Elusive, enigmatic, and engaging, Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481–1536) was among the most compelling artists of the Italian Renaissance. He was responsible for some of the greatest architectural achievements of the sixteenth century and was a pioneering antiquarian and draftsman. In Rome, he was a close collaborator with Raphael, Donato Bramante, and the Sangallo family architects, and in his native Siena, a skilled fortification architect and a knowledgeable designer of hydraulic works. In recent decades, his prolific graphic output and masterful constructions have rightfully been the subjects of a significant body of scholarship. Yet where much has been written in Italian and German, comparatively little has been published in English. Ann Huppert's Becoming an Architect in Renaissance Italy: Art, Science, and the Career of Baldassarre Peruzzi addresses this lacuna, providing the first English-language monograph on this exceptional artist in nearly a century.
Richly illustrated and beautifully produced, Huppert's volume engages Peruzzi's entire career, bridging the two halves of his life—characteristically marked by the Villa Farnesina (1506–10) and the Palazzo Massimo (1532–36)—and examining the practices that grounded these achievements. Above all, this is a book about Peruzzi as a draftsman. As argued by Huppert, it was Peruzzi's adroitness with the pen (stylus and chalk) that allowed him to excel in diverse artistic fields, from façade painting to book illustration, theatrical design, fortifications, and surveying. Further, as documentary evidence, the drawings offer insight into those periods of Peruzzi's life not directly associated with his authorial achievements. They reveal aspects of his early training in Siena, his methodical study of antiquity, and his approach to building design. The image of Peruzzi formed by the reader is that of a pragmatist, an artist whose creativity was tempered and refined by his distinctly rational approach. Although Peruzzi was by no means an expert mathematician, his mathematical approach to architecture emerges here as a defining feature of his artistic personality. In calling attention to the architect's reason and spatial analysis, Huppert traces a line through his creative output, bringing to the fore a wealth of working drawings and analytic studies, seemingly disordered in their aesthetic composition but displaying the same artistry and structural complexity as his greatest built and painted achievements.
The book opens with a biographical survey that challenges and substantially overturns Giorgio Vasari's regnant portrait of the “povero Peruzzi.” As Huppert shows, Peruzzi was impoverished neither in monetary terms (he owned properties in Siena and Rome) nor in his critical legacy (a truth confirmed by his burial alongside Raphael in the Pantheon). A detailed examination of Peruzzi's finances places him in the context of the working artisan, the son of a weaver, whose modest personality clashed with the Vasarian notion of the courtly artist and whose talents did not shield him from family concerns and haggles with his patrons. Vasari's portrait of the architect crawling home to Siena, robbed of his possessions and without professional prospects, is also refuted. In fact, Peruzzi's final years are shown to be his most fruitful and important. It was in this period that he assumed the role of architect to the Republic of Siena and capomaestro of the Duomo. He also completed substantial fortification works, designed palaces for the Roman and Sienese elite, and continued his analysis of Roman antiquity.
Huppert further brings the key achievements of Peruzzi's career to light in the four ensuing chapters. Throughout, she condenses the extensive corpus of existing scholarship, calling attention to the graphic moments that most clearly exemplify Peruzzi's architecture and delineating themes for further research. Chapters 1 and 4 frame the monographic narrative, considering Peruzzi's formative years in Siena and his legacy as an architect and theorist, respectively. These two chapters also focus on Peruzzi's education and the architect's formation in a period that preceded professional architectural schools. Situating Peruzzi in the intellectual milieu of fifteenth-century Sienese art and architecture, Huppert underscores the tutelage of Francesco di Giorgio—an association long assumed by historians but rooted in scant documentary evidence. Here, she argues that Francesco's approach to imagery, and drawing in particular—as a design method and as a tool of self-edification—oriented Peruzzi's architectural practice. Scholars interested in the professional development of the early modern architect might wish that Huppert had even more to say about the cultural context surrounding these two figures and about architectural training more broadly.
Peruzzi's own activities as a teacher, addressed in chapter 4, constitute an important part of his critical legacy. The impressive list of disciples of the scuola di Baldassarre indicates the degree to which Peruzzi's drawings and theory permeated sixteenth-century architecture. But the fact that he did a portion of his teaching under contract to the commune of Siena suggests that architectural education was not as informal as traditionally thought and begs further inquiry. The table of contents of Peruzzi's incomplete architectural treatise, a copy of which is conserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, reads like a textbook for the aspiring professional, covering everything from materials to site conditions, theaters, bathrooms, and artillery. That a portion of this material is copied directly from Francesco di Giorgio's Trattato di architettura, even explicitly citing the formidable “tractate” of “francisi georgii senesis architectus,” is good evidence that Peruzzi's teaching activities followed an existing model. Peruzzi was undoubtedly familiar with Francesco, and, as Huppert observes, the younger architect inherited from the elder polymath not only drawings but also patrons and projects. Whether the two Sienese architects collaborated in Francesco's own workshop or were brought together by other institutional structures remains open to further investigation.
The technical skills Peruzzi gained in Siena, as well as his early projects in that city, provided the basis for his subsequent rise as an architect in Rome—the subject of chapters 2 and 3. In chapter 2, “The Lessons of Ancient Rome,” Huppert focuses on Peruzzi's approach to antiquity. The discussion opens with a review of early sixteenth-century antiquarianism, highlighting the prevailing study of Vitruvius and the efforts of Raphael, Francesco di Giorgio, Fra Giocondo, and Giuliano da Sangallo to make sense of Rome's classical past. This lucid overview is an instructive reference for students of Renaissance architecture. Peruzzi's concentrated effort to understand the principles of ancient architecture is exemplified in dozens of analytical study drawings, which Huppert likens to modern construction documents. Her probing discussion of these dense, often multilayered images and her translation of the architect's rough annotations and copious measures invite the reader into the field alongside the architect.
The exacting nature of Peruzzi's study was characteristic of his practice; in contrast to the prevalent trend among Renaissance architects, he refrained from using invention as a means to comprehend and complete the ruins. Comparing Peruzzi's studies of Terracina with those of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Huppert underscores the former's interest in documenting factual information and the latter's concern for capturing a monument in context. The comparisons between Peruzzi and Sangallo also introduce the question of collaboration, a recurring theme within the book and one that merits further inquiry. Huppert draws attention to a number of Peruzzi's close affiliates and points to the need for further research on the nature and extent of these relationships. The assistance Peruzzi received from his son Sallustio is one such topic, as are his interactions with figures such as Sebastiano Serlio, Pietro Cataneo, and Tommaso Pomarelli.
The architect's greatest design commissions—complete and incomplete—are the subject of chapter 3. Here, Huppert connects Peruzzi's abilities as a painter with his penchant for spectacle and his creation of innovative graphic strategies. Whereas his studies of antiquity were largely for personal reference, representing his effort to understand the principles of ancient building, his drawings for Saint Peter's Basilica (Rome), San Petronio (Bologna), and San Domenico (Siena) highlight his uncanny ability to engage viewers in complex spatial constructions. But as Huppert shows, Peruzzi's spectacular perspectival, axonometric, cutaway sections were not just pictorial bravura; rather, they were pragmatic, highly functional renderings. Integrating multiple orthogonal views in single images, Peruzzi's ecclesiastical project drawings captured the volumes of the buildings' structural elements and their external forms while also showcasing the grandeur of their interior spaces.
The breadth and density of Peruzzi's graphic output is at once illuminating and intimidating. His architectural drawings alone—approximately 250 sheets—offer insights into his use of mathematics and geometry, his self-edification among the ancient ruins, his collaboration with peers, and his unrelenting desire to codify new expository modes of representation. In bringing together a substantial body of Peruzzi's most evocative and intricate drawings and calling attention to the approaches they share, Huppert's book not only advances our understanding of this artist but also provides a rich font of material and ideas for future study of Italian Renaissance architecture.