“This book belonged to Andrea Palladio.” This intriguing attribution, inscribed by an anonymous, sixteenth-century hand (Vincenzo Scamozzi?) on the verso of the final folio of the coeval codex Destailleur B, hints at the illustrious provenance of this beguiling, little-studied manuscript of antiquarian study drawings, which is held in the Library of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. That is, the manuscript was little studied until now. Orietta Lanzarini and Roberta Martinis's “Questo libro fu di Andrea Palladio”: Il codice Destailleur B dell'Ermitage succeeds in providing comprehensive analysis and documentation of the 130-folio (260-page) manuscript.

“Questo libro fu di Andrea Palladio” is composed of two principal sections. The first—a trio of essays—considers the form, content, and history of the codex Destailleur B; its relevance in regard to sixteenth-century antiquarian culture; and the archaeological information contained in its drawings. The second section takes the form of an extensive catalogue detailing the contents of each folio of the codex, including drawing analyses, transcriptions of annotations, bibliographic notes, and references to manuscripts or single-sheet drawings that illustrate comparable subject matter. The authors provide photographic reproductions of 139 pages from the codex—the vast majority of which have not been published previously—as well as two appendixes that catalogue extant manuscripts and drawings that may be directly or indirectly correlated to the Destailleur B.

The attribution of ownership of the codex Destailleur B to Andrea Palladio provides the foundation for Lanzarini and Martinis's impressive and intricate reconstruction of the manuscript's provenance and history. Building on the previous scholarship of Federico Rausa, Michael H. Crawford, and Ian Campbell, the authors conclusively link the manuscript's contents—563 drawings of ancient buildings and objects—to the circle of Pirro Ligorio and to antiquarian studies executed by Ligorio in the 1540s and 1550s in Rome. In calling attention to numerous parallels between the Destailleur drawings and those recorded in a Paduan manuscript of antiquarian studies, as well as those of Ligorio's collaborator Antoine Morillon, the authors solidify the Destailleur's origins in the middle decades of the cinquecento.1 Lanzarini and Martinis thus categorically refute Heinrich von Geymüllers's long-cited 1891 attribution of the manuscript to Fra Giocondo (1433–1515) as incompatible in terms of dating and unsupported in calligraphic analysis. On the basis of calligraphy, the authors also dismiss previous attributions of the manuscript to Francesco da Sangallo, Aristotile Sangallo, and the so-called Anonimo Mantovano A.

Returning to the verifiable characteristics of Destailleur B—its close association with the Roman circle of Pirro Ligorio, its extraordinary corpus of antiquarian study drawings, and its Palladian patrimony—Lanzarini and Martinis reconstruct the Roman-Venetian origins of the manuscript. With the exception of a few folios, the manuscript may be assigned to two authors. The first, identified as such due to the dominant placement of his drawings on folios to which the second author contributed, showed a preference for illustrating building plans and interior elevations. The second author, who in fact was responsible for the majority of the drawings in Destailleur B, was more interested in exterior elevations, façades, sculptural ornamentation, and the materiality of his architectural subjects. The care with which this author executed his drawings and recorded the locations and names of his subjects indicates that he was keenly interested in antiquity. Moreover, given that a handful of his drawings are entirely original—depicting known but lost remains or ruins that are otherwise unknown from surviving graphic material—it is likely that he was involved firsthand in antiquarian investigations. Still, the fact that the composer was uninterested in architectural plans or structural details and recorded few measurements suggests that he was himself not an architect. Traveling along the main consular roads of central and southern Italy, the second author of Destailleur B methodically compiled noteworthy antiquarian designs located in and around Rome, Albano, Brindisi, Capua, Cuma, Grottaferrata, Maddaloni, Naples, Nola, Palestrina, Pozzuoli, Teggiano, Terracina, and Tivoli.

Lanzarini and Martinis repeatedly emphasize that the value of the codex Destailleur B lies in the exceptional scope and originality of its contents. This rich collection of annotated drawings speaks to sixteenth-century archaeological knowledge and offers contemporary historians an elucidative register of material with which to uncover the antique heritage available in the Renaissance. For example, of the thirty-seven tombs depicted in Destailleur B, Lanzarini and Martinis are able to identify sixteen that are still extant, thirteen that are lost but identifiable from secondary sources, and eight that are entirely unknown and unidentifiable. Using the drawings of identifiable lost tombs to reconstruct the principal characteristics of these structures, the authors present a model for future scholarship on the images of unknown lost tombs. These too, they argue, might assist scholars in rediscovering Roman building history and its legacy in the early modern period.

The exceptional nature of the manuscript's contents also distinguished it at the time of its composition, linking it and its composers to the expansive and highly mobile network of artists, architects, antiquarians, and editors who moved between the Veneto and Rome in the mid-sixteenth century, alternatively participating in the overlapping circles of Michele and Francesco Tramezzino, Paolo Manuzio, Jacopo Strada, Pirro Ligorio, Andrea Palladio, and Jacques Androuet du Cerceau. Within this complex web of associates, the little-known Venetian painter Giovan Battista Franco “Semolei” (1510–61) perfectly fits the profile of the second author of Destailleur B. Although Lanzarini and Martinis are hesitant to definitively attribute the manuscript to Franco, the points of contact between him, Palladio, and Ligorio are noteworthy. Between 1541 and 1544, Ligorio and Franco worked side by side on the decoration of the oratory of San Giovanni Decollato in Rome. Both artists, moreover, were interested in antiquities, and, as Giorgio Vasari notes, Franco diligently recorded in a “great volume” all types of antiquities, in particular decorative and sculptural details. By ca. 1550, Franco had returned to the Veneto, where he collaborated with Palladio on interior villa decoration. As Palladio relays in his Four Books (1570), the untimely death of this “most great draughtsman” left the decorative program of the Villa Foscari incomplete.2 Considering the verifiable working relationship between Palladio and Franco, and their close contact at the time of the painter's death, it is quite reasonable to think that the celebrated architect may have inherited Franco's notebook of antiquarian models.

As a collector's volume of sixteenth-century antique heritage, the codex Destailleur B passed through the hands of many illustrious owners. This remarkable patrimony, Lanzarini and Martinis argue, is not only reflective of the manuscript's inherent value but also has incrementally augmented its importance within the course of Western architecture. From Palladio, the authors plausibly trace Destailleur B to Scamozzi, from whom it likely passed first to the sculptor Francesco Albanese and then to his pupil, the acclaimed Vicentine author and architect Francesco Muttoni. In the ensuing period, the codex was acquired by the French architect Pierre-François Léonard Fontaine—who recorded his purchase of the manuscript on folio 1r—joining his exhaustive collection of architectural prints and drawings, which came to shape nineteenth-century French neoclassicism and catalyzed the rise of the Empire style in Russia, England, Austria, and Prussia. The prized manuscript then passed to the architect Achille Leclère—who was teacher to many renowned French architects, including Eugène Viollet-le-Duc—before it was acquired in 1854 by one of Leclère's students, the young Hippolypte Destailleur.

To a certain extent, therefore, the provenance of the codex Destailleur B follows the contours of early modern and modern European architectural history. In delineating this lineage and highlighting the continued relevance of the extraordinary St. Petersburg manuscript, Orietta Lanzarini and Roberta Martinis have done the difficult work of history. Using codicology, paleography, drawing connoisseurship, and archival research to piece together the fragmented history of this exceptional manuscript, they provide instructive methodological models for the architectural historian using primary source graphic material and demonstrate how cautiously drawn attributions should be made. In a field where exceptional works are routinely, and often carelessly, attributed to the same star figures, it is refreshing to see light cast on the enormously talented but virtually forgotten artist who associated with the likes of Pirro Ligorio and Andrea Palladio.

“Questo libro fu di Andrea Palladio”: Il codice Destailleur B dell'Ermitage is not a book for the generalist architectural historian, and it may well be too esoteric for the young student of Renaissance art. For the scholar of early modern architecture and architectural drawings, however, it is a noteworthy study, captivating in the rich corpus of drawings it presents and informative in the analyses it provides and the methodologies it demonstrates.


Ms. 764, ca. 1550–60, Biblioteca Universitaria, Padua; ms. XIII.B.10, ca. 1547–55, Biblioteca Nazionale, Naples.
Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture, trans. Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997).