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  • Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects
  • Linda Pellecchia
Manfredo Tafuri . Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects. Trans. Daniel Sherer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. xii + 408 pp. + 166 b/w pls. index. append. illus. $50. ISBN: 0–300–11158–4.

Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects is a translation of Manfredo Tafuri's Ricerca del Rinascimento: Principi, Città, Architetti (1992), his last book before his premature death in 1994. Sherer has performed an invaluable service by making this book available in English, for Tafuri's text is as insightful, original, and provocative today as it was when first published fifteen years ago. An excellent translator's preface situates Ricerca in the context of Tafuri's groundbreaking scholarship.

Tafuri believed that history was essential to understanding the architecture of the past. On the surface, this is hardly new. Yet Tafuri's history was alternately pugnacious and facilitating, a richly textured mosaic of multiple patrons, contrasting demands, and contradictory contexts. Deeply theoretical, Tafuri was also a master of close readings of archival, literary, and visual material. Moving effortlessly among disciplines such as architecture, philology, and philosophy, he can pass from the abstract rhetoric of his idiosyncratic language to the most precise historical detail without missing a beat. As a trained architect, his discussions of architectural drawings can be breathtaking.

Seven heterogeneous chapters treat issues surrounding the architectural language of classicism: its creation, implementation, subversion, and transformation in Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Chapter 1, "A Search for Paradigms: Project, Truth, Artifice," eschews unified visions of the Renaissance. Fundamentally a "culture of contradiction" for Tafuri, "the age of humanism walked a fine line between the need for rule and the need to transgress" (8). In chapter 2, "Cives esse non licere: Nicholas V and Leon Battista Alberti," Tafuri challenges Westfall's treatment of Alberti as the pope's advisor and designer. While scholars may disagree with his conclusions (see Grafton, Leon Battista Alberti [2000], 302–15), Tafuri presents a new Alberti: pessimistic, mocking, satirical.

Chapter 3, "Princes, Cities, and Architects," engages in comparative urban history by examining Florence under Lorenzo and Rome under Leo X, with a coda on Venice. Dense with specific arguments and scholarly challenges that cannot be debated in a short review, Tafuri's discussions of urban projects always stimulate, forcing the reader to sift through multiple sources and visual images to arrive at any conclusion. Like so many other chapters, this one is a goldmine of information. Containing a history of the Sapienza in Rome, it also has an excursus on Lorenzo's architectural expertise.

Chapters 4 and 5 stay in Rome both before and after the Sack of 1527. "Jugum meum suave est: Architecture and Myth in the Era of Leo X" delights the reader with its brilliant examination of architectural drawings. Tafuri's visual explorations should be required reading for everyone in the field. Chapter 5 shifts to the Rome of Paul III. Not only the Sack, but also the challenges of Luther and Erasmus, transformed the papacy beyond recognition. For Tafuri, the architecture [End Page 1320] of classicism became a compensatory language to assert a primacy that was no longer a reality.

The final two chapters move us to Spain and Venice. Especially noteworthy is Tafuri's controversial reattribution of the design of Charles V's palace in Granada to Giulio Romano. In "Venetian Epilogue: Jacopo Sansovino from Inventio to Consuetudo," Tafuri turns to the transplantation of a Tuscan-trained architect to the foreign soil of Venice. Here, the collision of two powerful myths leads the twice (self-)exiled architect not only to sophisticated adaptations but to a heart-felt critique of the very "universalism of the 'reborn' forms" (258).

Sherer has executed his Promethean translating task with care and insight, producing a readable and clear English text without sacrificing the intentional complexity of Tafuri's Italian. There are some moments, however, when he strays too far from the original or simply makes mistakes, for example using the word reliefs instead of architectural drawings to translate rilievi (65). And while the larger, crisper illustrations of the new edition are excellent, a few opportunities to improve the Italian edition were lost. For...


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