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Humanism and the Urban World

Leon Battista Alberti and the Renaissance City

By Caspar Pearson

Publication Year: 2011

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. 1-23

“Everyone relies on the city,” wrote Leon Battista Alberti, “and all the public services that it contains.”1 This statement, delivered in such a matter-of-fact manner, indicates the exceptional importance of cities in the society in which Alberti lived. His world was an urban one. ...

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1. Destruction

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pp. 24-55

It is a commonplace of historical writing that cities, and the civilizations they support, will be subject to periods of rise and fall. Long before the formulation of the laws of thermodynamics, human intuition suspected that anything that is composed of parts must eventually break up...

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2. The Divided City

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pp. 56-85

In the first chapters of Book V of De re aedificatoria, Alberti engages most thoroughly with the city as a concept in its own right. However, the discussion is not framed as an examination of the city per se, nor as a comparison between different kinds of cities, although that is in effect what it becomes. ...

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3. The Limits of Power

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pp. 86-105

In the previous chapter, we saw Alberti consider stern architectural intervention in the city, physically preventing the populace from rising up against its masters. This discussion may be connected to a critique of the policies of Nicholas V in Rome. Yet there is also a modern and calculated...

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4. Beyond the City

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pp. 106-142

Alberti, in a number of works, characterizes the country and the city as binary opposites. Not only is each the antithesis of the other, but one is often judged to be superior—namely, the country. It is a fact that has every appearance of being thoroughly banal. ...

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5. The Suburbs and Other Places

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pp. 143-155

As we have seen, in the Villa, rural property is viewed exclusively in terms of productivity. In the Della famiglia, Giannozzo conceives of the farm in a similar way. However, he also repeatedly talks of the enjoyment and plea- sure that he would gain from working the fields and even tells Adovardo...

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6. The Beautiful City

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pp. 156-187

Beauty was a topic of crucial importance to Alberti. Indeed, it was so important that he devoted almost the entire second half of his architectural treatise to the subject (or rather to both beauty and ornament, which he considered to be separate but related entities). ...

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pp. 188-196

At the heart of Alberti’s writings, there is, as we have seen, a tension surrounding the issues of fame, glory, fate, fortuna, and virtù. Equally pressing, if not so explicitly articulated, is the issue of truth and the failure of appearance and reality to fully coincide. ...


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pp. 197-244


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pp. 245-260


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pp. 261-268

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052267
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271048550

Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cities and towns.
  • Alberti, Leon Battista, 1404-1472 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Alberti, Leon Battista, 1404-1472 -- Philosophy.
  • Alberti, Leon Battista, 1404-1472. De re aedificatoria.
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