The Four Books of Architecture


Isaac Ware, 1738 Translator’s Preface

The works of the famous Andrea Palladio, published by himself at Venice in the year 1570 have been universally esteemed the best standard of architecture hitherto extant. The original work written in Italian being very scarce, several have attempted to translate the same into English, and to copy his excellent and most accurate wooden prints on copper plates.

In particular, two persons have published what they honour with the title of Palladio’s works: The first, and in all respects the best of the two, was done in the year 1721 by Mr. Leoni; who has thought fit not only to vary from the scale of the originals, but also in many places to alter even the graceful proportions prescribed by this great master, by diminishing some of his measures, enlarging others, and putting in fanciful decorations of his own: and indeed his drawings are likewise very incorrect; which makes this performance, according to his own account in the preface, seem rather to be itself an original, than an improvement on Palladio.

The other work (published in the year 1735) is done with so little understanding, and so much negligence, that it cannot but give great offense to the judicious, and be of very bad consequence in misleading the unskillful, into whose hands it may happen to fall.

To do justice therefore to Palladio, and to perpetuate his most valuable remains amongst us, are the principal inducements to my undertaking so great and laborious a work; in executing of which, I have strictly kept to his proportions and measures, by exactly tracing all the plates from his originals, and engraved them with my own hands: so that the reader may depend upon having an exact copy of what our author published, without diminution or increase; nor have I taken upon me to alter, much less to correct, any thing that came from the hands of that excellent artist.

From the same motive I have chosen to give a strict and literal translation, that the sense of our author might be delivered from his own words.

June 1737

Andrea Palladio, 1570 The Author’s Preface to the Reader

Guided by a natural inclination, I gave myself up in my most early years to the study of architecture: and as it was always my opinion, that the ancient Romans, as in many other things, so in building well, vastly excelled at those who have been since their time, I proposed to myself Vitruvius for my master and guide, who is the only ancient writer of this art, and set myself to search into the relics of all the ancient edifices, that, in spite of time and the cruelty of the Barbarians, yet remain; and finding them much more worthy of observation, than at first I had imagined, I began very minutely with the utmost diligence to measure every one of their parts; of which I grew at last so sollicitous an examiner, (not finding any thing which was not done with reason and beautiful proportion) that I have very frequently not only traveled in different parts of Italy, but also out of it, that I might entirely , from them, comprehend what the whole had been, and reduce it into design.

Whereupon perceiving how much this common use of building was different from the observations I had made upon the said edifices, and from what I had read in Vitruvius, Leon Battista Alberti, and in other excellent writers who have been since Vitruvius, and from those also which by me have lately been practiced with the utmost satisfaction and applause of those who have made use of my works; it seemed to me a thing worthy of a man, who ought not to be born for himself only, but also for the utility of others, to publish the designs of those edifices, (in collecting which, I have employed so much time, and exposed myself to so many dangers) and concisely to set down whatever in them appeared to me more worthy of consideration; and moreover, those rules which I have observed, and now observe, in building; that they who shall read these my books, may be able to make use of whatever will be good therein, and supply those things in which (as many perhaps there may be) I shall have failed; that one may learn, by little and little, to lay aside the strange abuses, the barbarous inventions, the superfluous expense, and (what is of greater consequence) avoid the various and continual ruins that have been seen in many fabrics.

I applied myself the more willingly to this undertaking, as I see great numbers of persons at this time applying themselves to the study of this profession, many of which are worthily and honourably mentioned in the books of Messer Giorgio Vasari Aretino, a painted and rare architect.

I therefore hope, that the manner of building may with universal utility be reduced, and soon brought to that pitch of perfection, which in all the arts is greatly desired, and to which it seems that this part of Italy is very nearly arrived; since that not only in Venice, where all the good arts flourish, and which only remains as an example of the grandeur and magnificence of the Romans, one begins to see fabrics that have something good in them, since Messer Giacomo Sansovino, a celebrated sculptor and architect, first began to make known the beautiful manner, as seen (not to mention many other beautiful works of his) in the new Procuratia, which is the richest and most adorned edifice, that perhaps has been made since the ancients; but also in many other places of less fame, particularly in Vicenza, a city of no very large circumference, but full of most noble intellects, and abounding sufficiently with riches; and where I had first an opportunity to practice what I know publish for common utility, where a great number of very beautiful fabrics are to be seen, and where there have been many gentlemen very studious in this art, who, for their nobility and excellent learnings, are not unworthy to the numbered among the most illustrious; as Signor Giovan Giorgio Trissino, Theini, brothers; Signor Antenore Pagello, Knight; and besides these, who are passed to a better life, having eternized their memory in their beautiful and most adorned fabrics, there is now Signor Fabio Monza, intelligent in a great many things; Signor Elio De Belli, son of Signor Valerio, famous for the artifice of camei’s and engraving in crystal; Signor Antonio Francesco Oliviera, who besides the knowledge of many sciences, is an architect, and an excellent poet, as he has shown in his Alemana a poem in heroic verse, and in a fabric of his at Boschi di Nanto, a place in the Vicentine; and lastly (to omit many more, who might very deservedly be placed in the same rank) Signor Valerio Barbarano, a most diligent observer of all that belongs to this profession.

But to return to our subject: As I am to publish those labors that I have from my youth hitherto undergone, in searching and measuring (with the greatest care and diligence I could) all those ancient edifices that came to my knowledge; and upon this occasion, in a few words, to treat of architecture, as orderly and distinctly as was possible for me; I thought it would be very convenient to begin with private houses, because one ought to believe, that those first gave rise to public edifices; it being very probable, that man formerly lived by himself; but afterwards, seeing he required the assistance of other men, to obtain those things that might make him happy, (if any happiness is to be found here below) naturally sought and loved the company of other men: whereupon of several houses, villages were formed, and then of many villages, cities, and in these public places and edifices were made.

And also because of all the parts of architecture there is none so necessary to mankind, nor that is oftener used than this, I shall therefore first treat of private houses, and afterwards of public edifices; and shall briefly treat of streets, bridges, piazze, prisons, basiliche (which are places of justice), xisti, palestre (which are places where men exercised themselves) of temples, theatres, amphitheatres, arches, bathes, aqueducts; and lastly, of the manner of fortifying cities and sea-ports.

And in all these books I shall avoid the superfluity of words, and simply give those directions that seem to me most necessary, and shall make use of those terms which at this time are most commonly in use among artificers.

And because I cannot promise any more myself, (save the long fatigue, great diligence, and the love that I have bestowed to understand and practice what I now offer,) if it pleases God that I may not have laboured in vain, I shall heartily thank his goodness; acknowledging withal, myself obliged to those, that from their beautiful inventions, and from the experience they had, have left the precepts of such an art, because they have opened a more easy and expeditious way to the discovery of new things, and that by their means we have attained to the knowledge of many things, which perhaps had otherwise been hid.

The first part shall be divided into two books; in the first shall be treated of the preparation of the materials, and when prepared, how, and in what manner, they ought to be put to use, from the foundation up to the roof: where those precepts shall be, that are universal, and ought to be observed in all edifices, as well as private as public.

In the second I shall treat of the quality of the fabrics that are suitable to the different ranks of men: first of those of a city; and then of the most convenient situation for villas, and in what manner they are to be disposed.

And as we have but very few examples from the ancients, of which we can make use, I shall insert the plans and elevations of many fabrics I have erected, for different gentlemen, and the designs of the ancients houses, and of those parts which are most remarkable in them, in the manner that Vitruvius shows us they were made.