Biography of Leone Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Leone Battista Alberti.

Architect, theoretician of art and Italian writer, Alberti built the theoretical body that bases the plastic activity of the art of the Renaissance. Artistic practice that had been developed by Brunelleschi, Masaccio and Donatello found in Alberti mode become the theory, which will later reflected in his own architecture.

Son of a wealthy Florentine families, was born in Genoa in 1406, during the exile of his family in that city. He/She studied in Padua and Bologna, where is dedicated to the study of law and mathematics, but his artistic formation takes place in Rome, city which reached in 1432, with the task of Apostolic abreviador. It enter in contact with the classicism of ancient times, from a scholar and archaeological point of view, what is born his work Descriptio Urbis Romae, 1434, which raises a study systematized for the reconstruction of the ancient city. In 1434 Alberti returned to Florence where he/she meets the art of Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio posed the practical affirmation of its own principles.

Thought and artistic theory

The activity of Alberti in the artistic field cannot be understood without taking present their political conceptions and his general philosophical position. In politics his ideal is the city-state that met before the final victory of the Medicis in Florence. The Prince, if any, should govern always seeking the public interest, is a supreme good. If the Prince does not act thus, becomes a tyrant. Like the Prince, staff should ensure the interest of the city. The figure of the citizen is to Alberti as important as the Prince, idea that involves a total break with feudalism. Every citizen should serve their fellow citizens to the extent of its possibilities.

Rationalism is going to be the most characteristic feature of the albertian thought, man can achieve things through his will, but only with the reason you know exactly everything you want to achieve. This rationalism is taken up by Alberti since antiquity, most that of Christianity, to be this of a characteristic of the culture of the Quattrocento humanism. With Alberti the Studio of antiquity is rationalized, i.e. topical art and classic thoughts, and intuitive idea is abandoned to enter them in a scientific way. Alberti read Vitruvius and Varro, comparing their readings with the immediate and surrounding, reality is, with the own Roman monuments, treating the equally ancient and not feeling obliged to follow their examples, if his intelligence advised other roads.

In artistic theoretical prepared, its plastic designs are going to constantly mix with ideas before mentioned. In its big three treated, devoted to painting, architecture and sculpture, Alberti built theoretical body that supports the new plastic activity of the Renaissance. In De Pictura, written in 1435 and dedicated to Brunelleschi, Alberti systematizes and reported the discoveries of perspective by the great architect, turning it into the synthesis and the theory of the Florentine art of the 15th century. The Treaty De re Aedificatoria, was started it was 1450, and printed twenty years later, Alberti did not tweak it and complete it throughout his life. He/She subsequently did 1465, writes the Treaty of Statua.

The second of the three treaties is undoubtedly the most important, consists of ten books, which will be reflected throughout the albertian theory. It proposes the primacy of architecture, for being the art related to the practical and daily activity of man, aside from understanding it as a civic activity, which are functions other than religious, as defensive, commercial, etc. Architecture therefore should not be exclusive heritage of the Church, but nor it should be the patrons, but the whole of the community, proposing a joint plan for the construction of the city, in which each building must be subjected to the overall plan. These urban theories are addressed by Alberti in the 4th book, proposing from the geographical location of the city up to the treatment of streets and buildings. Among the buildings he/she differentiates three kinds: public buildings, the influential citizens and popular citizens, which allocates an important extension. All buildings must be devoid of all ostentation, calling attention more by the beauty of the design and layout than by its grandeur and ornamentation. The popular House must be built following the same plan that the citizens's influential, though on a smaller scale.

Along with the new role that Alberti gives architecture, appears the new role of the architect, defining it as one who uses reason, first to divide things, and then to gather all those materials that can be used with efficiency and dignity needs human.

The architect and artist in general, is a man committed to a scientific task. In the book I Alberti exhibits the use of architectural design, as a link with mathematics. In book II, the need for knowledge of related materials used in construction. While in the III book exposes the need for knowledge of various construction systems. With equal criteria in his treatise De Pictura, book I, appears dedicated to the knowledge of mathematics and geometry, together with their applications to the prospect. For Alberti arts are learned through reason and the method, not existing for them more practice teacher.

In its approach to the ancient world, Alberti studied thoroughly the remains of Roman architecture and compared with the theoretical treatises from Vitruvius and Varro, and observes that the classical achievements do not obey rigid rules, which led him to propose a new architecture. This same method, rational and scientific, applied to painting and sculpture, done to raise a new conception of realism. Alberti defines the painting as the section of the pyramid that whole body projected in the direction of the eye of the beholder, disregarding any theological reference, and be based on terms of humanistic reasoning, scientific method, strict observation of the antique, etc.

Following the humanistic theories, redefined concepts of beauty, including two definitions in his treatise De re Aedificatoria: harmony regular between all parts of an object, so that nothing can be added, deleted, or changed, without losing harmony; regular harmony and agreement between all the parts of a whole which is built according to a fixed number, a certain relationship, a certain order, as required by the principle of symmetry. According to these definitions the intelligence of the artist must control the layout of all the elements and subjected to a sorting, rigorous in architecture. In painting the artist's work must be accurate, made it will endow you with beauty. In human forms, following these concepts, the artist must choose the most beautiful parties, in order to combine them without any mistake. But the final model not only must respond to the most beautiful existing in nature, but more normal, general and typical. Alberti moved away from idealism proposing the beautiful as an arithmetic: the work must be a reflection of nature, that the arts is subjected to scientific models and subject to laws and consistent methods. The relationship between art and nature, closed the road to the creative Faculty of the artist, mastered the way of exploring the universe.

At the end of his life Alberti returned to Florence, where you find a different city which had left. The Medicis absolute owners of city, grouped to the intellectuals who were governed by the neo-Platonic ideas. Alberti didn't find site in a city that has left the active life and citizen participation that it was used as a model. In his latest work sentenced the luxury of the city, directly attacking the Medicis and claiming that the "Prince" is subject to the laws of the city and to safeguard their freedoms.

Commemorative stamp by Leone Battista Alberti.

The works

Alberti will try to translate into deeds theoretical budgets which, according to him, should govern the architecture, applying the theory of proportions that seeks as a result the symmetry, harmony and beauty. The pursuit of the implementation of the module or standard is the common thread that runs through all his work and gives coherence to the theory and practice.

Simultaneously to his theoretical work, receives first professional assignments. Segismundo Malatesta commissioned him to reform the Church of San Francisco in Rimini, from 1450. Before he/she had received important commissions of the Rucellai family in Florence. Then you will go to Urbino and Pienza, where it will boost the dissemination of the Florentine movement. From 1464 he/she is called by Ludovico Gonzaga at Mantua.

Facade of the Church of Santa María Novella de Florencia

Conducted from 1458 to 1470 it articulates a new type of facade, posing a modular and symmetrical architecture. Conceived by the way of the Roman triumphal arches, it is structured on the basis of a rectangular body, which has a large pediment flanked by scrolls, this model will be used.

The symmetry is absolute, to the point that the dichromate, typical of Florentine architecture, will used to distinguish the modular elements, differently to Brunelleschi who had used it to establish the separation between sustained and load-bearing elements.

For the realization of this façade, Alberti is inspired by the classicism of the Tuscan Romanesque, evident in the façade of the Church of San Miniato al Monte. As Brunelleschi was inspired by the Romanesque domes for the completion of the dome of Santa María de las Flores.

Alberti. Door of the Church of Santa María Novella in Florence.

The Palacio Rucellai in Florence

Alberti. The Florence Rucellai Palace facade.

Made between 1446 and 1451, by order of the Rucellai family, it is contemporary to the Medici-Riccardi of Michelozzo. The two conductive ideas of architecture will be the rationalisation and simplification. In plant raises a cube, a geometric, perceptible form easily with a vacuum in the Center, i.e. four bodies arranged around a central courtyard. This space, regular and porticos, becomes in the structuring of the building core while providing adequate lighting to all floors. Alberti leverages the traditional Florentine courtyard, but turning it into a space based on the regularity and symmetry axis. The same scheme had been used two years earlier by Michelozzo, and shall be that used during the fifteenth century in Italy and the 16th in Europe.

According to this scheme, two facades, should organize the interior overlooking the patio and the outside facing the street. Inside, Alberti, poses an arcaded Gallery on all four sides, idea for the Hospital of the innocents of Brunelleschi. The other two floors, separated by authentic classical entablatures, are structured by means of windows, focusing on the key of the arches, and topped with pediments triangular at the bottom and curved on the upper. The arches and windows are collected in regular modules, divided by columns which are superimposed the three classical orders.

In the exterior facade, Alberti keeps padding, used in the Medici-Riccardi palace, but this is devastated in a uniform manner in all of it, by the way of the Roman rig. Its structure is made of three bodies, separated and differentiated by entablatures and articulated by pilasters following overlapping of orders. They are based on a lower run Bank, that links the street space, and is topped with a large cornice. In all the building Alberti expresses his quest for beauty as a result of the expression of harmony.

Although designed by Alberti, the completion of the building was conducted by Rossellino, later repeated this provision in the Palacio Piccolomini in Pienza.

The tempio Malatestiano in Rimini

Malatestiano temple or of San Francisco was held on behalf of Segismundo Malatesta, which receives its name, as a funerary temple to proclaim the glory of the Prince and serve as a family vault.

The problem with is Alberti is to camouflage a traditional building, a Gothic church. For this you choose to search a typology as close as possible to the antique, presenting a basic scheme of classical temple with portico with columns and auction in fronton abroad. The Temple could not be ended, but in the original project of Alberti was covered with a cupola for half, typical of the Roman pantheons element.

All the construction elements are taken from the antiquity. The main façade is conceived as a triumphal arch where the bottom surface is decorated with coffers. The decoration is sparse reduced successful sunglasses, classic funeral decoration, and Latin inscriptions. Articulated with a monumental order of columns and pilasters subsidiaries topping in a large cornice.

Church of San Andrés de Mantua

Towards the year 70 Alberti is located in Mantua, where he/she made a series of important projects and defines a new type of Church.

In this Church of San Andrés, Alberti, maintains its razor-thin link with antiquity, with the concept of symmetry, and raises a new typology.

The facade combines the layout of the classical temples with the triumphal arches and is divided into three streets and topped in a wide pediment. The side streets with arches are exactly half the central arch, are separated by a monumental columns. Constructive elements are a copy of old decorative system is typically where.

Inside encodes a new type of plant. Considering a great ship living room that opens to the sides, where inserted chapels alternating in size, ship leads developed cruise covered by half on the drum cupola. The decoration is conceived in monumental form with panels and pilasters.

This typology will be a huge success since it made it possible to accommodate large audiences, who observed a direct religious services, as well as allowed the monitoring of preaching from the pulpit.

The Church of San Sebastián de Mantua

This building will show one of the major concerns of the architects of the time, the investigation of centralized plants, which were more approached the old.

In the Church of San Sebastián, Alberti is a Greek cross plan, topping each arm in an apse with the exception of the input that is topped on a porch. This single plant responds to a modular system.

The facade, reconstructed, is available on a podium with stands, articulated with a monumental order of pilasters, surmounted great cornice and pediment. In the center of this cornice is produced a rupture that allows the lighting of the central nave. Breaking the classic pediment is used much in the way movement representing Mannerism.Alberti had a number of followers who will develop many of the concepts that he/she does not could carry out. The most important of them all is Bernardo Rossellino, who will take to practice the urbanistic theories of Alberti, in the city of Pienza, in addition to being the Director of the Rucellai Palace.

Pienza commissioned by Pope Pio II, Rossellino organizes the center of the city, the plaza where it has a cathedral and a Palace, combining civilian power with religious power. The Palace displays the same type of the Rucellai Palace and Cathedral is the Church of San Sebastián de Mantua, with some differences by the attempt to harmonise it with the Palace. The trapezoidal square, which converge the main arteries, is organized as a unitary, open space and social.


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