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A draft of this post has been sitting for a while, but I find myself with some free time this Thanksgiving holiday.
For my class on Reception (of the classical world) a couple of weeks ago, I was assigned to read a letter from Alberti to Brunelleschi. For those interested, here’s a site with some pictures of Alberti’s architectural designs, and here’s one for Brunelleschi. Each quote Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, which we’ve also been reading from for Reception, so much so that I’ve become interested enough to want to own it– if only I could find a bilingual edition!
As I mentioned in a previous post (Sono italiana in spirito!*), I’ve become really excited about Italian. As such, I was very pleased that my professor provided both English and Italian versions of the letter. Here’s an excerpt, in which Alberti is marvelling about Brunelleschi’s architectural accomplishment, the Duomo (i.e. Santa Maria del Fiore) of Florence (from On Painting and On Sculpture, ed. and trans. by Cecil Grayson, Phaidon, 1972):
What man, however hard of heart or jealous, would not praise Filippo the architect when he sees here such an enormous construction towering above the skies, vast enough to cover the entire Tuscan population with its shadow, and done without the aid of beams or elaborate wooden supports? Surely a feat of engineering, if I am not mistaken, that people did not believe possible these days and was probably equally unknown and unimaginable among the ancients.
Chi mai sì duro o sì invido non lodasse Pippo architetto vedendo qui struttura sì grande, erta sopra e’ cieli, ampla da coprire con sua ombra tutti e’ popoli toscani, fatta sanza alcuno aiuto di travamenti o di copia di legname, quale artificio certo, se io ben iudico, come a questi tempi era incredibile potersi, così forse appresso gli antichi fu non saputo né conosciuto?
I chose this quotation because the Duomo is my favorite building–it really is awesome (in the original sense of the word), which is what Alberti is trying to convey here. Oh, and notice that Alberti calls his friend by the familiar “Pippo” in the Italian, but that’s not reflected in the translation.