The interesting thing about translating André Felibien’s “Des Principes de L’Architecture is how interesting it is, and how hazardous a simple whim, a passing, “I wonder” can be.
There is the angel of my better nature, asking me “You going to wrap this up and get it off before the next ice age?”
On the other shoulder, the devil in the details is whispering “I’d bet you can find some of the work Felibien is talking about when he writes “There was in Florence a Filippo Brunelesco, and a Benedetto da Maiano, who started to create the best works that can still be seen today.”
The angel scolds, “The day is advancing, your long-suffering wife is starting to make dangerous noises every time she walks by the unfinished bathroom, and given that you are supposed to be translating Felibien you might get on with, um, translating Felibien.”
“It’ll just take a second to have a quick look, it’s the details that can make the story,” the devil coos.
A couple of keystrokes and I’m off. A couple of hours later, well, it turns out that this Brunelesco fellow was in fact more often known as Brunelleschi, a giant of Renaissance architecture and engineering, and the subject of a book I loved, “Brunelleschi’s Dome” by Ross King.
A diverting side note was that Brunelleschi, though trained as a goldsmith and a fine graphic artist, was known more as an architect on the engineering and math end of the scale.
It took me a little looking around before I realized Felibien was talking about him. (It was a reference in some ancient tome to “Brunelesco’s stupendous dome in Florence” that clued me in).
It seemed odd that he would be specifically mentioned in the marquetry section, until I reflected that Felibian had included marquetry in the section on painting, and in fact Brunelleschi also contributed a great deal to the theory of perspective in Renaissance art.
A wander through the works attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and his brother Guiliano, made the connection clear.
The use of perspective is everywhere – perhaps even more because wood veneer lends itself well to being cut in precise geometrical shapes to depict this revolution in art that had swept the West and was so powerfully in vogue at the time.
But the really wonderful surprise was the reference to “Jean de Verone” in Felibien. A few minutes lead me to his name in Italian, Fra Giovanni da Verona, and then into the almost hermetic vision of the Benedictine monk’s marquetry panels. They are a world unto themselves.