Giuliano Da Sangallo’s Surface Architecture

Giuliano da Sangallo was the founder of an extensive family of architects, military engineers, and sculptors. A highly skilled draughtsman, an insatiable explorer of antiquity, and a great innovator in the art of building, it is to Giuliano that we owe some of the most important buildings of the time: the centrally planned church of Santa Maria delle Carceri and the humanistic Villa of Poggio a Caiano, which have become synonymous with the very image of Renaissance architecture. However, Giuliano da Sangallo’s training was that of a woodworker and in this capacity he made frames and architectural models. Once transposed in Giuliano’s more monumental projects, this practice produced buildings that appeared as clear-cut, box-like volumes, enveloped by continuous surfaces, acting as supports for a rich and heterogeneous ornamental repertoire. Indeed, a «wooden» character has often been detected in the architecture he designed. This architecture of surfaces embodies a distinctively Florentine tradition of volumetric minimalism, evident in the smooth unadorned plasterworks or in the sophisticated variations on the vernacular element of rustication that Giuliano realized between the 1480s and the 1490s. In his later projects, on the other hand, this preference for surface and intaglio gave form to architectural creations incrusted with marbles, or patterned with polychrome compartments, on which a wide repertoire of ornament is lavished. To employ Manfredo Tafuri’s words, «an aesthetic of the fragment seems to be Giuliano’s last word», but this surface architecture would not disappear with him: his idiosyncratic taste lies at the origin of an approach that would run through the whole of the sixteenth century in Italy, as a Tuscan counterpoint to tectonic classicism.

Dario Donetti received a PhD in Art History from the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (2016); he previously studied in Paris and Florence, where he earned an MA (2008) in Architectural History from the Università degli Studi di Firenze. He has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Columbia University’s Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. He has co-organized exhibitions and conferences, ranging from Early Modern topics to contemporary theoretical debates, and he is the author of many publications devoted to the Tuscan Renaissance and Italian architecture of the twentieth century. As a member of the Rinascimento conteso research group, he is currently a Research Associate at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

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2 May 2018

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London