"Book VI is a unique treasure because in the great variety of needs it
seeks to accommodate it gives us, as no other book of its age has done, an
insight into Renaissance society and customs." So, the architectural historian
James Ackerman introduced this manuscript in its first complete printing, over
four hundred years after its creation (Myra Nan Rosenfeld, Sebastiano Serlio
on Domestic Architecture . . . The Sixteenth-Century Manuscript of Book VI
in the Avery Library of Columbia University, 1978).
The Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio planned to issue seven books on
architecture, among the first illustrated manuals of their kind to be printed in
Europe. For reasons not fully known, one of these failed to find a publisher,
Book VI, On Domestic Architecture. The Avery manuscript of Book VI is one
of two extant in Serlio's hand. It passed through various private ownerssome
debated and some clearly known (the Bird family of Cheshire, England, in the
eighteenth century, and Dr. David Laing of Edinburgh in the nineteenth)before
arriving at Avery, on deposit, in 1920.
Serlio probably began work on the book, a series of designs for houses both
modest and regal, after arriving at the court of François I at Fontainebleau.
Although the volume was not published as intended, its ground plans, elevations,
and cross sections appear to have been known and influential. Drawings that have
fascinated historians include ones for the château at Ancy-le-Franc, which
established Serlio definitively as its architect; Serlio's proposed plan and
elevations for the Louvre, the earliest grand designs for the Parisian royal
palace; and one of the first Renaissance designs for a domed secular building
(here illustrated), noted for its similarity to Palladio's Villa Rotonda.