Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nocturnal Rome

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Church Domes
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Trajan's Column
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Santa Francesca Romana
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

ROME

You lived through two great epochs, proud capital.
The emperors adorned you, and the popes;
And all roads led to you, and all men heard of your glory
And bowed to your power;
And you borrowed the robes of beauty
And crowned yourself queen of the world.

Then Bernini came
And over you flourished his wand.
And straightway coiled and knotted draperies covered you
In volutes and curlycues.
Your jewels he bartered for paste,
Your brocades for shoddy,
And all his baroque followers made a mock of your beauty
With bombastic outcries and gesticulations.
Then at last, only yesterday,
Came young Italy to crown your dishonor
With her enormous and too-imperishable Monument.

Yet still, under the stuffs and the uproar,
One may rediscover your majesty 
In marble ruins,
And stern old medieval churches,
And renaissance pictures done in the grand style.

by Harriet Monroe (1860-1936), published in 1929 in Poetry, the magazine she founded and edited. Despite their self-image as arts revolutionaries, pioneer Modernists like Monroe carried forward a good deal of Victorian aesthetic baggage.  Sneering at the Roman Baroque had become a dead cliche by the time Monroe was putting it on paper in the Twenties.  But she was not wrong about one thing (and one that has never been disputed by anybody)  i.e., the stupefying ugliness of the Victor Emanuel II Monument at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, began in 1911 and completed in 1925.

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Dioscuro, Pollux, Piazza del Campidoglio
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Nocturnal Rome - Small Churches, Piazza Venezia
1934
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Rome - Between St Peter's and the Sistine Chapel
1936
lithograph
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Rome 
1927
woodcut
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Still-life and Street
1937
woodcut
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Sicily - Cave Dwellings near Sperlinga
1933
woodcut
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Sicily - Temple of Segesta
1932
wood-engraving
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Sicily - Selinunte
1935
woodcut
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Sicily - House in lava near Nunziata
1936
lithograph
National Gallery of Canada

M.C. Escher
Sicily - Mummified Priests in Gangi
1932
lithograph
National Gallery of Canada

Late 17th-century / Early 18th-century European Drawings

Giulio Benso
Abduction of the Sabine women
before 1665
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Giulio Benso
Adoration of the Shepherds
before 1665
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Andrea Pozzo
Religion assisted by Virtues, pointing to the portrait of Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy
1680s
drawing for engraving
British Museum

"According to the writer of the inscription, whose identity remains unknown, the drawing was sent from Rome by Francesco Maria Guelfi (1659-1744), a member of the novitiate of S. Andrea al Quirinale, who, like Andrea Pozzo himself, was a Jesuit.  It is an early preparatory study, in reverse and with minor differences, for the print engraved to a larger scale by Georges Tasnière (d. 1704), a French engraver who worked extensively for the House of Savoy.  . . .  The finished composition shows Painting, accompanied by a putto or genius, at work on a portrait of the young Duke Vittorio Amedeo II (1666-1732), whose likeness she takes from that of his ancestor, the Blessed Amedeo IX, Duke of Savoy, who died in 1472.  Watching Painting from nearby are Faith, Hope and Charity, with Justice, Fortitude and Prudence a little in the distance.  Among the principal differences between drawing and print are the appearance in the latter of two putti in the lower left (corresponding in position to the empty space in the lower right of the drawing) holding a tablet containing the coat of arms of Francesco Gonteri, who had commissioned the print; and of a further female allegory, lower right."

"As Giuseppe Dardanello has observed, the print is a thinly veiled piece of flattery of the then regent Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy, the young Duke's mother, who features as Religion in the composition.  Indeed, the 'Allegory' alludes to her government's cultivation of the arts and literature as well as her promotion of her family's interests.  Vittorio Amedeo II was only nine years old when, on 12 June 1675, he succeeded to the duchy at the death of his father, Carlo Emmanuele II.  Maria Giovanna Battista's regency was characterised by her detestation of France and a desire to encourage in her son the pursuit of pleasure so that she might extend her own power at his expense.  He eventually resisted this strategy and in due course took on the government of his own lands himself, becoming King of Sicily and Sardinia in 1713 and 1720, respectively.  The date "1688" on the inscription may not necessarily indicate the date of the drawing itself."

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
St Jerome writing in the wilderness
before 1670
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Carlo Maratti
Death of St Francis Xavier
ca. 1675
drawing for Gesù altarpiece
British Museum

"This is an early compositional study for Maratti's altarpiece in the Gesù, Rome (chapel in the right transept) commissioned by Padre (later Cardinal) Giovanni Francesco Negroni in 1674, but completed only in 1679.  The drawing and the painted altarpiece have few characteristics in common beyond their tall, somewhat narrow format, which would have been dictated from the start by Pietro da Cortona's altar design, conceived in the last year of his life.  Yet despite such significant discrepancies, Schaar argued persuasively for a firm connection between the painting and the drawing, in accordance with the early inscription at the bottom of the sheet.  It is likely, as Schaar pointed out, that the drawing was executed at a very early stage in the design process, prior to Andrea Carlone's involvement in the chapel decoration from July 1674, taking responsibility for the vault that was to have been assigned to Gaulli.  This can be deduced from the appearance of Christ in the sky, whose figure, subsequently incorporated in the programme of Carlone's frescoed vault showing the coronation of the saint by the Trinity, is not present in later compositional sketches or in the altarpiece itself.  In two intermediate compositional sketches, in the Accademia de San Fernando, Madrid and in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, the figure of Christ has been substituted by an image of the saint himself, being carried heavenward by angels.  In two further drawings, again in the Accademia de San Fernando, Madrid and in the Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf this motif has, in its turn, been replaced by putti and angels scattering flowers, as in the finished painting.  Presumably this change was effected after it was decided to sculpt, in stucco relief sited between the broken pediments of the elaborate frame, an effigy of the saint in glory in the process of making his way heavenward, thereby avoiding the need to duplicate this motif in the altarpiece itself.  Another compositional study exists in the Biblioteca National, Madrid, apparently showing the saint lying on the right, as in the British Museum drawing."


Francesco Cozza
Triumph of the Blessed Juan de Sahagún
before 1682
drawing
British Museum

"The attribution to Cozza was first proposed by Dr. Erich Schleier, and is supported by the drawing's resemblance in style to the few surviving studies certainly by the artist and by the similarity of the group of the Trinity to that in Cozza's painting of the 'Holy Woman Martyrs' in the Berlin Gallery.  The identification of the subject as the fifteenth-century Spanish Benedictine saint Juan de Sahagún is due to Dr. Jennifer Montagu.  Juan de Sahagún, or Giovanni di S. Facondon was born in Sahagún (León, Spain) before 1430, transferring to Salamanca in the 1450s, where he died in 1479; he was beatified in 1601 and canonised in 1691.  The Blessed Juan de Sahagún is represented in the drawing with his many attributes: the chalice and host symbolise his extraordinary devotion to the Eucharist; the Demon of Discord at his feet, accompanied by the discarded arms lying on the ground, allude to the civil disturbances in Salamanca which he helped to quell; the belt he is undoing from his waist is an allusion to his rescuing a boy from a well by hoisting him up with his belt; and the woman running in the background, holding a cup with a serpent inside it and putting a finger to her lips, is the woman of loose morals from whom he was able to detach a nobleman and who, in revenge, gave him a slow poison, from which he died.  This violent death seems to justify the martyr's palm held by one of the angels at upper right; the other holds a lily, presumably referring to his chastity.  From the drawing's painstaking finish, and from the blank space beneath it, which was probably intended to carry an inscription, it seems likely that the drawing was made for a print, though no such print has yet been identified. 

Claude Lorrain
Forge of Vulcan with three cyclops-workers and Vulcan on a throne - scene from the Aeneid
before 1682
drawing
British Museum

Paolo Gerolamo Piola
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
ca. 1690-94
wash drawing
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas

Pietro Lucatelli
St Alexander of Bergamo and St Bartholomew
ca. 1690-97
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Filippo Lauri
Monk ordering destruction of pagan statues
before 1690
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Giuseppe Passeri
David and Abigail
ca. 1670-1700
drawing
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Giuseppe Passeri
Assumption of the Virgin
ca. 1686
drawing
British Museum

"This is a preparatory study for a print, in the same direction, by Arnold van Westerhout (1651-1725).  The composition of the present drawing is based on two earlier painted versions of the subject by Passeri.  One, datable 1686, is a fresco, in square format, in S. Maria in Aracoeli, Rome, and shows the Virgin almost full face, with two angels to the left particularly similar in pose to their counterparts in the later, engraved version.  The second is an upright rectangular canvas of approximately the same date as the fresco, in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Rimini, in which the Virgin turns to the right, as in the engraving.  In each step, from fresco to painting to engraving, the composition was simplified and the number of putti and angels reduced."

Giuseppe Passeri
Christ driving money-changers from the temple
ca. 1710
drawing
Royal Collection, Windsor

Giuseppe Passeri
Angel appearing to Hagar and Ishmael
before 1714
drawing
British Museum

 notes on the drawings are by Nicholas Turner, from Italian Drawings in the British Museum: Roman Baroque Drawings, ca. 1620-ca. 1700 (British Museum Press, 1999)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anthony Blunt on the Inquisition and Veronese

Paolo Veronese
Feast in the House of Levi
1573
oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

"In religious painting the Church did not limit its attention to the exclusion of classical or pagan elements.  It disapproved of the introduction of the secular in any form.  We are lucky enough to have the full details of one incident in which it took action against an artist in this matter, and the account is worth quoting at some length, since it throws light on the official view and on the state of mind of a certain group of artists.  In July 1573 Paul Veronese was summoned before the Tribunal of Inquisition to defend his painting of the 'Feast in the House of Levi' executed for the refectory of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and now in the Academy in Venice.  The main objections made by the Inquisitors to the painting were that Veronese had introduced into it dogs, dwarfs, a fool with a parrot, men armed in the German manner, and a servant whose nose is bleeding  all details which are not mentioned in the Biblical story and are not suitable to a religious painting.  Veronese at first argues ingeniously that Levi was a rich man and no doubt had servants, soldiers and dwarfs about him, but he is rapidly forced to his real explanation.  When he was asked whom he supposed to have been actually present at this feast, he answered: 'I believe that Christ and the apostles were there.  But, if in a painting there is space left over, I fill it with figures from my imagination.'   And again: 'My commission was to make this picture beautiful according to my judgement, and it seemed to me that it was big and capable of holding many figures.'  His explanations were not accepted and he was ordered to make certain alterations in detail, which he duly carried out.  It is typical of the methods of the Counter-Reformation that the Inquisition in this case was satisfied with certain changes of detail which left the painting exactly as worldly in feeling as it was before.  But the replies of Veronese are even more instructive.  His ideas are entirely those of the Renaissance.  He thinks in terms of beauty not of spiritual truth, and his object was to produce a magnificent pageant painting, not to illustrate a religious story.  The explanation is that, compared with most other parts of Italy, Venice was little affected by the Tridentine phase of the Counter-Reformation.  The Jesuits were never firmly established there and the Inquisition was subject to State control.  Certain painters, like Tintoretto, absorbed the new ideas and their paintings are filled with the turbulent spirituality of the Counter-Reformers, but they were in a minority, and it was still possible in the later sixteenth century for artists like Veronese or Palladio to work on principles which are fundamentally those of the Renaissance."  

from the chapter on The Council of Trent and Religious Art in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Paolo Veronese
Feast in the House of Levi (detail)
1573
oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veronese
Feast in the House of Levi (detail)
1573
oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veronese
Feast in the House of Levi (detail)
1573
oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veronese
Feast in the House of Levi (detail)
1573
oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Anthony Blunt on the Counter-Reformation and Michelangelo

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement 
ca. 1790-1800
hand-colored engraving by James Cole, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"But from the more general point of view the essential characteristic of the earlier stage of the Counter-Reformation is that it is an attempt to return to the ecclesiastical domination which the Church had held during the Middle Ages.  In the intellectual field this meant that the movement was opposed to all the achievements of Renaissance Humanism.  The individual rationalism of Humanism had played a considerable part in the development of the Reformation, and Humanism was therefore anathema to the Counter-Reformers.  It was their aim to undo all that the Renaissance had achieved, and to get back to a feudal and medieval state of affairs.  The movement was just as much a Counter-Renaissance as a Counter-Reformation, and it set itself to destroy the human scale of values in which the Humanists believed and to replace it once again with a theological scale such as had been maintained during the Middle Ages.  . . . "

"The extraordinary attention which critics and theologians paid to details in religious paintings can best be seen in the censures of Gilio da Fabriano on Michelangelo's Last Judgement or in Borghini's  comments on Florentine Mannerist paintings, particularly on Pontormo's frescoes in S. Lorenzo.  Gilio's criticisms go farther toward the ludicrous than Borghini's, for he was a priest and a professional theologian and took purely doctrinal errors intensely to heart, but Borghini comes very close to him and proves that laymen and not only priests were profoundly influenced by the Tridentine reforms.  A few of Gilio's objections to the Last Judgement are perhaps worth quoting in detail to give the tone of his dialogue.  Michelangelo, he says, has represented the angels without wings.  Certain of the figures have draperies blown about by the wind, in spite of the fact that at the Day of Judgement wind and storm will have ceased.  The trumpeting angels are shown all standing together, whereas it is written that they shall be sent unto the four corners of the earth.  Among the dead rising from the earth some are still bare skeletons, while others are already clothed with flesh, though according to the Biblical version the general Resurrection will take place instantaneously."

Michelangelo-
The Last Judgement - Trumpeting Angels
1545
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
 The Last Judgement - Resurrecting figures rising from the Earth
ca. 1540-50
anonymous engraving, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

" . . .  Gilio also protests against the fact that Christ is shown standing, instead of seated upon His throne of glory.  One of the speakers justifies this on the grounds that it is symbolical, but his defence is disallowed by the leader of the argument in a sentence which sums up the whole feeling of the dialogue: 'Your opinion may be right, that he intended to interpret the words of the Gospel mystically and allegorically; but first of all the literal meaning must be taken, whenever this can properly be done, and then the others, keeping to the letter as often as possible.'  This represents not only the attitude of Gilio to Michelangelo but that of his whole generation to the great figures of thirty years before."  

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Christ in Judgement
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz
after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Christ in Judgement
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"The reasons why the Counter-Reformers had to fear the worship of classical antiquity have already been explained, and it is not therefore surprising to find Gilio da Fabriano objecting to Michelangelo's introduction of Charon into the Last Judgement.  It is agreed in the dialogue that Michelangelo was here acting on the authority of Dante, but this defence is not allowed to stand, and it is typical of the change in spirit in the Church that what would not have been challenged in the time of Dante could not be risked in 1560." 


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Damned carried to Hell in Charon's boat
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"As in the disputes over heresy, so in those over decency, Michelangelo's Last Judgement came in for the most violent attacks.  Its position in the Sistine Chapel gave it an importance which made it a good test case, and in the question of nudity it provided ample material for discussion.  It was not only exposed to written attacks, but on several occasions was in danger of complete destruction and only escaped with serious mutilation.  Even before it was finished, the master of the ceremonies to Paul III, Biagio da Cesena, protested against it; but the Pope stood by the artist, who took an easy revenge by painting his opponent as Minos in Hell [the figure in the stipple-engraving directly above at bottom right corner, entwined by a serpent which bites his genitals].  Paul IV threatened to destroy the whole fresco and finally ordered Daniele da Volterra to paint draperies over some of the figures.  The violence which Michelangelo's work aroused is shown by a Florentine criticism, quoted by Symonds, in which the artist is described as 'that inventor of filthiness.'  Pius IV was still dissatisfied and had the draperies increased in number, while Clement VIII was only prevented from completely destroying the painting by the appeals of the Academy of St. Luke.  Paul V also had some figures repainted; and it was on this occasion that El Greco offered to replace the whole fresco with one 'modest and decent, and no less well painted than the other.'  Clement XIII had yet more draperies added in 1762, and rumours were current in 1936 that Pius XI intended to continue the work."  


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Demons crouching at the gates of Hell
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz. after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of the Damned descending to Hell
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Figures of the Damned
ca. 1606-72
drawing by Isaac Fuller after etching by Jan de Bisschop
after drawing by Giorgio Vasari
 after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Damned Soul set upon by Demons
ca. 1830
lithograph by M. Eichholzer, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of the Damned descending to Hell
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of Saints adoring Christ
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Female Saints adoring Christ
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - the Blessed ascending to Heaven
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - the Blessed ascending to Heaven
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz
after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

– quoted passages are from the chapter on The Council of Trent and Religious Art in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Anthony Blunt on Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Leon Battista Alberti
Self-portrait
ca. 1435
bronze relief-medallion
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

"Alberti was the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant.  He was born in 1404 in Genoa, where his father had moved after the decree of exile which had been passed on the whole Alberti family, one of the richest and most powerful in Florence.  He was educated in the north of Italy, principally in Bologna, where he studied Law.  He seems to have gone to Florence in 1428, when the ban on his family had been lifted, and the next few years, which must have been of vital importance in his formation, coincided with the end of that period when Florence was dominated by the big merchants, who had achieved a greater power than they had held for nearly a century."

"The rest of Alberti's life was spent for the most part either in Florence or following the Papal Court, in which he held a secretarial post from 1432 to 1464.  Papal policy was at this period increasingly concentrated on central Italy, and relied largely on the merchant class and its support.  The outlook, too, in Papal circles was Humanist in character, so that Alberti found there a similar atmosphere to that of his own city, Florence."

"In his width of knowledge, as well as in his rational and scientific approach, Alberti was typical of the early Humanists.  He worked apparently with equal ease in the fields of philosophy, science, classical learning, and the arts.  He wrote pamphlets and treatises on ethics, love, religion, sociology, law, mathematics, and different branches of the natural sciences.  He also wrote verses, and his intimacy with the Classics was so great that two of his own works, a comedy and a dialogue in the manner of Lucian, were accepted as newly discovered writings of the ancients.  In the arts, he practised and wrote about painting, sculpture, and architecture." 

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Relief detail
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

"The outstanding characteristic of Alberti's life is this rationalism, based more on ancient philosophy than on the teachings of Christianity.  But this does not imply that he was opposed to Christianity.  On the contrary he constantly pays his respects to it, but it is before a curious form of Christianity that he bows, a typical Humanist religion in which elements of pagan and classical philosophy blend without any difficulty with Christian dogmas, in which churches are referred to as 'Temples' and in which sometimes 'the gods' in the plural seem to receive as much honour as the Christian God.  With this humanized religion Alberti felt himself entirely at home, but he will not give up the right to individual judgement on every matter.  Even the ancients, for whom he has a deeper reverence than for any other persons, human or divine, he treats on a level and does not feel himself obliged to follow either their precept or their example if his own judgement tells him otherwise."

"We shall find many of Alberti's ideas on these general philosophical and political subjects reflected in his theoretical writings in the aesthetic field, but before we go on to them we must consider the actual works which he left behind him in the arts.  In painting and sculpture nothing survives from his hand, but in architecture his contribution is considerable.  His position is that of a younger member of the group which, under the leadership of Brunelleschi, dominated Florence at the time of his return there in 1428.  He carried on their work and developed many of their principles a stage further."  

"Alberti was a more fully self-conscious classicist than Brunelleschi and his contemporaries.  He was more learned in the study of antiquity than they, more scientific in his application of the archaeological knowledge which he had acquired.  In architecture he eliminates the last traces of the Gothic, which were still so evident in Brunelleschi, especially in the dome of the cathedral.  He was far more scrupulous in his treatment of the orders; and in the Palazzo Rucellai he adapted them for use on a façade of more than one story, by using a single order for each  a method which was later universally adopted."  

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, Apse
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, 
Façade
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, detail
1467
San Pancrazio Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

"Alberti does not explicitly define and describe this beauty which is not attainable in art by mere imitation.  In the treatise on painting he does not pursue the matter, but evidently assumes that his readers will know beauty when they see it.  In the later and much more elaborate De Re Aedificatoria he gives two definitions of beauty which are roughly those to be found in Vitruvius.  In one case he describes beauty as 'a certain regular harmony of all the parts of a thing of such a kind that nothing could be added or taken away or altered without making it less pleasing.'  In the second definition he says: 'Beauty is a kind of harmony and concord of all the parts to form a whole which is constructed according to a fixed number, and a certain relation and order, as symmetry, the highest and most perfect law of nature, demands.'  Perhaps more important is another passage in the same treatise in which he expands the idea, again with reference to architecture:  'What pleases us in the most beautiful and lovely things springs either from a rational inspiration of the mind, or from the hand of the artist or is produced by nature from materials.  The business of the mind is choice, division, ordering, and things of that kind, which give dignity to the work.  The business of the human hand is the collecting, adding, taking away, outlining, careful working, and things of that kind, which give grace to the work.  From nature things acquire heaviness, lightness, thickness, and purity.'"

–  quoted passages are from the chapter on Alberti in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti never could have seen the realization of his stupendous barrel-vault above.  He died the year construction began, and it took another twenty years to complete.  That he left such monuments behind him  even that his name is till regularly invoked today in tones of awe  weighs against the blankness of his personal annihilation only in imagination.