Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Book VI
[image ALT: a blank space]
This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, let me know!
Drawings and other material remain to be added.

[image ALT: link to next section]

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio:
de Architectura, Book VII


[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The antientsº by means of writing established the wise and useful practice of handing down to posterity their sentiments on different subjects, so that not only those might not be lost, but that by their works continually increasing, a gradual advancement might be made to the highest point of learning. Our obligations to them therefore are great and many, from their not having sullenly kept their knowledge to themselves, but on the contrary, having recorded their opinions on every subject.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Had they omitted to do this, we should not have known what happened in Troy, nor the sentiments of Thales, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes, and other physiologists respecting the nature of things; nor the system of ethics laid down by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus and other philosophers. Of the actions of Croesus, Alexander, Darius, and other kings, and the principles on which they acted, we should have been uninformed, unless the antientsº had handed them down to posterity in their writings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. As we are indebted to these, so we are on the contrary bound to censure those, who, borrowing from others, publish as their own that of which they are not the authors; not less are they censurable, who, distorting the meaning of an author, glory in their perversion of it; indeed they deserve punishment for their dishonest conduct. It is said that this practice was strictly punished by the antients;º I do not therefore think it foreign to the purpose to relate from history the result of some examples made by them.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The Attalic kings, stimulated by their great love for philology, having established an excellent public library at Pergamum, ºPtolemy, actuated by zeal and great desire for the furtherance of learning, collected with no less care, a similar one for the same purpose at Alexandria, about the same period. When by dint of great labour he had completed it, he was not satisfied, unless, like the seed of the earth, it was to go on increasing. He therefore instituted games to the Muses and Apollo, and in imitation of those in which wrestlers contended, he decreed rewards and honors to the victorious in literature.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. These being established, when the time of the games arrived, learned judges were to be selected for the decisions. The king having chosen six, and not readily finding a seventh, applied to those persons who had the care of the library, to ascertain whether they knew any one fit for the purpose. They told him that there was a certain man named Aristophanes, who with great labour and application was day after day reading through the books in the library. At the celebration of the games, Aristophanes was summoned and took his seat among those allotted for the judges.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. The first that contended were the poets, who recited their compositions, and the people unanimously signified to the judges the piece which they preferred. When the judges were required to decide, six of them agreed to award the first prize to him who had most pleased the multitude, and the second prize to some other candidate. The opinion of Aristophanes being required, he observed that the best poet had pleased the people the least.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. The king and the whole multitude expressed their great indignation at this opinion, but he rose and besought that they would allow him to speak. Silence being obtained, he told them that one only of the competitors was a poet, that the others had recited other men's compositions, and that the judges ought not to decide upon thefts but upon compositions. The people were astonished, and the king in doubt; but Aristophanes relying on his memory, quoted a vast number of books on certain shelves in the library, and comparing them with what had been recited, made the writers confess that they had stolen from them. The king then ordered them to be proceeded against for the theft, and after their condemnation dismissed them with ignominy. Aristophanes, however, was honoured with great rewards, and appointed librarian.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. Some time afterwards Zoilus of Macedonia, who assumed the cognomen of Homeromastix,º came to Alexandria, and recited before the king his compositions in derogation of the Iliad and Odyssey. When Ptolemy perceived that the father of poetry and all philology, whose works are in esteem throughout all nations, was, because out of the reach of reply, abused by this man, he was enraged and did not deign to answer him. Zoilus, however, remaining some time longer in the country, oppressed with poverty, besought the king to bestow something on him.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. The king is said to have answered, that Homer, who had been dead more than a thousand years, had been the means during that period of affording a livelihood to thousands; that he, therefore, who boasted that he possessed greater talent, ought to be able to support, not only himself, but many other persons. Having been condemned as a parricide, his death is variously related. Some have written that he was crucified by Philadelphus, some that he was stoned at Chios, others that he was burnt alive at Smyrna. Whichever of these circumstances occurred he richly deserved it, for that person does not seem to have merited a better fate, who reflects on those that are beyond the reach of hearing and explaining what is said of their writings.º

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 10. I, therefore, O Cæsar, do not publish this work, merely prefixing my name to a treatise which of right belongs to others, nor think of acquiring reputation by finding fault with the works of any one. On the contrary, I own myself under the highest obligations to all those authors, who by their great ingenuity have at various times on different subjects, furnished us with copious materials; from which, as from a fountain, converting them to our own use, we are enabled to write more fully and expediently, and, trusting to whom we are prepared to strike out something new.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 11. Thus adhering to the principles which I found in those of their works adapted to my purpose, I have endeavoured to advance further. Agatharcus, at the time when Æschylus taught at Athens the rules of tragic poetry, was the first who contrived scenery, upon which subject he left a treatise. This led Democritus and Anaxagoras, who wrote thereon, to explain how the points of sight and distance ought to guide the lines, as in nature, to a centre; so that by means of pictorial deception, the real appearances of buildings appear on the scene, which, painted on a flat vertical surface, seem, nevertheless, to advance and recede.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 12. Silenus afterwards produced a treatise on the symmetry of Doric buildings; Theodorus, on the Doric temple of Jupiter in Samos; Ctesiphonº and Metagenes, on that of the Ionic order in the temple of Diana at Ephesus. Pythiusº wrote a volume on the Ionic temple of Minerva at Priene, and Ictinus and Carpion on the Doric temple of Minerva at Athens, on the Acropolis; Theodorus Phoceus on the vaulted temple at Delphi; Philo on the symmetry of temples, and on the arsenal at the Piræus; Hermogenes on the Ionic pseudodipteral temple at Magnesia, and the monopteral one of Father Bacchus at Teos. Argelius wrote on the proportions of buildings of the Corinthian order, and on the Ionic temple of Æsculapius at Tralles, which he is said to have built; Satyrus and Phyteus, who were extremely fortunate, on the Mausoleum,

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 13. to which some contributed their exertions whose talents have been admired in all ages, and who have gained lasting reputation. Each front was assigned to a separate artist, to ornament and try his skill thereon. Those employed were Leochares, Bryaxes, Scopas, Praxiteles; some say that Timotheus was employed. The great art displayed by these men, caused this work to be ranked among the seven wonders.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 14. Besides these, many of less celebrity have written precepts on proportions, as Nexaris, Theocydes, Demophilos, Pollis, Leonides, Silanion, Melampus, Sarnacus, and Euphranor. Many on mechanics, as Cliades, Archytas, Archimedes, Ctesibius, Nymphodorus, Philo Byzantius, Diphilus, Democles, Charidas, Polyidus, Phyros, Agesistratus. From the commentaries of these, what I thought useful I have thrown together, and that the more especially because I observe that on this branch the Greeks have published much, and our own countrymen very little. Fussitius,º however, and he was the first, produced an excellent work on the subject. Terentius Varro, in his work on the nine sciences, includes one on architecture. Publius Septimius wrote two.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 15. Besides these, I do not recollect any one that up to this time has written, though we have formerly produced great architects, and such as were well qualified to have written with elegance. In fact the foundations of the temple of Jupiter Olympius at Athens were prepared by Antistates, Callæschrus, Antimacides and Porinus, architects employed by Pisistratus, after whose death, on account of the troubles which affected the republic, the work was abandoned. About two hundred years afterwards, king Antiochus, having agreed to supply the money for the work, a Roman citizen, named Cossutius, designed with great skill and taste the cell, the dipteral arrangement of the columns, the cornices, and other ornaments. This work is not only universally esteemed, but is accounted one of the rarest specimens of magnificence.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 16. For in four places only are the temples embellished with work in marble, and from that circumstance the places are very celebrated, and their excellence and admirable contrivance is pleasing to the gods themselves. The first is the temple of Diana at Ephesus, of the Ionic order, built by Ctesiphonº of Gnosus, and his son Metagenes, afterwards completed by Demetrius, a priest of Diana, and Pæonius, the Ephesian. The second is the temple of Apollo, at Miletus, also of the Ionic order, built by the above-named Pæonius, and Daphnis, the Milesian. The third is the Doric temple of Ceres and Proserpine, at Eleusis, the cell of which was built by Ictinus, of extraordinary dimensions, for the greater convenience of the sacrifices, and without an exterior colonnade.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 17. This structure, when Demetrius Phalereus governed Athens, was turned by Philus into a prostyle temple, with columns in front, and by thus enlarging the vestibule, he not only provided accommodation for the noviciates, but gave great dignity to its appearance. Lastly, in Athens it is said that Cossutius was the architect of the temple of Jupiter Olympius, which was of large dimensions, and of the Corinthian order and proportions, as above mentioned. From the pen of this man no treatise is extant; nor is it from him alone that such would have been less desirable, than from Caius Mutius, who with great science, and according to the just rules of art, completed the cell, columns, and entablature of the temples​a of Honour and Virtue, near the trophy of Marius, a work, which, had it been of marble, and thereby endowed with the splendour and richness which the material must have added, would have been reckoned among the first and most excellent temples.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 18. It therefore appears that our own country can boast of as great architects as Greece herself, many of them even within our own times, but since few have left behind them any treatises, I thought it improper to omit any thing, and to treat of the different branches in different books. In the sixth book I have given rules for building private houses; in this, the seventh, I shall describe their finishing, and how that is to be rendered both beauti­ful and durable.

Chapter 1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I shall begin with pavements, which are the principal of the finishings, and should be executed with the greatest care and attention to their solidity. If the pavement be made on the ground itself, the soil must be examined, to ascertain that it solid throughout, then over it is to be spread and levelled a layer of rubbish. But if the whole or any part of the earth be loose, it is to be made solid with a rammer. In timber floors care must be taken that no wall be built under them, so as to touch the under side of the floors; but that a space be rather left between them and the floors. For if they be made solid, the timber of the floors drying and settling, whilst the wall remains in its place, will cause fissures in the pavement to the right and left.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Care must also be taken that holm timber be not used with oak; for as soon as oak becomes damp, it warps, and causes cracks in the pavement. If, however, holm is not to be had, and on that account it be absolutely necessary to use oak, it should be cut very thin, by which means its power will be diminished, and it will be more easily fastened with the nails. Then through the edges of the boards two nails are to be driven into every joist, so that no part of the edges may warp. I do not mention the chestnut, beech, or the farnus, because neither of them are durable. The floor being prepared, fern, if at hand, and if not, straw, is to be spread over it, so that the timber may not be injured by the lime.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. On this is placed a layer of stones, each of which is not to be less than will fill a man's hand. These being spread, the pavement is laid thereon. If the rubbish be new, let three parts of it be mixed with one of lime; but if from old materials, the proportion is five parts to two of lime. It is then laid on, and brought to a solid consistence with wooden beaters and the repeated blows of a number of men, till its thickness is about three quarters of a foot. Over this is spread the upper layer, composed of three parts of potsherd to one of lime, of a thickness not less than six inches. Over the upper layer the pavement is laid to rule and level, whether composed of slabs or of tesseræ.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. When laid with their proper inclination, they are to be rubbed off, so that, if in slabs, there may be no rising edges of the ovals, triangles, squares, or hexagons, but that the union of the different joints may be perfectly smooth. If the pavement be composed of tesseræ, the edges of them should be completely smoothed off, or the work cannot be said to be well finished. So, also, the Tiburtine tiles, peaked at the points, should be laid with care, that there may be neither hollows on them, nor ridges, but that they be flat, and rubbed to a regular surface. After the rubbing and polishing, marble dust is strewed over it, and over that a coat of lime and sand.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. Pavements are, however, more fit to be used in the open air, inasmuch as timbers expanding in a moist atmosphere, and contracting in a dry one, or sagging in the middle, cause defects in the pavement by their settlements. Moreover, frosts and ice soon ruin them. But as they are sometimes required, they must be made as follows. Over the first flooring, boards, others crossing them, must be laid, fastened with nails; thus giving a double covering to the beams. The pavement is composed of two parts of fresh rubbish, one of potsherds, and two of lime.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. After the first layer of rubbish on the floor, this composition is spread over it, and pounded into a mass not less than a foot thick. The upper layer being then spread, as above directed, the pavement, consisting of tesseræ, each about two inches thick, is laid, with an inclination of two inches to ten feet:º if thus executed, and afterwards properly rubbed, it will not be liable to defects. In order that the mortar at the joints may not suffer by the frost, at the approach of winter every year it should be saturated with the dregs of oil, which will prevent the frost affecting it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. If extraordinary care be required, the pavement is covered with tiles two feet square,º properly jointed, having small channel, of the size of an inch, cut on each edge. These are filled with lime tempered with oil, the edges being rubbed and pressed together. Thus the lime in the channels growing hard, suffers neither water nor any thing else to penetrate. After this preparation the upper layer is spread and beaten with sticks. Over this either large tesseræ or angle tiles are laid at the inclination above directed, and work so executed will not be easily injured.

Chapter 2

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Having given the necessary directions in respect of pavement, we shall explain the method of stuccoing. This requires that the lime should be of the best quality, and tempered a long time before it is wanted for use; so that if any of it be not burnt enough, the length of time employed in slaking it may bring the whole mass to the same consistence. If the lime be not thoroughly slaked, but used fresh, it will when spread throw out blisters, from the crude particles it contains, which, in execution, break and destroy the smoothness of the stucco.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. When the slaking is properly conducted, and care taken in the preparation of the materials, a hatchet is used, similar to that with which timber is hewn, and the lime is to be chopped with it, as it lies in the heap. If the hatchet strikes upon lumps, the lime is not sufficiently slaked, and when the iron of the instrument is drawn out dry and clean, it shews that the lime is poor and weak; but if, when extracted, the iron exhibits a glutinous substance adhering to it, that not only indicates the richness and thorough slaking of the lime, but also shews that it has been well tempered. The scaffolding being then prepared, the compartments of the rooms are executed, except the ceilings be straight.

Chapter 3

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. When arched ceilings are introduced, they must be executed as follows. Parallel ribs are set up, not more thantwo feet apart: those of cypress are preferable, because fir is soon injured by the rot and age. These ribs being got out to the shape of the curve, they are fixed to the ties of the flooring or roof, as the case may require, with iron nails. The ties should be of wood not liable to injury from rot, nor age nor damp, such as box, juniper, olive, heart of oak, cypress, and the like, common oak always excepted, which, from its liability to warp, causes cracks in the work whereon it is employed.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The ribs having been fixed, Greek reeds, previously bruised, are tied to them, in the required form, with cords made of the Spanish broom. On the upper side of the arch a composition of lime and sand is to be laid, so that if any water fall from the floor above or from the roof, it may not penetrate. If there be no supply of Greek reeds, the common slender marsh-reeds may be substituted, tied together with string in bundles of appropriate length, but of equal thickness, taking care that the distance from one ligature to another be not more than two feet. These are bound with cord to the ribs, as above directed, and made fast with wooden pins. All the remaining work is to be performed as above described.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The arches being prepared and interwoven with the reeds, a coat is to be laid on the underside. The sand is afterwards introduced on it, and it is then polished with chalk or marble. After polishing, the cornices are to be run along the springing: they are to be as slender and light as possible; for, when large, they settle by their own weight, and are incapable of sustaining themselves. But little plaster should be used in them, and the stuff should be of uniform quality, such as marble-dust; for the former, by setting quickly, does not allow the work to dry of one consistence. The practice of the antients,º in arched ceilings, is also to be avoided; for their cornices are dangerous, from their great projection and consequent weight.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. Some cornices are plain, others of carved, work. In small private rooms, or where fire or many lights are used, they should be plain, to allow of being more easily cleaned; in summer rooms, and exedræ, where the smoke is in such small quantity that it can do no injury, carved cornices may be used; for white works, from the delicacy of their colour, are always soiled, not only with the smoke of the house itself, but also with that of the neighbouring buildings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The cornices being completed, the first coat of the wall is to be laid on as roughly as possible, and, while drying, the sand coat thereon; setting it out, in the direction of the length, by the rule and square; in that of the height, perpendicularly; and in respect of the angles perfectly square; inasmuch as plastering, thus finished, will be proper for the reception of paintings. When the work has dried, a second and afterwards a third coat is laid on. The sounder the sand coat is, the more durable will the work be.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. When, besides the first coat, three sand coats at least have been laid, the coat of marble-dust follows; and this is to be so prepared, that when used, it does not stick to the trowel, but easily comes away from the iron. Whilst the stucco is drying, another thin coat is to be laid on: this is to be well worked and rubbed, and then still another, finer than the last. Thus, with three sand coats, and the same number of marble-dust coats, the wall will be rendered solid, and not liable to cracks or other defects.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. When the work is well beaten, and the under coats made solid, and afterwards well smoothed by the hardness and whiteness of the marble-powder, it throws out the colours mixed therein with great brilliancy. Colours, when used with care on damp stucco, do not fade, but are very durable; because the lime being deprived of its moisture in the kiln, and having become porous and dry, readily imbibes whatever is placed on it. From their different natures the various particles unite in the mixture, and, wherever applied, grow solid; and when dry, the whole seems composed of one body of the same quality.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. Stucco, therefore, when well executed, does not either become dirty, or lose its colour when washed, unless it has been carelessly done, or the colour laid on after the work was dry: if however executed as above directed, it will be strong, brilliant, and of great durability. When only one coat of sand and one of marble-dust are used, it is easily broken, from its thinness; and is not, on that account, capable of acquiring a brilliant appearance.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. As a silver mirror, made from a thin plate, reflects the image confusedly and weakly, whilst from a thick solid plate it takes a high polish, and reflects the image brilliantly and strongly; so plastering, when thin in substance, not only cracks, but soon decays. On the contrary, that which is well covered with plaster and stucco, and closely laid on, when well polished, not only shines, but reflects to the spectators the images falling on it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 10. The plasterers of the Greeks thus not only make their work hard, by adhering to the above directions, but, when the plaster is mixed, cause it to be beaten with wooden staves by a great number of men, and use it after this preparation. Hence, some persons, cutting slabs of plaster from the antientº walls, use them for tables; and the pieces of plaster so cut out for tables and mirrors, are, of themselves, very beauti­ful in appearance.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 11. If stucco be used on timber partitions, which are necessarily constructed with spaces between the upright and cross pieces, and thence, when smeared with the clay, the reeds, by the side of each other, are to be nailed thereon with bossed nails; and clay having been laid over these, and another layer of reeds nailed on the former, but crossed in their direction, so that one set is nailed upright, and the other horizontally; then, as above described, the sand and marble coats and finishing are to be followed up. The double row of reeds thus crossed on walls prevents all cracks and fissures.

Chapter 4

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I have explained how plastering is executed in dry situations; now I shall give directions for it, that it may be durable in those that are damp. First, in apartments on the ground-floor; a height of three feet from the pavement is to have its first coat of potsherds, instead of sand, so that this part of the plastering may not be injured by the damp. But if a wall is liable to continual moisture, another thin wall should be carried up inside it, as far within as the case will admit; and between the two walls a cavity is to be left lower than the level of the floor of the apartment, with openings for air. At the upper part, also, openings must be left; for if the damp do not evaporate through these holes above and below, it will extend to the new work. The wall is then to be plastered with the potsherd mortar, made smooth, and then polished with the last coat.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. If, however, there be not space for another wall, channels should nevertheless be made, and holes therefrom to the open air. Then tiles of the size of two feetº are placed on one side, over the side of the channel, and, on the other side, piers are built, of eightinch bricks,º on which the angles of two tiles may lie, that they may not be more distant than one palm from each other. Over them other tiles, with returning edges, are fixed upright, from the bottom to the top of the wall; and the inner surfaces of these are to be carefully pitched over, that they may resist the moisture; they are, moreover, to have air-holes at bottom, and at top above the vault.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. They are then to be whited over with lime and water, that the first coat may adhere to them; for, from the dryness they acquire in burning, they would neither take that coat nor sustain it, but for the lime thus interposed, which joins and unites them. The first coat being laid on, the coat of pounded potsherds is spread, and the remainder is finished according to the rules above given.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The ornaments for polished stuccos ought to be used with a regard to propriety, suitable to the nature of the place, and should be varied in their composition. In winter triclinia, neither large pictures nor delicate ornaments in the cornice, under the vault, are to be introduced, because they are soon injured by the smoke of the fire, and of the quantity of lights used therein. In these, above the podium, polished pannels of a black colour are introduced, with yellow or red margins round them. The method of finishing plain as well as enriched ceilings having been described, it will not be amiss, in case any one should wish to know it, to explain the construction of the pavements used in the Grecian winter rooms; which is not only economical but useful.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The floor of the triclinium is excavated to the depth of about two feet; and after the bottom is well rammed, a pavement of rubbish or potsherds is spread over it, with a declivity towards the holes of the drain. A composition of pounded coals, lime, sand, and ashes, is mixed up and spread thereover, half a foot in thickness, perfectly smooth and level. The surface being then rubbed with stone, it has the appearance of a black pavement. Thus, at their banquets, the liquor that is spilt, and the expectoration which falls on it, immediately dry up; and the persons who wait on the guests, though barefooted, do not suffer from cold on this sort of pavement.

Chapter 5

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. In the other rooms, namely, those for vernal, autumnal and summer use: in atria also, and peristylia, certain kinds of pictures were used by the ancients. Painting represents subjects which exist or may exist, such as men, houses, ships, and other things, the forms and precise figures of which are transferred to their representations. Hence those of the ancients who first used polished coats of plastering, originally imitated the variety and arrangement of inlaid marbles. Afterwards the variety was extended to the cornices, and the yellow and red frames of pannels,

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. from which they proceeded to the representations of buildings, columns, and the projections of roofs. In spacious apartments, such as exedræ, on account of their extent, they decorated the wall with scenery, after the tragic, comic or satyric mode; and galleries from their extended length, they decorated with varied landscapes, the representations of particular spots. In these they also painted ports, promontories, the coasts of the sea, rivers, fountains, straits, groves, mountains, cattle, shepherds, and sometimes figures representing gods, and stories, such as the Trojan battles, or the wanderings of Ulysses over different countries, and other subjects, founded on real history.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. But those which were used by the ancients are now tastelessly laid aside: inasmuch as monsters are painted in the present day rather than objects whose proto­type are to be observed in nature. For columns reeds are substituted; for pediments the stalks, leaves, and tendrils of plants;​b candelabra are made to support the representations of small buildings, from whose summits many stalks appear to spring with absurd figures thereon. Not less so are those stalks with figures rising from them, some with human heads, and others with the heads of beasts;

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. because similar forms never did, do, nor can exist in nature. These new fashions have so much prevailed, that for want of competent judges, true art is little esteemed. How is it possible for a reed to support a roof, or a candelabrum to bear a house with the ornaments on its roof, or a small and pliant stalk to carry a sitting figure; or, that half figures and flowers at the same time should spring out of roots and stalks? And yet the public, so far from discouraging these falsehoods, are delighted with them, not for a moment considering whether such things could exist. Hence the minds of the multitude, misled by improper judges, do not discern that which is founded on reason and the rules of propriety. No pictures should be tolerated but those established on the basis of truth; and although admirably painted, they should be immediately discarded, if they transgress the rules of propriety and perspicuity as respects the subject.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. At Tralles, a town of Lydia, when Apaturius of Alabanda had painted an elegant scene for the little theatre which they call ἐκκλησιαστήριον, in which, instead of columns, he introduced statues and centaurs to support the epistylium, the circular end of the dome, and angles of the pediments, and ornamented the cornice with lions' heads, all which are appropriate as ornaments of the roofing and eaves of edifices; he painted above them, in the episcenium, a repetition of the domes, porticos, half pediments, and other parts of roofs and their ornaments. Upon the exhibition of this scene, which on account of its richness gave great satisfaction, every one was ready to applaud, when Licinius, the mathematician, advanced, and thus addressed them:

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. "The Alabandines are sufficiently informed in civil matters, but are without judgment on subjects of less moment; for the statues in their Gymnasium are all in the attitude of pleading causes, whilst those in the forum are holding the discus, or in the attitude of running, or playing with balls, so that the impropriety of the attitudes of the figures in such places disgraces the city. Let us therefore, be careful by our treatment of the scene of Apaturius, not to deserve the appellation of Alabandines or Abderites; for who among you would place columns or pediments on the tiles which cover the roofs of your houses? These things stand on the floors, not on the tiles. If, then, approbation is conferred on representations in painting which cannot exist in fact, we of this city shall be like those who for a similar error are accounted illiterate."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. Apaturius dared not reply, but took down and altered the scene, so as to make it consistent with truth, and then it was approved. O that the gods would restore Licinius to life, that he might correct the folly, and fashionable inconsistency in our stucco work. It is not foreign to my purpose to show how inconsistency overcomes truth. The ancients laboured to accomplish and render pleasing by dint of art, that which in the present day is obtained by means of strong and gaudy colouring, and for the effect which was formerly obtained only by the skill of the artist, a prodigal expense is now substituted,

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. Who in former times used minium otherwise than as a medicine?​c In the present age, however, walls are every where covered with it º To this may be added the use of chrysocolla, purple, and azure decorations, which, without the aid of real art, produce a splendid effect. These are so costly, that unless otherwise stated in agreements, they are to be, by law, charged to the account of the employer. To my utmost I have described the means for avoiding defective plastering, and as lime has previously been sufficiently treated of, it now remains to treat of marble.

Chapter 6

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Marble is not alike in all countries. In some places it contains pellucid particles, similar to those of salt, which, when bruised and ground, impart great solidity to plastering cornices. When these are not to be obtained, the chips (assulæ), as they are denominated, which the workers in marble throw off in working, may be substituted after being pounded and sifted. They are to be separated into three sorts, of which that which contains the larger particles, is, as we have above directed, to be laid on with the sand and lime: then follows the second coat, and afterwards, the third which is finer in texture. After this preparation, and a careful polishing of the work, the colours which it is to receive are to be considered, so that they may be brilliant. Their variety and the method of preparing them will be found in the following pages.​d

Chapter 7

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Some are found in certain places in a native state, and thence dug up, whilst others are composed of different substances, ground and mixed together, so as to answer the same purpose. ºFirst we shall explain the nature of that which is found native, called by the Greeks ὦχρα. This, as in Italy, is discovered in many places, but the best is the Attic sort, which cannot now be procured, for in working the silver mines at Athens, if by chance they fell upon a vein of ochre, they followed it up as they would one of silver. Hence the ancients used abundance of ochre in their finishings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Red ochre is also found in many places, but the best only in a few, as at Sinope, in Pontus; in Egypt; in the Balearic Islands, near the coast of Spain; also in Lemnos, the revenue of which island the senate and people of Rome granted to the Athenians. The Parætonion takes its name from the place where it is dug up. The Melinon on a similar account is so called, from its abundance in Melos, one of the Cyclades. Green chalk is also found in many places; but the best comes from Smyrna, and is called by the Greeks θεοδότιον, because Theodotus was the owner of the land in which it was first discovered. Orpiment, which is called ἀρσένικον in Greek, is obtained from Pontus. Red lead is also obtained from many places, but the best comes from Pontus, near the river Hypanis. In other spots as in the country between the borders of Magnesia and Ephesus, it is procured from the earth in such a state as to want neither grinding nor sifting, but quite as fine as that which is ground and pounded by hand.

Chapter 8

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I shall now speak of vermilion. This is said to have been first found in the Cilbian fields of the Ephesians, and the manner of procuring and preparing it is very curious. A clod of earth is selected, which, before it is manufactured into vermilion, is called Anthrax, wherein are veins resembling iron, but of a red colour, and having a red dust round them. When dug up, it is beaten with iron bars till a great number of drops of quicksilver exude from it; these are immediately collected by the excavators.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The clods, when collected in the laboratory, are thrown into a furnace to dry; and the fumes that rise from them through the action of the fire fall condensed on the floor of the furnace, and are found to be quicksilver. But as, from the smallness of the drops which thus remain, they cannot be gathered up, they are swept into a vessel of water, in which they run together and re-unite. These, when they fill a vessel of the capacity of four sextarii, weigh one hundred pounds. º

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. If quicksilver be placed in a vessel, and a stone of a hundred pounds weight be placed on it, it will swim at the top, and will, notwithstanding its weight, be incapable of pressing the liquid so as to break or separate it. If this be taken out, and only a single scruple of gold put in, that will not swim, but immediately descend to the bottom. This is a proof that the gravity of a body does not depend on its weight, but on its nature.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. Quicksilver is used for many purposes; without it, neither silver nor brass can be properly gilt. When gold is embroidered on a garment which is worn out and no longer fit for use, the cloth is burnt over the fire in earthen pots; the ashes are thrown into water, and quicksilver added to them: this collects all the particles of gold, and unites with them. The water is then poured off, and the residuum placed in a cloth: which, when squeezed with the hands, suffers the liquid quicksilver to pass through the pores of the cloth, but retains the gold in a mass within it.

Chapter 9

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I now return to the preparation of vermilion. When the clods are dry, they are pounded and reduced to powder with iron beaters, and then, by means of repeated washings and dryings, the colour is produced. When this is effected, the vermilion, deprived of the quicksilver, loses its natural tenacity, and becomes soft and disconnected; and used in the last coat of the plastering of rooms, keeps its colour without fading.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. But in open places, such as peristylia or exedræ, and similar situations whereto the rays of the sun and moon penetrate, the brilliancy of the colour is destroyed by contact with them, and it becomes black. Thus, as it has happened to many others, Faberius, the scribe, wising to have his house on the Aventine elegantly finished, coloured the wall of the peristylia with vermilion. In the course of thirty days they turned to a disagreeable uneven colour; on which account he was obliged to agree with the contractors to lay on other colours.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. Those who are particular in this respect, and are desirous that the vermilion should retain its colour, should, when the wall is coloured and dry, rub it with a hard brush charged with Punic wax melted and tempered with oil: then, with live coals in an iron pan, the wall should be thoroughly heated, so as to melt the wax and make it lie even, and then rubbed with a candle and clean cloth, as they do marble statues. This practice is called καῦσις by the Greeks.​e

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The coat of Punic wax prevents the effect of the moon's as well as that of the sun's rays thereon which injure and destroy the colours in work of this nature. The laboratories which were formerly carried on at the mines in Ephesus are now transferred to Rome, on account of mines of the same sort having been discovered in some parts of Spain, whence the clods are brought and worked by manufacturers at Rome. These laboratories are situated between the temples of Flora and Quirinus.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. Vermilion is occasionally adulterated with lime. The following is a method by which its goodness may be proved. Let the vermilion be placed on an iron plate over the fire, and remain till the plate is red hot: when the heat has changed the colour, and it appears black, let the plate be removed from the fire. If, when cooled, it returns to its original colour, it may be considered pure. But if it remain of a black colour, it is quite clear that it has been adulterated.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. I have written all that I remember respecting vermilion. Chrysocolla comes from Macedonia, and is found in the vicinity of copper mines. Minium and indigo, by their names, indicate the places from whence they are obtained.

Chapter 10

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. I have now to speak of those bodies which, from particular treatment, change their qualities, and acquire the properties of colours; and first, of black, which is much employed in different works, in order that it may be known how it is prepared for use.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. An apartment is built similar to a laconicum, plastered with marble stucco, and polished. In front of it is built a furnace, which communicates with the laconicum; the mouth of this is to be very carefully closed, for the purpose of preventing the escape of the flame. Resin is then placed in the furnace, whose smoke, when the material is set on fire, passes by means of communications into the laconicum, and therein adheres to the wall and the arched ceiling. It is then collected, and some part of it is tempered with gum, to make ink for transcribers; the remainder is used by stuccoers in colouring walls, being previously mixed with size.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. But if this cannot be procured, in order to prevent delay, the following expedient may be adopted. Pine branches or chips must be burnt, and, when thoroughly charred, pounded in a mortar with size. Thus the plasterer will procure an agreeable black colour.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. A black colour, not less pleasing, is made by drying and burning lees of wine in a furnace, and grinding the result with size. Indeed, this makes a very agreeable black. The better the wine whose lees are used, the better will be the black colour; which will, in such case, approach the colour of indigo.

Chapter 11

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Blue was first manufactured at Alexandria, and afterwards by Vestorius at Puzzuoli. The method of making it, and the nature of the ingredients, merit our attention. Sand is ground with flower of natron,​f till the mixture is as fine as flour, to which coarse filings of Cyprian copper are added, so as to make a paste when moistened with water; this is rolled into balls with the hand, and dried. The balls are then put into an earthen vessel, and that is placed in a furnace. Thus the copper and sand heating together by the intensity of the fire, impart to each other their different qualities, and thereby acquire their blue colour.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Burnt yellow, which is much used in stuccos, is thus made. A lump of good yellow earth is heated red hot; it is then quenched in vinegar, by which it acquires a purple colour.

Chapter 12

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. It will be proper to explain in what manner white lead is made, and also verdigrease, which we call æruca. The Rhodians place, in the bottoms of large vessels, a layer of twigs, over which they pour vinegar, and on the twigs they lay masses of lead. The vessels are covered, to prevent evaporation; and when, after a certain time, they are opened, the masses are found changed into white lead. In the same way they make verdigrease, which is called æruca, by means of plates of copper.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The white lead is roasted in a furnace, and, by the action of the fire, becomes red lead. This invention was the result of observation in the case of an accidental fire; and, by the process, a much better material is obtained than that which is procured from mines.

Chapter 13

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I shall now speak of purple, which, above all other colours, has a delightful effect, not less from its rarity than from its excellence. It is procured from the marine shell which yields the scarlet dye, and possesses qualities not less extraordinary than those of any of the body whatever. It does not in all places where it is found possess the same quality of colour; but varies in that respect according to the sun's course.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Thus, that which is obtained in Pontus and in Galatia, from the nearness of those countries to the north, is brown; in those between the south and the west, it is pale; that which is found in the equinoctial regions, east and west, is of a violet hue; lastly, that which comes from southern countries possesses a red quality: the red sort is also found in the island of Rhodes, and other places near the equator.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. After the shells are gathered they are broken into small pieces with iron bars; from the blows of which, the purple dye oozes out like tears, and is drained into mortars and ground. It is called ostrum, because extracted from marine shells. Inasmuch as this colour, from its saltness, soon dries, it is prepared for use with honey.

Chapter 14

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Purple colours are also made by tinging chalk with madder-root and hysginum. Divers colours are also made from flowers. Thus, when dyers are desirous of imitating the Attic ochre, they put dry violets into a vessel, and boil them. When so prepared, they pour the contents of the vessel on to a cloth, and, squeezing it with their hands, receive in a mortar the water thus coloured by the violet, and then, mixing Eretrian earth with it, and grinding it, the colour of Attic ochre is produced.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. In the same way an excellent purple is obtained by preparing vaccinium, and mixing it with milk. So also, those who cannot afford the use of chrysocolla, mix blue with the herb weld, and thus obtain a brilliant green. These are called factitious colours. On account of the dearness of indigo, Selinusian chalk, or that used for making rings, is mixed with glass, which the Greeks call ὑαλος; and thus they imitate indigo.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. In this book I have explained, as they have occurred to me, the methods of making colours for painting, so that they may be durable and appropriate. Thus, in seven books, are methodically laid down all the rules that relate to the perfection and convenience of buildings. In the following book I shall treat of water, how it is to be found and conveyed to any place; as also how to ascertain its salubrity, and fitness for the purposes to which it is to be applied.

Thayer's Notes:

a temples of Honor and Virtue: Almost certainly a translation error, although an excusable one. The Latin text has aedis Honoris et Virtutis, which does appear to be a plural — except that aedes is one of those words that is plural in form while usually meaning a singular. Ancient authors provide an abundance of testimony, however, that only one temple is meant; the clearest such passage I've found is in Plutarch's Life of Marcellus (chapter 28).

Actually, there were at least two such temples in Rome, but each one was to both Honor and Virtue: for details, see the articles in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

b the stalks, leaves, and tendrils of plants: The general sense is there, but the translator cheated a bit. The Latin, given in the Teubner edition as appagineculi striati cum crispis foliis et volutis, is of uncertain meaning, because the word appagineculi is otherwise unknown; the reading is often given as harpaginetuli, another otherwise unknown word, but that appears to mean little things with hooks on them. The entry in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (q.v.) will give the studious a bit more insight and some further references.

c On the surface, this curious translation might seem to be what the Latin says, but it skips over parce, possibly because of an inferior manuscript, and misses the point altogether.

To start with, the ancients before Vitruvius had been using minium for a long time, and not only as a medicine: Pliny (N. H. 35.xx.38) tells us in fact that it was first used as a pigment by the Athenian painter Nicias.

Granger (Loeb edition) therefore translates this passage: "For who of the ancients is not found to use minium as sparingly as the apothecary?"; while Choisy's translation is best of all, succeeding both in getting the meaning across and in following the Latin text exactly: "En effet, qui des anciens paraît avoir fait usage du vermillon autrement qu'avec parcimonie, comme (on use) d'un médicament?"

Minium was used as a medicine alright (see for example Cels. de Med. IV.22.5, V.20.3 and passim, VI.6.19 and passim), but very sparingly indeed: it's toxic. Pliny (N. H. 29.viii.25) says that because of its toxicity you should watch out when you add minium to medicines, and (N. H. 33.xl.122) that factory workers wear masks to avoid dangerous exposure to minium dust. In our own day, since the substance is still used medicinally today in plasters and ointments, see The Merck Index, s.v. "Lead Tetroxide": where it is marked Poisonous!

Vitruvius is saying that a very little garish bright red goes a long way as an accent color, and too much will 'poison' the artistic result.

d . . . will be found in the following pages: This sentence, the Latin original of which, by the way, is not in Teubner (probably rejected as a gloss, although there is nothing to that effect in the apparatus of the 1867 edition), is either a gross anachronism of the translator's, or of some interest.

In Vitruvius' time, books still almost universally took the form of parchment rolls: there are therefore no "pages", and Vitruvius almost certainly did not write this.

Now although Joseph Gwilt our translator never states which edition of the Latin text he is using, he writes of the last Latin text listed by him in his introductory material, that of G. J. Göschen (Lepizig, 1807), that it "is the best edition of the Author which has appeared." If then the reading of this passage in that edition is based on a particular manuscript which does indeed have pagina, someone along the line was writing in a codex rather on a parchment roll. Since by the early Middle Ages the codex was universal, the question then becomes at what point this phrase crept into the manuscript.

I have not seen the Göschen edition.

e This practice is called καῦσις: Although the general principles of encaustic (in which heated wax serves as a binder or fixative for the pigments) are known, the art as practiced by the ancients is now lost. This is one of the key passages to unraveling its secrets. For a series of interesting experiments by Josiah Colebrooke, Fellow of the Royal Society, including his translation of this passage, with empirical commentary, see the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol. 51, pp48‑49 (1759).

f Gwilt's text as printed has "flowers of sulphur". But Dr. Marco Nicola, a chemist whose doctoral thesis was precisely on Egyptian blue, wrote me pointing out that Vitruvius is the best source known when it comes to modern efforts to reconstruct the ancient production of that pigment, and that many scientists have examined the passage in that context. More specifically, he writes:

Sulphur is a completely misleading translation that can make someone fall in error or misunderstand the process. The best translation so far is flower of natron: i.e., a highly purified form of the natural sodium carbonate that forms on some salt lakes in the deserts of Egypt.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 29 Oct 22