Giacomo da Vignola

The Italian architect Giacomo da Vignola (1507-1573) was the most important representative of Bramantesque classicism in the mid-16th century, and his treatise on the orders was one of the most influential textbooks ever published.

The real name of Giacomo da Vignola was Giacomo Barozzi. He was born on Oct. 1, 1507, in Vignola near Modena. He was trained in Bologna, the nearest important artistic center, as a painter and perspectivist. Sebastiano Serlio and Baldassare Peruzzi were the leading painter-perspectivists of the time, and both had turned from painting to architecture: both had great influence on Vignola, although his exact relationship with them is not clear. Peruzzi, who had been an assistant of Donato Bramante, helped to form Vignola's architectural style, and Serlio probably inspired him to write a treatise. Serlio probably met Vignola in 1541, when they were both in France, although they may have met earlier in Bologna or Rome.

Vignola went to Rome in 1530 and was active as a painter and, from the mid-1530s, as an architect. He worked in the Vatican under Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who also helped to form his architectural style. In the late 1530s the three architects were involved in a grandiose project to publish the treatise of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in a new text illustrated from extant monuments. A Vitruvian Academy was established in Rome, and Vignola was employed as a draftsman; thus he obtained a detailed knowledge of Roman antiquities. However, the project failed for lack of money.

In 1540 Vignola was working for Francesco Primaticcio, whom he accompanied to France in 1541, where he worked for the King in Paris and Fontainebleau. Serlio arrived the same year. By 1543 Vignola was back in Bologna. He made two designs, never executed, for the facade of the church of S. Petronio which are unique in that they show a deliberate attempt to synthesize classical and Gothic forms.

After Sangallo's death in 1546 Vignola took over his work for the powerful Farnese family, and most of his later works are connected with them. Two projects in Rome, however, both begun about 1550 and completed by 1555, were for Pope Julius III: the Villa Giulia and the church of S. Andrea in Via Flaminia.

Villa Giulia and Oval Churches

The Villa Giulia derives from the ancient villa suburbana described by Pliny the Younger. It has a severe, rectangular, main front and a garden front in the shape of a huge half circle curving inward. The work at the villa seems to have been carried out by a building committee consisting of the Pope himself, Michelangelo as artistic adviser, and Giorgio Vasari as impresario supervising the plans prepared by Vignola and Bartolommeo Ammanati. It is probable that the house itself was by Vignola and the garden buildings were by Ammanati; but it is impossible to say how far the idea of re-creating an ancient villa was Vignola's rather than a common ideal shared by the whole committee.

S. Andrea in Via Flaminia is a small and simple building, but it is significant as one of the earliest oval (rather than circular) church plans. The body of the church is rectangular, but it rises to an oval drum (internally a dome), like an ancient tomb. Vignola himself took the next step toward an oval ground plan (though still within a rectangular framework) with his design (1572) for S. Anna dei Palafrenieri inside the Vatican. The actual building was the work of his son Giacinto, but the design is an important forerunner of the great baroque oval churches.

The Gesù

Influential as these two oval churches were on later architects, the Church of the Gesù was even more so, although only part of the design is Vignola's. The Gesù was designed specifically for the Jesuits, who took the type with them on their extensive missions to the Far East and to Latin America. There is an interesting letter from Cardinal Farnese (who was paying for the church) to Vignola, dated 1568, from which it is clear that the type was chosen by the cardinal and imposed by him on his architect and on the Jesuits. He specifies that the church is to have one nave, with chapels but not aisles, and that the nave is to be vaulted. As designed by Vignola, this resulted in a short, wide church with chapels, which was ideally suited to preaching.

The facade of the Gesù was built by Giacomo della Porta after Vignola's death, but Vignola's design is preserved in an engraving. The basic feature of both designs is the treatment of the facade as a two-story composition with columns and pilasters on both stories, a triangular pediment over the nave, and volutes masking the chapel roofs.

Other Works

In 1564 Vignola began to work on St. Peter's under Pirro Ligorio. Ligorio attempted to alter Michelangelo's design for the church, causing such a storm that he was removed, and from 1566 until his death Vignola had sole charge of the project. Two small domes, invisible from the ground, are probably his major contribution, perhaps following indications by Michelangelo himself.

Vignola's most important secular building is the huge villa-fortress at Caprarola near Viterbo, designed as the headquarters of the Farnese family and begun by Sangallo and Peruzzi. The strange pentagonal form, then fashionable for fortresses, and probably also the circular internal court were already planned when Vignola took over in 1559. The main doorway and the facades above the pentagonal bastions are characteristic of Vignola's style, as is the detailing of the internal court. As in the earlier Villa Giulia, the forms are rather shallow, almost hard and dry, and they derive from those invented by Bramante for the Belvedere of the Vatican.

Vignola wrote two treatises. La regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura (1562) deals with the classical orders. There have been scores of editions and translations since then. His treatise on perspective, Le due regole di prospettiva pratica, was unfinished at his death; it was issued in 1583 and contains the earliest biography of him. Vignola died on July 7, 1573, and is buried in the Pantheon.

Further Reading on Giacomo da Vignola

Biographical and critical material on Vignola is in James Lees-Milne, Baroque in Italy (1959), and Peter Murray, Architecture of the Italian Renaissance (1963). A detailed appraisal of his style by James S. Ackerman and Wolfgang Lotz is in Lucy Freeman Sandler, ed., Essays in Memory of Karl Lehmann (1964).