters and cornices in the Classical manner onto
rusticated masonry, and is surmounted by a heavy cornice. The inner
courtyard has Corinthian columns. The palace set a standard in the use
of Classical elements that is original in civic buildings in Florence,
and greatly influenced later palazzi. The work was executed by
Bernardo Rosselino . Tempio Malatestiano,
polychrome facade of
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella
SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella , Florence, between (1448–70) the upper
facade was constructed to the design of Alberti. It was a challenging
task, as the lower level already had three doorways and six Gothic
niches containing tombs and employing the polychrome marble typical of
Florentine churches such as
San Miniato al Monte
San Miniato al Monte and the Baptistery of
Florence . The design also incorporates an ocular window which was
already in place. Alberti introduced Classical features around the
portico and spread the polychromy over the entire facade in a manner
which includes Classical proportions and elements such as pilasters,
cornices and a pediment in the Classical style, ornamented with a
sunburst in tesserae, rather than sculpture. The best known feature of
this typically aisled church is the manner in which Alberti has solved
the problem of visually bridging the different levels of the central
nave and much lower side aisles. He employed two large scrolls, which
were to become a standard feature of Church facades in the later
Renaissance, Baroque and Classical Revival buildings.
Piazza Pio II in Pienza, looking towards the Palazzo Piccolomini
Alberti is considered to have been the consultant for the design of
the Piazza Pio II,
Pienza . The village, previously called Corsignano,
was redesigned beginning around 1459. It was the birthplace of Aeneas
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II , in whose employ Alberti served.
Pius II wanted to use the village as a retreat but needed for it to
reflect the dignity of his position.
The piazza is a trapezoid shape defined by four buildings, with a
Pienza Cathedral and passages on either side opening onto a
landscape view. The principal residence, Palazzo Piccolomini, is on
the west side. It has three stories, articulated by pilasters and
entablature courses, with a twin-lighted cross window set within each
bay. This structure is similar to Alberti's
Palazzo Rucellai in
Florence and other later palaces. Noteworthy is the internal court of
the palazzo. The back of the palace, to the south, is defined by
loggia on all three floors that overlook an enclosed Italian
Renaissance garden with Giardino all\'italiana era modifications, and
spectacular views into the distant landscape of the Val d\'Orcia and
Pope Pius's beloved Mount Amiata beyond. Below this garden is a
vaulted stable that had stalls for 100 horses. The design, which
radically transformed the center of the town, included a palace for
the pope, a church, a town hall and a building for the bishops who
would accompany the Pope on his trips.
Pienza is considered an early
Renaissance urban planning.
SANT\' ANDREA, MANTUA
The Basilica of Sant\'Andrea ,
Mantua was begun in 1471, the year
before Alberti's death. It was brought to completion and is his most
significant work employing the triumphal arch motif, both for its
facade and interior, and influencing many works that were to follow.
Alberti perceived the role of architect as designer. Unlike
Brunelleschi , he had no interest in the construction, leaving the
practicalities to builders and the oversight to others.
* San Sebastiano , Mantua, (begun 1458) the unfinished facade of
which has promoted much speculation as to Alberti's intention
* Sepolcro Rucellai in San Pancrazio , 1467)
* The Tribune for Santissima Annunziata ,
Florence (1470, completed
with alterations, 1477)
Giorgio Vasari , who argued that historical progress in art reached
its peak in
Michelangelo , emphasized Alberti's scholarly
achievements, not his artistic talents: "He spent his time finding out
about the world and studying the proportions of antiquities; but above
all, following his natural genius, he concentrated on writing rather
than on applied work." Leonardo , who ironically called himself "an
uneducated person" (omo senza lettere), followed Alberti in the view
that painting is science. However, as a scientist Leonardo was more
empirical than Alberti, who was a theorist and did not have similar
interest in practice. Alberti believed in ideal beauty, but Leonardo
filled his notebooks with observations on human proportions, page
after page, ending with his famous drawing of the
Vitruvian man , a
human figure related to a square and a circle.
In On Painting, Alberti uses the expression "We Painters", but as a
painter, or sculptor, he was a dilettante. "In painting Alberti
achieved nothing of any great importance or beauty," wrote Vasari.
"The very few paintings of his that are extant are far from perfect,
but this is not surprising since he devoted himself more to his
studies than to draughtsmanship."
Jacob Burckhardt portrayed Alberti
in The Civilization of the
Renaissance in Italy as a truly universal
genius. "And Leonardo Da Vinci was to Alberti as the finisher to the
beginner, as the master to the dilettante. Would only that Vasari's
work were here supplemented by a description like that of Alberti! The
colossal outlines of Leonardo's nature can never be more than dimly
and distantly conceived."
Alberti is said to be in Mantegna's great frescoes in the Camera
degli Sposi , the older man dressed in dark red clothes, who whispers
in the ear of Ludovico Gonzaga , the ruler of Mantua. In Alberti's
self-portrait, a large plaquette , he is clothed as a Roman. To the
left of his profile is a winged eye. On the reverse side is the
question, Quid tum? (what then), taken from
Virgil 's Eclogues: "So
what, if Amyntas is dark? (quid tum si fuscus Amyntas?) Violets are
black, and hyacinths are black."
Detail of the facade of
Alberti made a variety of contributions to several fields:
* Alberti was the creator of a theory called "historia". In his
De pictura (1435) he explains the theory of the accumulation
of people, animals, and buildings, which create harmony amongst each
other, and "hold the eye of the learned and unlearned spectator for a
long while with a certain sense of pleasure and emotion". De pictura
("On Painting") contained the first scientific study of perspective .
An Italian translation of
De pictura (Della pittura) was published in
1436, one year after the original
Latin version and addressed Filippo
Brunelleschi in the preface. The
Latin version had been dedicated to
Alberti's humanist patron, Gianfrancesco Gonzaga of Mantua. He also
wrote works on , De Statua.
* Alberti used his artistic treatises to propound a new humanistic
theory of art. He drew on his contacts with early Quattrocento artists
such as Brunelleschi, Donatello and Ghiberti to provide a practical
handbook for the renaissance artist.
* Alberti wrote an influential work on architecture, De Re
Aedificatoria , which by the 16th century had been translated into
Italian (by Cosimo Bartoli), French , Spanish and English . An English
translation was by
Giacomo Leoni in the early 18th century. Newer
translations are now available.
* Whilst Alberti's treatises on painting and architecture have been
hailed as the founding texts of a new form of art, breaking from the
Gothic past, it is impossible to know the extent of their practical
impact within his lifetime. His praise of the Calumny of Apelles led
to several attempts to emulate it, including paintings by Botticelli
and Signorelli. His stylistic ideals have been put into practice in
the works of Mantegna ,
Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca and
Fra Angelico . But
how far Alberti was responsible for these innovations and how far he
was simply articulating the trends of the artistic movement, with
which his practical experience had made him familiar, is impossible to
* He was so skilled in
Latin verse that a comedy he wrote in his
twentieth year, entitled Philodoxius, would later deceive the younger
Aldus Manutius , who edited and published it as the genuine work of
The upper storey of
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella One of the giant
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella
* He has been credited with being the author, or alternatively the
designer of the woodcut illustrations, of the Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili , a strange fantasy novel.
* Apart from his treatises on the arts, Alberti also wrote:
Philodoxus ("Lover of Glory", 1424), De commodis litterarum atque
incommodis ("On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literary Studies",
1429), Intercoenales ("Table Talk", c. 1429), Della famiglia ("On the
Family", begun 1432) Vita S. Potiti ("Life of St. Potitus", 1433), De
iure (On Law, 1437), Theogenius ("The Origin of the Gods", c. 1440),
Profugorium ab aerumna ("Refuge from Mental Anguish",),
and De Iciarchia ("On the Prince", 1468). These and other works were
translated and printed in Venice by the humanist
Cosimo Bartoli in
* Alberti was an accomplished cryptographer by the standard of his
day, and invented the first polyalphabetic cipher , which is now known
Alberti cipher , and machine-assisted encryption using his
Cipher Disk . The polyalphabetic cipher was, at least in principle,
for it was not properly used for several hundred years, the most
significant advance in cryptography since before Julius Caesar's time.
Cryptography historian David Kahn titles him the "Father of Western
Cryptography", pointing to three significant advances in the field
which can be attributed to Alberti: "the earliest Western exposition
of cryptanalysis, the invention of polyalphabetic substitution, and
the invention of enciphered code."David Kahn (1967). The codebreakers:
the story of secret writing. New York: MacMillan.
* According to Alberti himself, in a short autobiography written c.
Latin and in the third person, (many but not all scholars
consider this work to be an autobiography) he was capable of "standing
with his feet together, and springing over a man's head." The
autobiography survives thanks to an 18th-century transcription by
Antonio Muratori . Alberti also claimed that he "excelled in all
bodily exercises; could, with feet tied, leap over a standing man;
could in the great cathedral, throw a coin far up to ring against the
vault; amused himself by taming wild horses and climbing mountains."
Needless to say, many in the
Renaissance promoted themselves in
various ways and Alberti's eagerness to promote his skills should be
understood, to some extent, within that framework. (This advice should
be followed in reading the above information, some of which originates
in this so-called autobiography.)
* Alberti claimed in his "autobiography" to be an accomplished
musician and organist, but there is no hard evidence to support this
claim. In fact, musical posers were not uncommon in his day (see the
lyrics to the song Musica Son, by Francesco Landini, for complaints to
this effect.) He held the appointment of canon in the metropolitan
Florence , and thus – perhaps – had the leisure to
devote himself to this art, but this is only speculation. Vasari also
agreed with this.
* He was also interested in the drawing of maps and worked with the
astronomer , astrologer, and cartographer
Paolo Toscanelli .
* In terms of Aesthetics Alberti is one of the first defining the
work of art as imitation of nature, exactly as a selection of its most
beautiful parts: "So let's take from nature what we are going to
paint, and from nature we choose the most beautiful and worthy things"
WORKS IN PRINT
A window of the
* De Pictura, 1435. On Painting, in English, De Pictura, in Latin,
On Painting. Penguin Classics. 1972. ISBN 978-0-14-043331-9 . ; Della
Pittura, in Italian (1804 ).
Latin text and English translation, 2003 ISBN 0-674-00754-9
De re aedificatoria (1452, Ten Books on Architecture). Alberti,
Leon Battista. De re aedificatoria. On the art of building in ten
books. (translated by Joseph Rykwert,
Robert Tavernor and Neil Leach).
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988. ISBN 0-262-51060-X . ISBN
978-0-262-51060-8 . Latin, French and Italian editions
* De Cifris A
Treatise on Ciphers (1467), trans. A. Zaccagnini.
Foreword by David Kahn, Galimberti, Torino 1997.
* Della tranquillitá dell'animo. 1441.
* "Leon Battista Alberti. On Painting. A New Translation an Critical
Edition", Edited and Translated by
Rocco Sinisgalli , Cambridge
University Press, New York, May 2011, ISBN 978-1-107-00062-9
* I libri della famiglia, Italian edition
* "Dinner pieces". A Translation of the Intercenales by David Marsh.
Center for Medieval and Early
Renaissance Studies, State University of
New York, Binghampton 1987.
* "Descriptio urbis Romae. Leon Battista Alberti's Delineation of
the city of Rome". Peter Hicks, Arizona Board of Regents for Arizona
State university 2007.
* ^ James Beck, "
Leon Battista Alberti and the 'Night Sky' at San
Lorenzo", Artibus et Historiae 10, No. 19 (1989:9–35), p. 9.
* ^ Williams, Kim (August 27, 2010). The Mathematical Works of Leon
Battista Alberti. Birkhauser Verlag AG. p. 1. ISBN 978-3-0346-0473-4
– via Duke Libraries.
* ^ A B C D Melissa Snell, Leon Battsta Alberti, About.com:
* ^ A B C D E The Renaissance:a Illustrated Encyclopedia, Octopus
(1979) ISBN 0706408578
* ^ A B C D
Jacob Burckhardt in The Civilization of the Renaissance
Italy, 2.1, 1860.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I Joseph Rykwert, ed., Leon Baptiste Alberti,
Architectul Design, Vol 49 No 5-6, London
* ^ A B C D Vasari, The Lives of the Artists
* ^ Leone Battista Alberti, On Painting, editor John Richard
Spencer, 1956, p. 43.
Nader El-Bizri , "A Philosophical Perspective on
Optics ," Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, vol. 15, issue 2 (2005), pp.
Cambridge University Press ).
* ^ A B C D E Liukkonen, Petri. "Leon Battista Alberti". Books and
Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland:
Kuusankoski Public Library.
Archived from the original on 10 February 2015.
* ^ A B Alberti, Leon Battista. On the Art of Building in Ten
Books. Trans. Leach, N., Rykwert, J., & Tavenor, R. Cambridge: The MIT
* ^ Center for Palladian Studies in America, Inc., Palladio\'s
* ^ D. Mazzini, S. Simone,
Medici a Fiesole. Leon Battista
Alberti e il prototipo di villa rinascimentale, Centro Di, Firenze
* ^ A B C D E F G H Franco Borsi. Leon Battista Alberti. New York:
Harper & Row, (1977)
* ^ Liane Lefaivre, Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997
* ^ De Pictura, book III: Ergo semper quae picturi sumus, ea a
natura sumamus, semperque ex his quaeque pulcherrima et dignissima
* Gille, Bertrand (1970). "Alberti, Leone Battista". Dictionary of
Scientific Biography . 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp.
96–98. ISBN 0-684-10114-9 .
* Wright, D.R. Edward, "Alberti\'s De Pictura: Its Literary
Structure and Purpose", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institutes, Vol. 47, 1984 (1984), pp. 52–71.