Villalpando, Juan Bautista
VILLALPANDO, JUAN BAUTISTA
(b. Córdoba, Spain 1552; d. Rome, Italy, 1608), architecture, mathematics, mechanics.
Little is known about Villalpando’s life. After entering the Jesuit order in 1575, he studied under Father Jerome Prado, who was writing a commentary on the book of Ezekiel. Evidently Villalpando’s immense erudition was already apparent, and he soon joined Prado in his exegesis. In 1592 the pair moved to Rome to complete their work. Originally commissioned to provide a commentary only on chapters 40, 41, and 42 of Ezekiel, which deal with the architectural description of Solomon’s temple, Villalpando suddenly found himself heir to a larger task when Prado died in 1595, having completed only the first twenty-six chapters. Although Villalpando himself died before completing the commentary, he managed to publish three volumes: Hieronymi Pradi et loannis Baptistae Villalpandi e Societate lesu in Ezechielem explanationes et apparatus urbis ac templi Hierosolymitani (Rome, 1596-1604).
Like most Renaissance biblical commentaries, Villalpando’s Ezechiel is the work of a polymath, containing copious information on subjects ranging from astrology, music, mathematical theories of proportion, and ornate reconstructions of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman systems of weights, measures, and currency to more orthodox etymological and scriptural preoccupations. The widely disparate topics that Villalpando considers in his attempt to re-create the temple would seem to express a Vitruvian vision of the architect. The influence of Vitruvius on Villalpando is crucial, and in this sense his work may be seen as a part of the general Renaissance revival of Vitruvius. Villalpando’s great achievement was to have demonstrated in systematic fashion how Solomon’s temple, as revealed by God to Ezekiel, was constructed according to Vitruvian principles of harmony and proportion, thus endowing classical architecture with divine approbation. Here, too, Villalpando was continuing an older humanist trend. In showing the celestial locus of classical architecture, he provided further evidence for the preestablished harmony between classical pagan culture and Christian civilization. It is significant that both Philip II of Spain and Pope Clement VIII expressed their approval of Villalpando’s Ezechiel during the peak of the Counter-Reformation.
The third volume of the exegesis contains the bulk of Villalpando’s mathematical and mechanical speculations. While his work on proportion and harmony (II, bk. chs. 1-5) follows earlier Renaissance architectural utilizations of Euclid, his twenty-one propositions on “the center of gravity and the line of direction” (ch.6) were deemed original enough to be reproduced by Mersenne in his Synopsis mathematica (1626). Duhem, who “rediscovered” Villalpando, conjectured that the Jesuit pilfered his propositions and their deductive proofs from a no longer extant manuscript by Leonardo dealing with local motion. Although Taylor has suggested that Villalpando may have had access to Leonardo’s manuscripts through his mentor Juan de Herrera, other sources seem more plausible. Given Villalpando’s lifelong interest in mathematics, it is highly probable that before his departure for Rome, he may have attended the Academia de Mathemáticas in Madrid, where he may have been introduced to the works of Archimedes. More interesting is the possibility that he knew Christoph Clavius, a fellow Jesuit and friend of Galileo, who was teaching in Rome at the same time. Villalpando relied heavily on Clavius’ Elements of Euclid, speaking of it in terms of endearment, and it is possible that Clavius introduced him to the work of Commandino and Guido Ubaldo del Monte on the center of gravity. Villalpando, then, can be seen as participating in the sixteenth-century revival of Archimedes and Pappus as reconstructed by Commandino and Guido Ubaldo.
Villalpando’s influence has been strongest in the history of architecture. The idea of the Escorial in Spain may have been derived from his earlier designs of the temple, and Inigo Jones certainly utilized his conceptions in introducing Palladian architecture into England. But Villalpando does touch the history of seventeenth-century science in a particularly sensitive area. No less a scientist than Isaac Newton used Villalpando’s work in his own attempt to construct Solomon’s temple and to determine the dimensions of the biblical cubit.
I. Original Works. Aside from the commentary on Ezekiel, Villalpando edited and annotated a medieval exegesis of St. Paul: S. Remigii Rhemensis episcopi explanationes epistolarum B. Pauli Apostoli (Rome, 1598). There is also in the Biblioteca National, Madrid, a MS entitled “Relacion de la antigua Jerusalén remitida á Felippe II por el Padre J. B. Villalpando,” which establishes Villalpando’s connections with the royal court.
II. Secondary Literature. The most thorough study of Villalpando’s life and architectural accomplishments in René C. Taylor,: EI Padre Villalpando (1552-1608) y sus ideas esteéticas” is Academia. Anales y boletín de la Real Academia de San Fernando (1952), no. 2, 3-65. Taylor revised some of his conclusions, stressing the role of the occult in Villalpando’s work, in “Architecture and Magic,” in Essays in the History of Architecture Presented to Rudolph Wittknowe (London, 1967), 81–110, and in “Hermetism and Mystical Architecture in the Society of Jesus,” in R. Wittkower and I. B. Jaffe, eds., Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution (New York, 1972), 63–97, and esp. the documents printed in App. B. The mathematical and aesthetic background of Villalpando’s discussion of proportion is discussed in Rudolph Wittknower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, 3re ed. (London, 1962), 121 ff.
Pierre Duhem’s observations on Villalpando’s mechanics were first published in Les origines de la statique, II (Paris, 1906), 115–126; and were substantially repeated in “Léonard de Vinci et Villalpand,” in his Etudes sur Léonard de Vinci, I (Paris, 1906), 53–85.
Michael T. Ryan
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Villalpando, Juan Bautista
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