White Walls: Practical Advice from Guarino Guarini

“Paint your neighbor’s wall white”

Guarino Guarini’s posthumous architectural treatise Archittetura civile (Turin: Mairesse, 1737) is filled with common sense observations. This one on the power of white paint, in a larger section devoted to optical adjustments for altering the perception of architecture, is one of my favorites:

Gli Oggetti, che sono bianchi pajono più grandi, che di colore oscuro, ò nero, e più illuminati

… Il bianco ha forza disgregare e dilatare la vista, e perciò le cose bianche paiono sempre maggiori di quelle che sono d’altro colore; massime che nel bianco ogni sinuosità si conosce a motivo del’ombre, che nel bianco più si vedono che in qualunque altra spezie di colore. Che poi appariscono più luminose è si manifesto, che nelle contrade strette ed oscure per aver luce maggiore nelle stanze basta imbiancare l’opposto muro del vicino.

Architettura civile, Trattato III, Capo xxi, Osservazione 6, p. 159.

[“Objects that are white seem larger and brighter than those of a dark color or black
… White has the power to fragment and widen sight, and therefore white things always seem bigger than those that are of another color; especially since in white every sinuosity is revealed because of the shadows, which you can see in white more than in any other kind of color. That they then appear brighter is shown since in narrow and dark streets to get more light in your rooms it suffices to paint your neighbor’s opposite wall white.”]

I am considering using this tactic for a dark window well in my basement – some of Guarini’s advice is still relevant today!

Guarino Guarini Letterato

A Neglected Article by Martino Capucci

“Quel che si sa di Guarino Guarini architetto non è molto: ci sono le sue opere, non la sua figura intera. Manca ancora una monografia che dica non solo dell’artista, ma anche del trattatista d’architettura, del letterato, del matematico e filosofo farraginoso e dottissimo. … riteniamo opportuno ordinare quel che si sa su Guarini scrittore, delinearne gli essenziali aspetti; offrendo così qualche materiale che potra non essere inutile per lo storico dell’arte che voglia tenerne conto.”

From: Martino Capucci, “Guarino Guarini Letterato,” Lettere Italiane 8:1 (Gennaio-Marzo 1956): 75-82 [75].

The article cited above, by the late scholar of Italian literature Martino Capucci (1926-2013), recently surfaced in JSTOR – apparently the journal Lettere Italiane is a new addition to the repository’s invaluable resources. In the 1956 essay, Capucci called for an integrated approach to Guarino Guarini’s life and work, considering all of his activity – in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and indeed literature – as inseparable from his architectural work. Capucci, who taught at the University of Bologna, surveyed all the writings of the Theatine architect, but then focused his attention on Guarini’s first publication, the play La pietà trionfante (Messina, 1660). Capucci situates the tragicomedy within the tradition of seventeenth-century Italian theater, succinctly and honestly assessing it from the point of view of italianistica. While Capucci finds the play of low literary quality, he nonetheless recognizes its value in reflecting the culture in which Guarini took part:

“In questo ‘maestro del barocco’ il fascino della cultura è straordinario e spesso soffocante, ma a noi non importano tanto i risultati quanto il desiderio di esperienza che sta alla radice di questa cultura; ed è qui, non in un rapporto esterno o magari deterministico, quel punto di contatto fra i due aspetti della personalità guariniana, che giustifica l’esame della sua attività di erudito, trattatista e scrittore da cui possiamo trarre maggior sicurezza nella valutazione dell’opera per la quale egli vive ancora.” [81-82]

To my knowledge, Capucci’s article has remained entirely unknown within the literature on Guarino Guarini. It is not included in any of the usual authoritative bibliographies on the Modenese Theatine. Yet Capucci’s essay coincided with the flowering of studies on Guarini and Piedmontese baroque architecture in the late 1950s through the 1960s, such as Paolo Portoghesi’s short monograph published the same year. Its omission can only be due to the disciplinary blinders that still plague Guarini research today. Few studies on Guarini make more than passing reference to La pietà trionfante, although a play based on it was produced in Modena in 2005, Le regole del cielo. Capucci’s article thus fills a notable gap in Guarini scholarship, providing important literary expertise to assist in our understanding of a figure who is fully comprehensible only through interdisciplinary efforts.

Consult “Guarino Guarini Letterato” by Martino Capucci at this JSTOR permalink. It deserves to be better known and to take its place within the standard literature on the architect.

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Further reading:

● Martino Capucci’s colleagues at the University of Bologna prepared this booklet as a memorial tribute following his death in 2013. The biographical essay includes an account of the genesis of Capucci’s early essay on Guarini.

● Download Guarini’s La pietà trionfante from the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense.

A Summer Evening at Racconigi

On hot summer days, one longs for the cooler hours from dusk to dawn. Guarino Guarini had this in mind when planning the country estate of Racconigi (1676ff.), south of Turin, for his patron Emanuele Filiberto, Prince of Carignano.

A few years before Guarini began work at the site, the prince had commissioned the French landscape architect André Le Nôtre to design the extensive gardens on the estate grounds.

Guarini’s main contribution to the complex was his project for remodeling the estate’s medieval castello into a baroque palace, of which only the tract along the garden facade was completed. But the architect also provided other designs for the estate and the adjacent town. One such project was a garden pavilion for the Racconigi grounds, which Guarini used to illustrate a passage about “oblique” architecture in his treatise Architettura civile (published posthumously in 1737). Guarini described the garden pavilion – reproduced above – as:

“…un Casino, o Pinacolo per un Giardino per ritirarli nella State, e massime sulla sera a cena fatto pel Serenissimo Principe di Carignano nel Giardino deliziosissimo, e vastissimo di Racconigi…”

that is:

“…a casino, or gazebo for a garden, to withdraw to in the summer, especially for dinner in the evenings, made for the most serene Prince of Carignano in the delightful and vast garden of Racconigi…”

The text passage refers to the upper image (elevation) on the plate reproduced above, and some of the partial plans on the right of the plate. The lower image (section) is for a different, unidentified design, discussed in the second “Osservazione” of the treatise chapter. The exact position of the Racconigi casino in the park of the castello remains unknown, as do the details of its construction, whether of stone, wood, or brick. Any traces of it must have vanished when the gardens were redesigned in the late eighteenth century and again in the nineteenth century.

The gazebo would have furnished a splendid setting for summer dinner parties in the cool of the evening, with provisions ferried from the kitchens in the main house, or perhaps prepared outdoors. But these delights were reserved for a select few: the prince and his invited guests.

The Racconigi gardens are open to the public today, but only until 7 pm. They feature a bird sanctuary with wetlands for storks and ducks – and some of the storks nest right on top of the castello! Even if you can’t dine in the gardens, it is a refreshing place to spend a summer day.


Castello di Racconigi (official website)

Castello di Racconigi (page for Racconigi on the Royal Residences of Piedmont website, in English)

Centro Cicogne e Anatidi, Racconigi (bird sanctuary)

● Click on the Google Map below and use Street View to enjoy a virtual stroll through the Racconigi grounds.

Open Access Sources on Guarini and Piedmontese Baroque Architecture

Three Free Downloads
Birthdays are for celebrating and for birthday presents. So to mark the birthday of Guarino Guarini (born 17 January 1624), this post highlights three useful publications on the architect that are freely available online. The first two are traditionally included in any bibliography on Guarini and Piedmontese Baroque architecture, and the third one should be more widely known. Two of the items date to the heyday of studies on Piedmontese Baroque in the 1960s, while the third represents the state of Guarini scholarship at the turn of the millennium. All are hosted by generous institutional repositories: two at universities, and the third at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. As for language, there’s something for everyone, take your pick of German, Italian, or English.

1. Maria Anderegg-Tille, Die Schule Guarinis (Winterthur: P. G. Keller, 1962).
andereggtilleThis study originated as a dissertation at the ETH Zürich. It focuses primarily on architects operating and buildings constructed in Guarini’s wake in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Piedmont. Some projects discussed, however, are directly tied to Guarini himself. Wittkower deemed it a “somewhat pedantic work, based on the categories developed by A. E. Brinckmann half a century before.” Yet it remains useful as one of the few publications to consider neglected projects such as the model for San Giacomo Maggiore in Campertogno or the chapel in Gerbido.

Download (17 MB)

2. Carlo Brayda, Laura Coli, and Dario Sesia, “Specializzazioni e vita professionale nel sei e settecento in Piemonte” and “Ingegneri e architetti del Sei e Settecento in Piemonte,” Atti e Rassegna Tecnica / Società Degli Ingegneri e Degli Architetti in Torino n.s. 17:3 (1963): 73-174.
brayda-coli-sesiaWittkower described this lengthy article as “731 names with brief biographies and chronological oeuvre catalogues. Extremely useful.” Although some of the information here is outdated (or was inaccurate to begin with, such as the specious attribution of Sant’Andrea in Bra to Bernini and Guarini, based on campanilismo), the catalogue remains the only convenient source of information on many minor architects of the Piedmontese Baroque. On Guarini, see pp. 113-114.

Download (75 MB)
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic License.


3. Martha Pollak, “Guarino Guarini (1624-1683),” in The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, Volume IV: Italian and Spanish Books, Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries (Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2000): 178-183.
pollak-millardAn interesting account of Guarini’s career centered on his architectural treatise Architettura civile, published posthumously in 1737. Martha Pollak is one of the leading scholars of Piedmontese Baroque architecture and urbanism, and she provides valuable personal interpretive accents.
As a bonus, do take a look at the other three volumes cataloging the Mark Millard Architectural Collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington: Vol. I: French Books; vol. II: British Books; and vol. III: Northern European Books.

Download (177 MB)

The Locus of Christmas

Jacques Callot’s Engravings of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 - 1635 ), Plan and Elevation of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 – 1635 ), Plan and Elevation of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 - 1635 ), Plan of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

Jacques Callot (French, 1592 – 1635 ), Plan of the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1619, etching and engraving on laid paper [restrike], National Gallery of Art, Washington DC / Transferred from The Library of Congress

In 1619 the French artist Jacques Callot prepared numerous prints of sites in the Holy Land to accompany the second edition of the Franciscan Bernardino Amico’s Trattato delle piante & immagini de sacri edifizi di Terra Santa (Florence: Pietro Cecconcelli, 1620). The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and its adjacent monastic complex are documented in seven plates at the beginning of the volume. Callot’s engravings were based on Amico’s own architectural surveys performed in Jerusalem and Bethlehem during his five-year stay in the Holy Land from 1593-98.

A star in the pavement of the crypt-like lower level grotto in Callot’s image marks the traditional location where Jesus is said to have been born, just as is the case today – though the present star has fourteen points rather than the six depicted by Callot.

Amico intended the publication to serve as both an accurate antiquarian treatise on the holy sites as well as a devotional aid for pilgrims. Its function today can be similar, reminding us that the epicenter of Christmas is not the North Pole but rather at the heart of this rich architectural palimpsest in Bethlehem.

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Sources and Further Reading:

● UNESCO World Heritage listing description of the Church of the Nativity and Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

● Zur Shalev, “Christian Pilgrimage and Ritual Measurement in Jerusalem,” Preprint 384, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin: 11-15.

The traditional site of Jesus's birth in the grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The traditional site of Jesus’s birth in the grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Altered States: An Early Version of Guarini’s Lisbon Section Plate

BNP Lisbon sectionGuarino Guarini, “S. Maria della Divina Providenza di Lisbona,” engraved by Giovanni Abbiati (loose sheet), here dated c. 1680.
Source: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, E. 1235 V.

Guarino Guarini’s intention to publish an architectural treatise dates back at least to 1666, during his time in Paris. In that year, Giuseppe Silos listed an Architetturae arte Commentaria among the Theatine’s projected publications in a bio-bibliography. The enterprise seems to have gotten underway only in the late 1670s as Guarini began to prepare the plates for the treatise together with a team of engravers based in Turin and Modena. At Guarini’s death in 1683 the manuscript for the text remained unfinished and in disarray, as explained in the introduction to the 1686 publication of a selection of the plates without any text, the Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica. The entire treatise was published only a half-century later as Guarini’s Architettura civile (Turin: Mairesse, 1737) after the young Bernardo Antonio Vittone edited the MS and – perhaps – commissioned some additional plates.

Understanding the genesis of the treatise, as well as dating its text and plates to particular periods during Guarini’s lifetime or after his death, therefore rely on a variety of internal and external evidence that establishes dates ante quem or post quem: mentions or representations of buildings known to date to certain years, a handful of preparatory drawings for the plates, other related drawings (or drawing copies), and a few dates engraved directly on the plates.

Plates in both the 1686 and 1737 editions fall into two groups – text illustrations, or project presentation plates reproducing Guarini’s building designs, whether executed or unexecuted. The project plates differed slightly in the two editions, with some of the dedicatory inscriptions and engravers’ names obliterated for the 1737 publication. This yielded two states of each project plate, as illustrated below on the example of the section for Guarini’s unexecuted Lisbon church, plate number 18 among the projects in both editions (click for larger images).

1686 Edition

Lisbon section DissegniGuarino Guarini, “S. Maria della Divina Providenza di Lisbona,” Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica (Turin: Per gl’Eredi Gianelli,1686), plate 18, engraved by Giovanni Abbiati.
Source: Getty Research Library / Internet Archive

1737 Edition

Lisbon section AC croppedGuarino Guarini, “S. Maria della Divina Providenza di Lisbona,” Architettura civile (Turin: Gianfrancesco Mairesse, 1737), plate 18, [engraved by Giovanni Abbiati].
Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The redacted portions of the plates are clearly evident in this comparison. The dedication to Padre Antonio Ardizzone, the founder of the Theatines’ Lisbon establishment, followed by Guarini’s own name in his capacity as ducal mathematician, appeared along the upper right edge of the sheet in 1686, and has been removed in the 1737 sheet. Furthermore, the name of the engraver Giovanni Abbiati, present at lower left on the earlier sheet, has also been removed for the later edition. Scholars generally agree that these changes were made after the names of the engravers and original dedicatees became irrelevant fifty years after Guarini’s death.

New Preliminary State

Now, an additional state of this Lisbon section plate has emerged in the digitized collections of the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisbon (at the top of this post). This version of the plate is virtually identical to the 1686 edition, with the sole difference that the numeral 18 is missing at the upper right corner. In this case, though, the number has not been obliterated, but rather has yet to be inserted as part of the process of ordering the plates for publication. It thus predates the 1686 plate, and illuminates a stage of the production process apparently before a fixed order for publication of the project plates had been determined. Indeed, perhaps the plates remained unordered at Guarini’s death.

Further evidence suggests the sheet was sent to Lisbon to function as would a presentation drawing, to provide the patrons with a grand and appealing representation of the planned construction. The handwritten inscription at the bottom (not by Guarini) clarifies some details of the design: it labels the voids in the nave piers as confessionals, and explains that the spaces above these are tribune that will be accessible through a passageway from behind. Finally, it enumerates the cupole (domes and lanterns) in the building, three on the longitudinal axis (nave and choir), two over the transept chapels, a larger one at the crossing, and four over the nave chapels for a total of ten.

Dating Guarini’s Lisbon Design

The Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal’s record on the sheet dates it to c. 1650, based on a 1977 publication by A. Aires de Carvalho [Catálogo da colecção de desenhos (Lisboa: BN, 1977) no. 532]. This date corresponds with the foundation of the Theatines’ Lisbon establishment by Ardizzone and Alberto Maria Ambiveri, but not with Guarini’s plans for the church. The engraving must date to Guarini’s years in Turin (beginning in late 1666), since the engraver Giovanni Abbiati is known as active in Turin and Milan, c. 1678-1700.

But the design itself also dates to Guarini’s years in Turin. As I have demonstrated (Klaiber 1993, followed by Morrogh 1998, Varela Gomes 2001-3, and Varela Gomes 2006), Guarini’s project for the Theatine church of Santa Maria della Divina Provvidenza, Lisbon, almost certainly dates to the years around 1680, when the young Duke of Savoy, Vittorio Amedeo II, entered a marriage contract with his first cousin, the Portuguese Infanta Elisabetta Luisa Giuseppa. The plan was to establish him as king or regent in Portugal, thus gaining for the Savoy the power and resources associated with the vast Portuguese overseas territories. In anticipation of the marriage the two courts exchanged diplomats, artists, and other representatives, as well as gifts and cultural projects. The contract, however, was dissolved in 1682 before any marriage occurred, and the entire enterprise evaporated. Guarini never went to Lisbon, his church was not built (though, according to Varela Gomes 2001-3, possibly begun), and therefore not destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.

The Lisbon sheet provides an invaluable snapshot of a previously undocumented stage in the production of Guarini’s project engravings for his treatise. And it captures a moment when Guarini was simultaneously preparing designs for publication while using prints of the same designs to communicate with patrons and woo them to support his projects.

Lisbon plan DissegniLisbon plan AC CROPPEDThe plan for Guarini’s Lisbon church, in the 1686 (above) and 1737 (below) versions: Guarino Guarini, “Pianta di S. Maria della Divina Providenza di Lisbona,” Dissegni d’architettura civile… (Turin: Gianelli,1686), plate 17, engraved by Giovanni Abbiati.
Source: Getty Research Library / Internet Archive

Guarino Guarini, “Pianta di S. Maria della Divina Providenza di Lisbona,” Architettura civile (Turin: Gianfrancesco Mairesse, 1737), plate 17, [engraved by Giovanni Abbiati].
Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

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Thanks to Helena Simões Patrício of the BNP for clarifying the permission to include an image of the BNP sheet in this post.

Sources and further reading:

Susan Klaiber, Guarino Guarini’s Theatine Architecture, Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University 1993: 305-359.

Susan Klaiber, “Guarino Guarini, Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica, Turin, 1686,” in A. Placzek and A. Giral, eds., Avery’s Choice: Five Centuries of Great Architectural Books (New York: G. K. Hall, 1997): 45.

Andrew Morrogh, “Guarini and the Pursuit of Originality: The Church for Lisbon and Related Projects,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 57:1 (1998): 6-29.

Paulo Varela Gomes, “Les projets de Francesco Borromini et Guarino Guarini pour le Portugal,” Revue de l’Art 133 (2001-2003): 81-92.

Paulo Varela Gomes, “Guarini e il Portogallo,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini (Turin: Allemandi, 2006): 514-523.

Architecture and Early Modern Jesuit Mathematics

Wuppertal_Jesuit_Mathematics_posterI am looking forward to participating in the upcoming workshop Teaching and Publishing Mathematics and Science in the Society of Jesus in Early Modern Europe organized by Prof. Volker Remmert at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Science and Technology Studies (IZWT), Bergische Universität Wuppertal, 12-13 June 2013. The international roster of speakers promises stimulating contributions from a variety of viewpoints. My own talk examines architectural topics featured in Jesuit mathematical publications, c. 1590-1750.
Image: IZWT Wuppertal (click to enlarge)

Guarini’s Trattato di fortificatione digitized

Google Books recently posted the full text of Guarino Guarini’s Trattato di fortificatione, che hora si usa in Fiandra, Francia & Italia… (Turin: Appresso gl’Heredi di Carlo Gianelli, 1676), in a copy held by the Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Rome. Now all of Guarini’s publications are available online in open-access digitized editions (see here for links).

This digitization is particularly welcome, since no reprint edition exists and few libraries possess copies of the treatise. Outside of Italy, World Cat and the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog together note only nine copies (four in the US, one each in France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK).

Even within Italy, copies are fairly scarce. The treatise does not appear, for instance, in the otherwise very informative virtual exhibition of Italian military architecture treatises at the Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Florence, from 2002. The BNCF states in the exhibition introduction that it holds “almost all first editions of Italian military architecture treatises from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries”—but Guarini’s is among the few that are missing. (The exhibition discusses the Trattato di fortificatione in the context of other Seicento treatises, however.)

Now everyone can peruse this unassuming 128-page octavo volume, which Claudia Bonardi characterized as a “paperback avant la lettre.”

Some highlights from the Trattato di fortificatione. Click images for enlarged full views.
Images: Google Books / Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Rome

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Selected bibliography:

Augusta Lange, “Disegni e documenti di Guarino Guarini,” in Guarino Guarini e l’internazionalità del Barocco, ed. V. Viale (Turin: Accademia delle scienze, 1970), 1: 209-215.

Gianni Carlo Sciolla, “Note sul ‘Trattato di fortificatione’ del Guarini,” in Guarino Guarini e l’internazionalità del Barocco, ed. V. Viale (Turin: Accademia delle scienze, 1970), 1: 513-529.

Claudia Bonardi, catalogue entry 296 in Diana trionfatrice: arte di corte nel Piemonte del Seicento, ed. Michela di Macco and Giovanni Romano (Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 1989), 272.

Aurora Scotti, “Testo e immagini nell’Architettura civile e nelle opere teoriche di Guarini,” in Guarino Guarini, ed. G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, and H. A. Millon (Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 2006), 97-99.