“Dispareri in Materia d’Architettura, et Perspettiva” in Brescia, 1752
Martino Bassi (1544-1591) was an architect and engineer born in Milan but originally from Lugano and best known for his opposition to the first works designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi and commissioned by Carlo Borromeo in Milan Cathedral (1569). After his opposition was unsuccessful, he published Dispareri in materia di architettura et perspettiva (Brescia, 1572), a direct but thoughtful polemic against Tibaldi’s works,. In particular, the book addresses the following aspects: Tibaldi’s adoption of an illusionistic scene with two perspective angles in a relief of the Annunciation above the north portal of the cathedral, the decision to create a square portico with wide intermediate arches around the baptistery, and finally the decision to arrange the crypt and the choir above it in an architectural solution that did not harmonise with the style of the church.
But he does not remain superficial; the book also deals with deeper issues of great importance, such as the relationship between the Classical and Gothic styles, or the fundamental problem of the visual perception of the work of art, i.e. of perspective: in this last respect, the booklet indeed represents, as the art historian Panofsky astutely remarked, “the most surprising and interesting example of the seriousness with which the position of the point of view in the surface of the painting and its relation to the position of the viewer were discussed in the Renaissance” (1980).
Last but not least, Bassi collected the authoritative opinions of Italy’s “most outstanding and famous architects” – Andrea Palladio, Jacopo Vignola, Giorgio Vasari and Giovan Battista Bertani, most of whom were in favour of Bassi.
The “Dispareri in materia di architettura et perspettiva” thus deal with solutions to practical problems, while referring to a fundamental theory. This approach, or better, this aspiration to justify (not only) architecture with a theory, to make architecture explainable seems very reminiscent of the renaissance.