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Vitruvius, Pollio (Vitruve)

Gordon 1572 .V58 (Click on the call number to view the digital facsimile.)

Architecture ou, Art de bien bastir

Paris: Hierosme de Marnef & Guillaume Cavellat, 1572.

Vitruvius was the Roman author of the only comprehensive architectural treaty to survive from antiquity. His De Architectura Libri Decem was rediscovered in the Renaissance and published in Italian and French translations that brought to Early Modern readers the theoretical principles of classical architecture.

Jean Martin, translator and editor of this volume (reprinted in 1572 from the Paris 1547 edition), sought to produce a book of use to practitioners as well as of interest to his fellow humanists. Detailed illustrations, including many by Jean Goujon, accompany technical and historical explanations of the orders of classical architecture, and its emphasis on the proportional relationship between man, his buildings, and the cosmos.

The anthropomorphic model defined by Vitruvius appealed to sixteenth-century French humanists. Familiar with the Platonic notion of man as microcosm, embodying the harmony of the planets (the macrocosm), Renaissance humanists readily adopted the human body as the model for order and beauty in architecture.

Vitruvius described a man with arms and legs outstretched, whose body thus conforms to the geometry of a circle and of a square. No illustration of this image has survived from antiquity, but the famous drawing of “Vitruvian man” by Leonardo DaVinci represented a popular illustration in Renaissance architectural treaties.

In this French edition, prepared by Jean Martin, woodcuts illustrate the human figure inside the geometric forms on page 55 and page 56. (Note Jean Goujon’s remarks on these figures at the end of the volume, on p. 351.)

The anthropomorphic ideal emerges in the opening pages of the treatise, where Vitruvius describes the extensive encyclopedic knowledge required of those who would become architects. (According to Vitruvius, in a passage that calls to mind humanist models of education, the perfect architect must be well-versed in “lettres,” drawing, geometry, perspective, arithmetic, history, law and astronomy.) Vitruvius observes that “la science encyclopedique est en effet composée de ces membres comme un corps unique.”

By elaborating on the role of both fabrique (knowledge and experience of construction materials and techniques) and discours (ability to use language to communicate effectively with masons and other builders), Vitruvius laid the foundation for our notion of the architect as designer, rather than builder.

In keeping with Vitruvius’s emphasis on communication between architect and tradesmen, Jean Martin notes, in his “Advertissement aux Lecteurs,” that he added the glossary at the end of the volume for the sake of the ouvriers, with whom he was having trouble communicating concerning Vitruvian principles of design.

-- Karen James (2005)


Also in Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library:

NA2515 .V5 1567. Vitruvius, Pollio. M. Vitrvvii Pollionis De architectvra libri decem / cvm commentariis Danielis Barbari, electi patriarchae aqvileiensis: mvltis aedificiorvm, horologiorvm, et machinarvm descriptionibvs, & figuris, unà cum indicibus copiosis, auctis & illustratis. Venetiis : apud Franciscum Franciscium Senensem, & Ioan. Crugher Germanum., M.D.LXVII.

Internet Resources

Includes a digital facsimile and transcription of the 1547 edition, as well as a bibliography and introduction in French to these and other French editions of Vitruvius.

A reproduction based the microfilm of the 1547 Paris edition (Jacques Gazeau) is also available online at

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