- Il Sanmarino: Giovan Battista Belluzzi architetto militare e trattatista del Cinquecento. 2 vols. Vol. 1, Vita e le opere. Vol. 2, Gli scritti
In 1980 the Italian architectural historian Daniela Lamberini published a transcription of a remarkable manuscript, Il trattato delle fortificazioni in terra, a study of earthworks in military architecture by Giovan Battista Belluzzi (1506-54). The manuscript, prepared for Cosimo de'Medici, for whom Belluzzi worked from 1543 until his death at the siege of Siena, outlines how earthworks could be employed to defend the cities of the Grand Duchy. Belluzzi's manuscript documents a well-known practice about which architects, in their printed treatises, had generally been relatively silent. Lamberini clarified the complex authorship issues around Belluzzi's work and began the rehabilitation of this overlooked figure. The pair of books under review, totaling over 800 pages, is her capstone achievement. The first volume consists of a biography of Belluzzi and Lamberini's assessment of his major work, both written and built. The second contains a new edition of Belluzzi's autobiographical notebook, a selection of letters and reports by Belluzzi to Cosimo de'Medici, the transcription of Belluzzi's manuscript on fortifications in the Archivio di Stato, Turin, and a new edition of Belluzzi's treatise on earth fortification in an authoritative version. Here, it seems, is all one might ever want to know about Belluzzi.
Born and raised in San Marino, Belluzzi was not trained as an architect. The family were solid members of the artisan class and sent the young man to Bologna to learn the wool trade and master the practical skills of bookkeeping. By early [End Page 1259] 1535, however, Belluzzi had moved to an estate of the Colonna outside of Rome, where a relative was in service. He ingratiated himself with Ascanio Colonna and by the summer had evidently developed political skills that allowed him to have airs above his station. His marriage to the daughter of the painter and architect Girolamo Genga —strictly endogamy —nonetheless altered his circumstances. Through Genga he obtained access to the court at Urbino and soon served as go-between for the government of San Marino and the Duchy of Urbino. At the same time he started to learn the business of construction as overseer ( provveditore) of the accounts for the construction of the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro. Under the guidance of his father-in-law, he learned to draw, studied Vitruvius, and took his first halting steps as a designer.
Only the death of his wife in 1541 and the sense that the elderly Genga, with sons of his own, might not live much longer, may have forced him to move on. Whatever the case, in a diplomatic visit to Florence in July 1543, Cosimo de' Medici hired Belluzzi, in the words of Lamberini, as a "military architect, indulging the ambition of this gentleman inclined towards fortifications, to undertake the enobling (nobilitante) profession of arms" (46). For the next ten years Belluzzi, alone or with the advice of others, evaluated the city walls of the smaller towns of Tuscany, reporting on their status to Cosimo and, when funds and circumstances allowed, repairing or updating them to meet the potential threats of the new cannon. Initially his activities were not exclusively architectural or military: he was one of those clever pairs of eyes and ears on which Cosimo depended for information about the defenses in his own territory and the plans of his enemies. After Belluzzi's complaints of mistreatment, lack of pay and respect, Cosimo provided him with a commission (and some armor) just before his tragic death by enemy fire before the walls of Siena. (His complaints about the lack of body armor sound eerily familiar.)
There is much to praise in this impressive study. The collection of the texts alone...