Leon Battista Alberti

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LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI
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LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI STATS
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Name
: Leon Battista Alberti
Born: 18 February 1404
Home town: Genoa
Died: 25 April 1472
Position: Architect, sculptor
Nickname:
Famous for:Medici villas of Fiesole and Poggio a Caiano
Quirks:


"A man can do all things if he but wills them"

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LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI BIO
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Born out of wedlock but immediately legitimatised by his father Lorenzo, Leon Battista Alberti entered this world in Genoa in the year 1404, a member of an aristocratic and wealthy Florentine family of merchants and bankers that had been exiled from Florence for political reasons in 1377. Having grown up in the shadow of exile, he spent his life in continuous travels even after his family was allowed to return to Florence in 1428. But he never quite found his place in this city, even though he spent his time with the most important artists. Nor did he find peace with his family, as his relatives accepted him only in part and he had painful disagreements with some of them.

Following his father wherever he moved, he studied classical subjects at the best universities: literature in Venice and Padua, law and Greek in Bologna. From an early age he privately cultivated the most diverse scientific and artistic interests: music, painting, sculpture, architecture, physics, mathematics. The immensity of his curiosity and knowledge made him the greatest example of the Renaissance Man, the researcher of the microcosm and the macrocosm, universal in his openness, in many aspects the predecessor of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.


In 1421, on the death of his father, Alberti remained completely alone and began to suffer because of the differences with his family and the resulting economic constraints. This finally led him to turn to a safe ecclesiastical career, which also served to strengthen his social status. As of 1428 he was able to return to Florence. In 1431 he became secretary to the Patriarch of Grado and in 1432 he moved to Rome as papal abbreviator (writer of papal briefs). He kept this post for 34 years, moving between Ferrara, Bologna, Florence, Mantua, Rimini and, of course, Rome, where he expanded his direct study of the ancient ruins, the scattered evidence of the imperial city's magnificence and the repositories of the language of Classical Antiquity.


Alberti was a prolific writer on various subjects that corresponded to his diverse interests. Between 1433 and 1441 he wrote one of his best-known works, the four Libri della Famiglia, a treatise that today we would define as socio-pedagogical, in which two different visions of the world confront each other around such eternal subjects as marriage, family, education of children, estate management, social relations: the emerging "middle-class" and modern mentality that distanced itself from that linked to the past and tradition.

Alberti appreciated the literary value and the expressive intensity of Latin, the language of classical scholars, and thus used it for numerous texts. But he was also a passionate supporter of the vernacular, which he considered more suitable for the requirements of the new society. He therefore wrote his Books on the Family in vernacular, and in 1441, in Florence, he proposed the Certame coronario, a literary competition dedicated to the subject of friendship, with the declared aim of emphasizing the importance and wealth of that dialect that everybody spoke by then, but that 200 years after Dante and 100 years after Boccaccio found it hard to establish itself as the official language.

The return to Florence from exile between 1428 and 1432 was an occasion for Alberti to get closer to the works of the great innovators Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio. And it was to Brunelleschi that in 1436 he dedicated his De Pictura (which he himself translated into vernacular as Della Pittura), a treatise destined to define the rules of figurative arts: the perspective method according to firm geometrical principles, the theory of proportions based on anatomy, the theory of light and visible rays in relation to the colours, the harmonious composition of the "stories". Alberti's treatise was absorbed by many artists close to him, such as Donatello, Filippino Lippi, Beato (Fra) Angelico, Ghiberti, Luca Della Robbia, and was probably read by the younger ones, among them Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and thus steered a new course for the figurative arts of the second half of the 15th century, leading to the full Renaissance of the 16th century.

This theoretical activity expanded in the following years with De Statua and De Re Aedificatoria, fundamental treatises on architecture and sculpture in which Alberti recommends in particular the study of proportions. Beauty, as he explains also in De Re Aedificatoria, is a harmony that can be mathematically expressed thanks to the science of the relation between the forms, a concept on which he insists based on the measurements of the ancient monuments. A comparison with the classical world, not to imitate but to emulate (Aemulatio, sed non Imitatio), an indissoluble bond between Ratio and Ars, between theory and practice, between the intellectual ability to formulate architectural projects and constructive attitudes, in other words, between Reason and Beauty. As the greatest expression of this controlled creativity, Alberti practised the profession of architect, which he considered the highest possible occupation for man, more philosophical than philosophy itself.

It was thus that in little more than twenty years, from 1450 until his death, the designs of extraordinary works were created. In Florence, Alberti's imprint can be seen in particular in the Palazzo Rucella, the model for a nobleman's urban residence, in the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre in the church of San Pancrazio, in the completion of the façade of Santa Maria Novella, in the gallery of the Santissima Annunziata. And surprisingly we even feel the need to reconsider the designer of the Palazzo Pitti, in its 15th-century nucleus, in the light of the theoretical and practical experience of Alberti. His radius of activity also extended into the countryside, with the apse of the parish church of San Martino a Gangalandi and the Medici villas of Fiesole and Poggio a Caiano, the latter of which was probably built based on his design. Other important works of Alberti in Italy are the Malatesta Temple in Rimini and the churches of San Sebastiano and Sant'Andrea in Mantua.

Alberti died in Rome on 25 April 1472. A few years later (1485), Lorenzo di Medici launched the fortune of his most important treatise by having De Re Aedificatoria (until then copied by hand) printed by the prestigious editor Agnolo Poliziano.


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CONTEMPORARY VOICES
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LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI QUOTES
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  • "Beauty: the adjustment of all parts proportionately so that one cannot add or subtract or change without impairing the harmony of the whole”
  • "Men can do all things if they will."
  • "We must always take from nature what we paint and always choose the most beautiful things".
  • "When I investigate and when I discover that the forces of the heavens and the planets are within ourselves, then truly I seem to be living among the gods".
  • "No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it".


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LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI TRIVIA
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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND MATERIALS
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BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS WEBSITES & MEDIA
  • Gille, Bertrand (1970). "Alberti, Leone Battista". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 96–98. ISBN 0684101149.
  • Wright, D.R. Edward, "Alberti's De Pictura: Its Literary Structure and Purpose", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 47, 1984 (1984), pp. 52–71.
  • Mark Jarzombek "The Structural Problematic of Leon Battista Alberti's De pictura," Renaissance Studies 4.3 (Spring, 1990): 273-285.






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