Person: Alberti, Leone Battista
Leone Alberti was an Italian mathematician who wrote the first general treatise on the laws of perspective and also wrote a book on cryptography containing the first example of a frequency table.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Leone Battista attended a school in Padua then, from 1421, he attended the University of Bologna where he studied law but did not enjoy this topic.
- They shared an interest in mathematics and, through Brunelleschi, Alberti became interested in architecture.
- In 1430 Alberti began working for a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Going to Rome was highly significant for Alberti, for there he fell in love with the ancient classical architecture which he saw all around.
- Alberti served Pope Eugene IV but this was a period of considerable weakness for the Papacy and military action against the Pope forced Eugene IV out of Rome on several occasions.
- Alberti left Rome with the Pope at such times and spent time at the court in Rimini.
- Nicholas V, who was Pope from 1447 to 1455, was an enthusiast for classical studies and produced an environment much suited to Alberti who presented him with his book on architecture De re aedificatoria in 1452.
- Alberti modelled the book on the classical work by Vitruvius and copied his format by dividing his text into ten books.
- The methods of fortification which Alberti set out in the text were highly influential and were used in the fortification of towns for several hundred years.
- In 1447, the year Nicholas V became Pope, Alberti became a canon of the Metropolitan Church of Florence and Abbot of Sant' Eremita of Pisa.
- Alberti studied the representation of 3-dimensional objects and, in 1435, wrote the first general treatise De Pictura on the laws of perspective.
- This was first published in Latin but in the following year Alberti published an Italian version under the title Della pittura.
- Alberti also worked on maps (again involving his skill at geometrical mappings) and he collaborated with Paolo Toscanelli who supplied Columbus with the maps for his first voyage.
- Polyalphabetic substitution was introduced into diplomatic practice by Alberti, who also invented a simple mechanical device to speed up coding and decoding, consisting of a fixed and a movable ring.
- Alberti is best known, however, as an architect.
- We mentioned above that Alberti spent time in Rimini and it was there that he designed the facade of the Tempio Malatestiano, his first attempt to put his theoretical ideas about architecture into practice.
- It was again Alberti who found the solution that remained influential up to our own days.
- And yet Alberti stuck to Brunelleschi's programme and used classical forms for the decoration of the facade.
- The Church of S Andrea, Mantua, which Gombrich comments on in the above quote, was designed by Alberti in 1470 and work on it began two years later.
- Alberti did not live to see his design take shape for he died in the year in which building started and by the time the facade and portico were in position he had been dead for 18 years.
- Alberti made numerous innovations in his design with the traditional division into nave and aisles discarded in favour of providing a continuous space.
- There is certainly a mathematical flavour to the way that Alberti has sequences of small and large chapels alternating along the sides of the main space.
- In addition to the Church of S Andrea, Mantua, Alberti had earlier articulated the facade of the Santa Maria Novella in Florence, which he began work on in 1447, and the Palazzo Rucellai, mentioned in the quote of Gombrich above.
- Alberti wrote some autobiographical notes which survive in which he boasts of his physical abilities.
- Even if untrue, these delightful quotes tell us much of Alberti's personality.
Born 18 February 1404, Genoa, French Empire (now Italy). Died 3 April 1472, Rome, Papal States (now Italy).
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Tags relevant for this person:
Architecture, Geometry, Origin Italy
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive