Biography of Giacomo da Vignola

Renaissance Mannerist Architect (1507-1573)

Italian Renaissance Architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, c. 1560
Italian Renaissance Architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, c. 1560. Image by Bettmann / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect and artist Giacomo da Vignola (born October 1, 1507 in Vignola, Italy) documented Classical laws of proportion that influenced designers and builders throughout Europe. Along with Michelangelo and Palladio, Vignola transformed Classic architectural details into new forms that are still used today. Also known as Giacomo Barozzi, Jacopo Barozzi, Barocchio, or simply Vignola (pronounced veen-YO-la), this Italian architect lived at the height of the Renaissance era, transitioning Renaissance architecture into the more ornate Baroque style.

Vignola's time in the 16th century has been called Mannerism.

What is Mannerism?

Italian art flourished during what we call the High Renaissance, a time of Classic proportion and symmetry based on nature. A new style of art emerged in the 1500s, one that began to break the rules of these 15th century conventions, a style that became known as Mannerism. Artists and architects were emboldened to exaggerate forms—for example, a woman's figure may have an elongated neck and fingers that appear thin and stick-like. Design was in the manner of Greek and Roman aesthetics, but not literal. In architecture, the Classic pediment became more sculpted, curved, and even open at one end. The pilaster would mimic the Classical column, but it would be decorative instead of functional. Sant'Andrea del Vignola (1554) is a good example of interior Corinthian pilasters. The small church, also called Sant'Andrea a via Flaminia, is important for its humanistic oval or elliptical floor plan, Vignola's modification of traditional Gothic designs.

The architect from northern Italy was stretching the envelope of tradition, and the increasingly powerful Church was footing the bill. La villa di Papa Giulio III (1550-1555) for Pope Julius III and Villa Caprarola (1559-1573), also called Villa Farnese, designed for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese both exemplify Vignola's Classical mannerisms—oval courtyards decorated with balustrades, circular staircases, and columns from different Classical orders.

After the death of Michelangelo in 1564, Vignola continued work at St Peter's Basilica and built two smaller domes according to Michelangelo's plans. Vignola eventually took his own Mannerist ideas to Vatican City, however, as he planned Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri (1565-1576) in the same oval plan begun at Sant'Andrea.

Often this transitional architecture is simply characterized as Italian Renaissance, as it was largely centered in Italy during the late Renaissance period. Mannerism led the Renaissance style into Baroque stylings. Projects begun by Vignola, such as the Church of the Gesù in Rome (1568-1584) and completed after his death, are often considered Baroque in style. Decorative Classicism, begun by the rebels of the Renaissance, transitioned into what became the fanciful Baroque.

Vignola's Influence

Although Vignola was one of the most popular architects of his time, his architecture is often overshadowed by the more popular Andrea Palladio and Michelangelo. Today Vignola may be best known for promoting Classical designs, especially in the form of columns. He took the Latin works of the Roman architect Vitruvius and created a more vernacular roadmap for design. Called Regola delli cinque ordini, the 1562 publication was so easily understood that it was translated into many languages and became the definitive guide for architects in the Western World.

Vignola's treatise, The Five Orders of Architecture, describes the ideas in the Ten Books of Architecture, De Architectura, by  Vitruvius instead of directly translating it. Vignola outlines detailed rules for proportioning buildings and his rules for perspective are still read today. Vignola documented (some say codified) what we call Classical architecture so that even today's Neocalssical homes can be said to be designed, in part, from the work of Giacomo da Vignola.

In architecture, people are hardly ever related by blood and DNA, but architects are most always related by ideas. Old ideas of design and construction get rediscovered and passed on—or passed through—all the while changing ever so slightly, like evolution itself. Whose ideas touched Giacomo da Vignola? Which Renaissance architects were like-minded?

Beginning with Michelangelo, Vignola and Antonio Palladio were the architects to carry on the Classical traditions of Vitruvius. 

Vignola was a practical architect who was chosen by Pope Julius III to build important buildings in Rome. Combining Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque ideas, Vignola's church designs influenced ecclesiastical architecture for many centuries.

Giacomo da Vignola died in Rome on July 7, 1573 and is buried in the world's epitome of Classical architecture, the Pantheon in Rome.

Read More

  • Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture
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  • The Student's Instructor in Drawing and Working the Five Orders of Architecture by Peter Nicholson, 1815
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  • The five orders of architecture; the casting of shadows and the first principles of construction, based on the system of Vignola by Pierre Esquié, 1890 (read free from archive.org) Buy on Amazon
  • A treatise on the five orders of architecture: compiled from the works of William Chambers, Palladio, Vignola, Gwilt and others by Fred T. Hodgson. c. 1910 (read free from archive.org) Buy on Amazon

Source

  • Photo of Sant'Andrea del Vignola by Andrea Jemolo/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images (cropped)