Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Art & Architecture > 53. Leon Battista Alberti

53.  Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).  De re aedificatoria. Florence: Nicolaus Laurentii, [1485] Avery Library, Classics Collection

Although Vitruvius's is the oldest architectural treatise to survive in the West, the first to have been printed from movable type was Alberti's De re aedificatoria. Indeed, Alberti's was the first architectural treatise to be written in the West since Vitruvius and consciously recalled the ancient work, being likewise divided into ten books. Alberti wrote his text for patrons as well as architects, in elegant Latin, a deliberate effort to bring status to architecture and the architectural profession. He presented his treatise in manuscript to Pope Nicholas V in 1450. The text was posthumously printed at Florence in 1485, with a preface by the scholar-poet Angelo Poliziano, addressed to Lorenzo de' Medici. Lorenzo already owned a manuscript of De re aedificatoria, and he may indeed have lent it to the printer for the setting of type.

Avery acquired the editio princeps within a year of its founding, from the New York City bookseller Stechert. The copy has been dutifully annotated by a non-Italian student of the first half of the sixteenth-century; that is, up until leaf 23 of 204, where he appears to have stopped reading. Alberti's treatise included no illustrations, but for the first book on Lineaments, the reader has added diagrams that reflect the author's discussion of angles, arcs, and circles. The volume was rebound in the late nineteenth century and bears the gilt arms of the Bibliothèque de Mello on its front and back covers.

Purchase, 1891

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