Serlio, Sebastiano

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Serlio, Sebastiano (1475–1554). Italian architect, theorist, and painter. He is remembered primarily as the compiler of L'Architettura (published in instalments (1537–75) and collected in one volume in 1584). The first part to appear was actually Book IV, called Regole generale (1537), which outlined the later books, but, most significantly, codified and illustrated the five Roman Orders of architecture. L'Architettura was an enormously important treatise, not only in terms of Renaissance theory, but because it was a useful tome for architects, essentially because of its excellent illustrations and the fact that it was in a modern language. It was also a model for Palladio's Quattro Libri. Book III (1540) described and illustrated the ancient buildings of Roman antiquity as well as the architecture of Bramante and Raphael, but in the work as a whole Serlio covered a huge range of Classical details (including grotesques and rustication), discussed the meaning and emotive power of Classical architecture, and, in Livre extraordinaire (published in French in 1551), provided illustrations of doorways, many of which were richly inventive fantasies, and influenced Mannerism in Northern Europe.

In c.1514 he had been in Rome, where he worked under Peruzzi, his principal tutor, from whom he acquired many drawings used subsequently in L'Architettura. Following the Sack of Rome (1527) he settled in Venice, then a major publishing centre, and an obvious place to live for someone engaged on writing a treatise on architecture. While in Venice he may have designed a few buildings. It is known he participated in the competition to renovate the ‘basilica’, Vicenza (1539), won by Palladio, whose design was not unlike that submitted by Serlio, and featured motifs similar to the serliana, which is named after him.

He was called to Fontainebleau, France, in 1541, where he advised on the design of the considerable building works at the château and designed the Salle du Bal there (1541–8—completed by de L'Orme) in which the influence of Raphael is clear. His Grand Ferrare, the house for the Papal Legate to France at Fontainebleau (1541–8—mostly destroyed), was an important prototype of the hôtel (town-house) in France for the next century, while his château of Ancy-le-Franc in Burgundy (1541–50), with its corner towers and central court, shows the influence of Maiano. Serlio's work undoubtedly informed Palladio, while his books had a considerable effect on many generations of designers, initially through the editions of Pieter Coeck (1502–50) in Northern Europe, and through the 1611 English edition of Robert Peake (c.1551–1619) (The Five Books of Architecture), which was a major source from the time of Inigo Jones to the flowering of the second Palladian Revival of Burlington and Campbell.


Art Bulletin, xxiv (1942), 55–91, 115–55;
S. Frommel (2004);
E. Harris (1990);
Heydenreich (1996);
Lewis & Darley (1986);
Onians (1988);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Rosenfeld (1978);
Serlio (1584, 1611, 1663, 1964, 1996);
Thoenes (ed.) (1989);
Jane Turner (1996)