Of founders and foibles: Leon Battista Alberti, Greek historians and the origins of architecture

Of founders and foibles: Leon Battista Alberti, Greek historians and the origins of architecture

Peter Fane-Saunders (BSR)
Peter Fane-Saunders (BSR)

At the start of the fifteenth century, after a long absence, the manuscripts of Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus and other ancient Greek historians finally returned to Italy. Their arrival proved a windfall for scholars, especially the polymath Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72). Writing the first treatise on architecture since antiquity, Alberti extensively consulted these ‘new’ accounts, even if at times he found himself doubting their veracity – the details they contained about early architecture were simply too compelling to ignore. This paper explores how the descriptions of a plethora of long-lost buildings in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia – not to mention India and the Far North – helped Alberti establish a global framework for interpreting architecture’s origins and evolution, with ramifications for his own built oeuvre.

This event will be in English.


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Peter Fane-Saunders is an art historian whose work explores how classical descriptions of lost works of art and architecture have influenced thought and practice from the Renaissance to the present day. He received his PhD from the Warburg Institute, London. His research has been supported by various institutions and bodies, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Leverhulme Trust and Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. His monograph, Pliny the Elder and the Emergence of Renaissance Architecture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), won the Society of Architectural Historians/Mellon Author Award and the Renaissance Society of America’s Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize for the best book in Renaissance Studies.

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