Empirical Knowledge and Antiquarian Architecture in Sixteenth-century Venice

Temple of Castor and Pollux, Roman Forum (detail). From: Speculum Romanae magnificentiae, Rome (1546-1590). Bibliothèque de l'Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, Paris (Open License).


The overarching aim of the ANTIQUITATES project is to investigate the quantitative empirical practices of the early modern historical disciplines. During the sixteenth century, the Republic of Venice was the site of a flourishing architectural scene, that included groundbreaking architects from Veneto, like Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1433-1515), Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616). These figures were at once architects, learned scholars, and also experienced measurers and surveyors of ancient classical buildings. In their archeological studies, they blended historical and quantitative empirical evidence. Scholarship traditionally associates measurement and quantification with the growth of the natural sciences. In contrast, ANTIQUITATES shows how these were also established epistemic practices of the antiquarian and historical investigation of the past. Accounts of the rise of early modern empirical knowledge need to consider the quantitative methods of the historical disciplines. This perspective is original and largely unexplored.

Hieronymus Cock, Second View of the Colosseum (detail)
National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
(Public domain)
Étienne Du Perac, Vestigij et parte del monte Palatino (detail)
From: I Vestigi dell'antichità di Roma
Bibliothèque de l'Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (Paris)
(Open License)


This research reconstructs the quantitative work of antiquarian architects within the networks of knowledge and patronage in the cities of Vicenza, Padua, Verona, and Venice. A defining feature of these groups was their inherent interdisciplinarity. The focus will be on three crucial patrons, Giangiorgio Trissino (1478-1550), Daniele Barbaro (1514-1570) and Giacomo Contarini (1536-1595), and on a few learned academies, namely Trissino’s academy in Cricoli (Vicenza), the Accademia Olimpica (Vicenza), in which both Palladio and Scamozzi operated, and the Accademia della Fama (or Veneziana; Venice). These circles brought together artisans, artists, scholars, and technical practitioners, breaking boundaries between learned and practical knowledge. An analysis of these networks counters narratives of Renaissance scholarship and early modern empiricism that have tended to develop separately, in disciplinary histories of arts, architecture, humanities, and the sciences.


If these are the immediate aims of the project, its long-term approach is more ambitious. The goal of this research is to lay the foundations for a new area of historical research at the intersection between the early modern study of antiquity and the development of early modern empiricism. This approach promises to provide a new, integrated interpretation of the rise and development of early modern empiricism, in which the history of the sciences, humanities and art are combined and integrated in a common history of empirical knowledge.

Paolo Veronese, Portrait of Daniele Barbaro
Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam)
(Public domain)


"The Early Modern Study of Ancient Measures in Comparative Perspective, 1500-1800" (monograph in preparation and under contract with Oxford University Press, Oxford-Warburg Studies series)

May 2023 - Project workshop, "Epistemic Practices between Early Modern Antiquarianism and the Sciences", Venice

March 2023 - Invited speaker, workshop "History in Science: Cases and Comparisons", Caltech, Pasadena (organizers: Jed Buchwald and Anthony Grafton).

September 2022 - co-organizer, session: “Experimenting with the Past? Material Practices of Knowledge-Making between Antiquarianism and the Sciences.” Conference of the International Society for Intellectual History, Venice (with Jennifer Rampling).

March 2022 - Invited speaker, Sawyer conference "Rigor: Control, Analysis and Synthesis in Experimentation", Indiana University, Bloomington (organizers: Jutta Schickore and William Newman).

June 2021 - Invited organizer and speaker, Plenary Session of Scientiae. "Disciplines of Knowing in the Early-Modern Period", University of Amsterdam: “Object Lessons: Early Modern Empiricism, Natural Philosophy and Antiquarianism.” (with Anna Marie Roos).


Cesare Pastorino

Principal Investigator
Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Marco Sgarbi

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Anthony Grafton

Princeton University