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

Exhibition Themes > Art & Architecture > 57. Sebastiano Serlio

57.  Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554).  Book VI, On Domestic Architecture. Ink, wash, and pencil on paper; 73 drawings on mounts (62.3 x 47 cm.), and 63 text leaves (no larger than 38.7 x 27 cm.), ca. 1541-1551. Avery Library, Classics Collection

"Book VI is a unique treasure because in the great variety of needs it seeks to accommodate it gives us, as no other book of its age has done, an insight into Renaissance society and customs." So, the architectural historian James Ackerman introduced this manuscript in its first complete printing, over four hundred years after its creation (Myra Nan Rosenfeld, Sebastiano Serlio on Domestic Architecture . . . The Sixteenth-Century Manuscript of Book VI in the Avery Library of Columbia University, 1978).

The Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio planned to issue seven books on architecture, among the first illustrated manuals of their kind to be printed in Europe. For reasons not fully known, one of these failed to find a publisher, Book VI, On Domestic Architecture. The Avery manuscript of Book VI is one of two extant in Serlio's hand. It passed through various private owners–some debated and some clearly known (the Bird family of Cheshire, England, in the eighteenth century, and Dr. David Laing of Edinburgh in the nineteenth)–before arriving at Avery, on deposit, in 1920.

Serlio probably began work on the book, a series of designs for houses both modest and regal, after arriving at the court of François I at Fontainebleau. Although the volume was not published as intended, its ground plans, elevations, and cross sections appear to have been known and influential. Drawings that have fascinated historians include ones for the château at Ancy-le-Franc, which established Serlio definitively as its architect; Serlio's proposed plan and elevations for the Louvre, the earliest grand designs for the Parisian royal palace; and one of the first Renaissance designs for a domed secular building (here illustrated), noted for its similarity to Palladio's Villa Rotonda.

Purchase, 1924

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