Die Architekturoberflächen der Villa Imperiale zu Pesaro : Bemerkungen über die Bedeutung von Putz und Farbe in der italienischen Villen- und Palastarchitektur der Renaissance

  • Architectural surfaces of the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro

Niethammer, Bernhard; Pieper, Jan (Thesis advisor); Raabe, Christian (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2015, 2016)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2015


Architectural surfaces of the Villa Imperiale in PesaroThe present study addresses the importance of plaster and colour in Renaissance architecture. The starting point of examination is the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro, which belongs to the incunabula of the Italian High Renaissance and which is still preserving a variety of architectural features until this day due to its history of owners and restorations. Especially the architect Girolamo Genga stands for the examined topic. Therefore, his career as well as his work will be presented exemplarily in this study.The Villa Imperiale is well known for its sophisticated fresco structures in relevant art historical literature. According to unanimous opinion of historical research, these structures are referring to the eventful life of Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. In this context mostly the question of authorship was discussed without regarding the exterior appearance in form of the architectural surfaces and their effect on the viewer. These simply don’t exist for the science of art until now. From this very narrowed point of view, the villa is seen as an ideal example of material shown architecture how it is often claimed for the Renaissance. However, can this claim really be sustained? To firstly examine this question, the existing theoretical knowledge of that time was examined under the viewpoint of plaster and colour in architecture. Hereby it was found that primarily G. A. Rusconi made some more than vague comments regarding this topic, even though especially plaster and colour were used as means of architectural design in the Renaissance. Besides Rusconi, it was S. Serlio who surprisingly made the usage of plaster and colour as a means of designing architectural frontages his subject of discussion. For him both materials either used individually or combined, were an effective instrument in architecture to standardise frontages and on the other side to individualise them. Regarding architectural treatises, it can be ascertained that a majority of them refused to interpret the different levels of meaning of plaster and colour in architecture and thus deny their relevance for the exterior appearance. Only the very precise information about production and application of plaster and colour highlight their unexpressed artistic and iconographic importance in former times. This information must also be known by the architect of the Villa Imperiale, Girolame Genga. He was born in 1476 in the little town Urbino in the Markes, which experienced the first period of political and artistic prosperity under the rule of Federico da Montefeltros. At that time whole areas of the town were built from anew and remodelled in the style of that time. Simultaneously, Urbino became one of the leading centres of Humanism in Italy. In this cosmopolitan environment the young Genga learned the art of pictorial design. Hereby especially multi-figured paintings belonged to his strengths whereas his attempts in architecture oftentimes appear weak and flat.However, over the years he changed over to produce stage- and festival decorations. The emphasis of his work was laid on creating illusionistic pictures as before. His paintings of sceneries and decorations should later shape his architectural work. Similar to his illusionistic paintings, his buildings have no plastic depth. This becomes only clear for the observers by viewing the interaction of light and shadow on the planar and large building surfaces.Remaining faithful to his formation, also the Villa Imperiale, his major work, got only weakly textured reliefs, which can only unfold their full potential in the interaction of light and shadow similar to a large stage. The integral part of this staging is the still rudimentary existing and very differentiated handling of architectural surfaces of the villa, which shows the artist’s background as a painter.The weakly textured relief of the villa Nuova is only perceivable by a monochrome, harmonised suspender beam in the play of the sun on its frontage. It marks a contrast to the older Villa Sforza, which was transformed into a "medieval estate" as Renovatio of an already existing Casa Rurale. Outwardly it looks like a well-fortified castell, inside like a valuable precious item, which tells the history of the owner to its visitors. For this, Genga used his education as an artist and created a connection between illusion and reality.Observing both buildings, various traces of former plaster can be detected. However as the covering plaster has diminished today it has mostly been ignored by art science. The plaster’s existence can alone be perceived by the mere size of the building, as for its construction millions of bricks would have to be produced on site. Since a process as such would have cost several years, demolition material was used, which can be clearly seen by observing the masonry bond. To create a uniform and cohesive surface - material was only means to an end - the façades got a light plaster that let the building appear like a large, prismatic body from nearby and far off. This picture again appears like a view of one of the various paintings of their master, like a piece of staffage architecture in a magnificent landscape.Now the question has to be raised whether this was a mere coincidence or whether it can be seen as a specific selection of designed surfaces. As it can be derived from the above mentioned literature, during the whole renaissance period the topic was not part of any theoretical consideration. Instead the impression is created as if the usage of plaster and colour was taken for granted and not being worth to discuss. Only in Alberti’s references evidence can be found indicating a preferred application of these materials. Primarily, the brick limited the production of certain forms of design due to its small formats. With the aid of plaster and colour remedy could be provided despite this deficit and even larger stone formats could be imitated in a deceptively real looking way. And the fact that Genga made use of these means goes without saying considering his education. Changing the focus away from his person, it can be stated that the application of plaster and colour has become one of the essential forms of design media in architecture of the Renaissance. Virtually all great architects of that time made use of them for an effective and simultaneously economic design of their buildings. By this, they gained independence from certain, only regionally available construction materials and were able to bring themselves more into line with antique architecture, which itself aimed to create effects with plastered or stuccoed surfaces it would never have achieved with mere material.On the scale of things it can be justifiably claimed that plaster and colour represent the actual exterior of a building and contribute essentially to the appearance of its architecture. They determine perception of the building’s architecture as well as its perspective. For this reason plaster and colour inseperably belong to the architectural plan and are in no sense exchangeable surfaces how modern architectural theory likes to proclaim.


  • Chair of History of Architecture [217110]
  • Department for Historic Building Conservation and Research [217220]