Sebastiano Serlio

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Sketch of a house view with explanations by Serlio, woodcut from 1611 (reprint)

Sebastiano Serlio (born September 6, 1475 in Bologna , † around 1554 in Fontainebleau ) was an Italian architect and architectural theorist . Through his treatise Seven Books on Architecture (1st part of 1537), like Alberti before him and later Palladio, he is one of the most influential architectural writers of the 16th century.


Serlio first learned painting from his father in Bologna, which gave him a thorough knowledge of perspective construction, and came to architecture through his work with Baldassare Peruzzi in Rome (from 1514). After the sack of Rome in 1527 in the Sacco di Roma , he went to Venice in 1528, and in 1541 he moved to France to serve the French King Francis I as “peintre et architecteur du roi” . He spent his last years in Lyon.

The Sette Libri d'architettura

Title page of the “special book”, first published in French by Jean de Tournes in 1551

Serlio worked as a graphic designer for Peruzzi. From this Serlio took over the plan for a work on the five classical orders . At his death, Peruzzi also bequeathed his drawings of ancient Roman buildings to Serlio, who thus had an important basis for the illustrations in his seven books. This fact led to Serlio being portrayed by Giorgio Vasari and his successors as a mindless plagiarist , an assertion that can be refuted by comparing the manuscripts of Peruzzis and Serlios.

In Venice in 1528 Serlio applied to the Senate for the copyrights for the illustrations for the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and composite), of which only nine engravings were published.

From Peruzzi's preliminary work, Serlio developed the plan for a multi-volume work that should encompass all aspects of classical architecture. It starts with geometry (first book) and perspective (second book). Then architectural models of ancient architecture in Rome (third book) and architectural systems of order (fourth book) are presented. The design of temples is the subject of the fifth book. The sixth deals with houses for all classes from simple farmers to kings. The seventh book describes the special circumstances that an architect may encounter in their work. These include special features of the property, conversions of existing buildings, etc.

The books did not appear together and coherently, but at different times in different places in this order:

  • The 4th book on architectural rules
    The fourth book on the general rules: Venice 1537.
  • The third book with photographs of ancient buildings in Rome and other parts of Italy: Venice, 1540.
  • the first and second books on geometry and perspective: Paris 1545.
  • the fifth book on the temples: Paris 1547.
  • a “special book” ( extraordinario libro ) on the design of portals: Lyon 1551.
  • The seventh book about special situations and the renovation of existing buildings: Frankfurt 1575.

The seventh book appeared after Serlio's death, the sixth and eighth books were not edited from the manuscripts until the 20th century. Together with the extraordinario libro , Serlio wrote a total of nine books, but only seven were published in the 16th century (including the extraordinario libro ), hence the name Sette Libri .

Serlio was working on these books at the same time, in Book IV he mentions that the other books have already started. Although the books are undoubtedly intended to be read as a whole, there is no evidence that Serlio ever planned to publish the individual books as a volume in one edition. The books can be read in their chronological order of publication, i.e. IV, III, I, II and V, as well as in numerical order. In Book I Serlio mentions that he did not publish this first because the volumes on Geometry and Perspective might not have been liked very much by the majority of people, because the figures are not very attractive and they are not so much fun To study subjects like the characteristics of architecture in general.

Serlio wrote two manuscripts for the sixth book, but they remained unpublished until the twentieth century. A manuscript is now in Columbia University ; it was only known through an investigation by William Bell Dinsmoor in 1942. Another manuscript of the sixth book is in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Cod. Icon 189), where it was discovered in 1924. It probably came to southern Germany with the other papers and drawings that the painter, art writer and art agent Jacopo Strada had acquired from Serlio in Lyon in 1553.

It is uncertain whether Serlio also finished the manuscript for an eighth book on military architecture. What is special about the unpublished manuscript is that it not only contains plans for buildings for the uppermost class, as was the case with Alberti and Palladio, but also describes an architecture for society as a whole, from peasants to kings.

Early prints of his books (3rd, 4th and 5th books, from 1544–1600) can also be found in the Bavarian State Library in Munich and the Augsburg State and City Library.

Translations of Serlios into other languages

The books were reprinted and translated in various compilations in the period that followed. Before the end of the 16th century, the work became the most widely read treatise on architecture. The first translation into Flemish appeared in Antwerp in 1539. Editions in French (Antwerp 1542, 1545, 1550), German (Basel, 1542, 1558), Spanish (Toledo 1552, 1563, 1573) followed as early as the middle of the 16th century. Serlio thus became the most influential architectural writer in Europe and the Spanish colonies in Latin America. The fourth book with the doctrine of the column orders was most powerful. Individual editions were also published, for example by the German Hans Blum .

The new thing about Serlio's work is that it is not a literary essay , as with his models Vitruvius and Leon Battista Alberti . At Serlio, the focus is on graphic illustration, with a brief page of explanatory text usually being added to an illustration. As a result, Serlio's work was understandable even to less educated readers, in contrast to the complex, theoretical texts of his predecessors.

Pupils and imitators

The concept of Serlio's treatise was adopted by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola , Vincenzo Scamozzi and Andrea Palladio and thus became the dominant concept for conveying architectural ideas up to the 20th century.

The term Serliana , derived from its name, has gone down in architectural history. This is a three-part ensemble in the middle of which there is an arcade, which is flanked on both sides by two high rectangular openings, the upper one making up a third of the lower one (e.g. Palazzo Grimani a San Luca by Michele Sanmicheli on the Grand Canal ).


The success of the Regole generali in Book IV earned him an appointment to the court of the French King Franz I. Although he only had the title "peintre et architecteur ordinaire", he belonged, together with the Italians Francesco Primaticcio and Rosso Fiorentino, to the so-called " School of Fontainebleau " and could count on a generous annual salary - it was an honorary position. Serlio hardly worked for the king, rather for noble clients. His main work in France z. B., Ancy-le-Franc Castle (1541–50), he built for the Count there, for Cardinal Ippolito II. D'Este, the La Grande Ferrare residence at Fontainebleau Castle , for which a beautiful design of a Jeu de Paume was also intended was. Some of the ascribed works are controversial, some destroyed. Although he was hardly in demand as a painter and architect in France, he was never called in as an appraiser, as he complained towards the end of his life.


"With his books Serlio had a stronger impact on real architecture [...] than any architectural writer before or after him."

- Hanno-Walter Kruft : History of Architectural Theory. 3. Edition. Munich, p. 87

“It was a new conception in architectural writing though it has since become so general, that we tend to forget that it was an innovation which we owe to him. Instead of composing an litarary essay accompanied by illustrations, he planned to make the illustrations the main body of the work, each to be providing with a commentary more or less brief as the nature of the case demanded, the ideal being one page of text opposite or accompanying each drawing. "

“It was a new concept in architectural writing, but because it has become so widespread since then, we tend to forget that it was an innovation we owe to it. Instead of writing a literary essay accompanied by illustrations, he planned to make the illustrations the main body of the work, each with a comment that was more or less short depending on the needs of the matter, ideally with a page of text opposite or accompanying each drawing. "

- William Bell Dinsmoor : The literary remains of Sebastiano Serlio: 1. In: Art Bulletin. Vol. 24 (1942), H. 1, pp. 55-91.


  • Single volumes
  • Collective editions
    • Libro ... d'architettura, Venetia 1566, volumes 1–5 and extraordinario libro on portals (digitized Heidelberg)
    • Sebastiano Serlio, Tutte l'opere d'architettura di Sebastiano Serlio… dove si trattano in disegno, quelle cose, che sono più necessarie all'architetto Venetia 1584, doi: 10.3931 / e-rara-26987
    • Sebastiano Serlio, Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prrospetiva, Venetia 1600, urn : nbn: de: bvb: 12-bsb10197997-7
  • German editions:
    • Serlio, Sebastiano: The gemaynen rules of architecture, about the five manners of Gebew, to know Thoscana, Dorica, Ionica, Corinthia, and composita, with the specimens of antiquities, so by merren thayl with the empty Vitruun, Antwerp 1542, urn : nbn: de: bvb: 12-bsb00060958-7
    • Seb. Serlii Von der Architectur Fünff books: In it the whole praiseworthy and dainty Bawkunst, sampt the foundations and elevations manigerley buildings ... taught, and with ... specimens and pieces of art ... is explained ..., Basel 1609 (digitized Heidelberg)


  • Sabine Frommel: Sebastiano Serlio, architetto. Electa, Milan 1998, ISBN 88-435-5473-5 .
  • Sabine Frommel: Sebastian Serlio and the Castle of Maulnes. In: Jan Pieper (Ed.): The Château de Maulnes and Mannerism in France. Contributions from the symposium at the Chair of Building History at RWTH Aachen University, 3. – 5. May 2001. Munich 2006, ISBN 3-422-06608-X , pp. 119-142.
  • Hubertus Günther: The book about the column orders. Sebastiano Serlio: Regole generali di architettura sopra le cinque maniere de gli edifici, 1537 . In: Dietrich Erben (ed.): The book as a draft. Text genres in the history of architectural theory. A manual , Paderborn: Fink 2019, ISBN 978-3-7705-6334-0 , pp. 94-128.
  • Yves Pauwels: L'architecture au temps de la Pléiade, Paris, of 2002.
  • Myra N. Rosenfeld: Sebastiano Serlio on Domestic Architecture. Different dwellings from the meanest hovel to the most ornate palace. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1978, ISBN 0-262-19174-1 .
  • William Bell Dinsmoor: The literary remains of Sebastiano Serlio. In: The Art Bulletin. Volume XXIV (1943), pp. 55-91, 115-154.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hanno-Walter Kruft: History of the architectural theory. 3. Edition. Munich 1991, p. 81.
  2. Libro di perspettiva No. 4. Retrieved January 30, 2017 .

Web links

Commons : Sebastiano Serlio  - Collection of images, videos and audio files