On the Use of Perspective by Juan de Herrera, Architect of Philip II of Spain
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There are only two perspectives among the extant drawings of Juan de Herrera (1533–1597), who succeeded Juan Bautista de Toledo as architect of the Escorial. Both belong to the collection of engravings of that building made in 1589, after construction had already been completed. One is a bird’s eye view showing the exterior of the building; the other is an interior perspective of the main altar. Although both drawings appear to be rigorous, the external perspective shows a cupola with an unrealistically high tambour, dome and lantern. This paper analyzes both of these, along with a third, a bird’s eye view drawing of the building site by an unknown artist, conserved at Hatfield House (England), contextualizing them within the Escorial’s construction process and Herrera’s knowledge of perspective. The analysis argues that the elongated representation of the cupola was not an error caused by the difficulty of constructing a rigorous perspective or representing curve forms but was instead a deliberate choice made by the architect to make the cupola appear taller and slimmer.
KeywordsJuan de Herrera The Escorial Hatfield drawing Sixteenth century Perspective drawing Sebastiano Serlio Daniele Barbaro Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
At the end of the sixteenth century, rigorous perspective drawings were based on widely disseminated texts. However, not all of the geometrical layouts were correct. Drawings from that time of existing structures are scarce. However, those that do exist allow for a comparison between perspective construction and actual buildings that deepens scholars’ understanding of how this resource was used, how rigorous it was and whether or not it was intentionally manipulated to show a distorted reality.
This research focuses on three perspective drawings of the Escorial dating from the end of the sixteenth century. Two of these perspectives were drawn by Juan de Herrera, who succeeded Juan Bautista de Toledo as architect of the Escorial, and are the only extant perspectives created by him. The third one is a drawing of the Escorial’s construction site by an unknown artist, now conserved at Hatfield House (England), showing a bird’s eye view from the east side of the building. The present paper presents a study of the collection of engravings which Herrera’s drawings belong to, showing when they were drawn, what was included and the differences from what was actually built; also included is research on Herrera’s knowledge on perspective and an analysis of all three drawings to determine the accuracy of the geometrical representation and possible connections between them.
First, a geometric restitution is performed to test the graphical construction and locate the position of the original station point. The process of each drawing may then be reconstructed and the accuracy of the work checked. Concerning the main cupola, a 3D modeling after a laser survey of the dome made by the author makes it possible to obtain a rigorous perspective and compare it with Herrera’s view.
Engravings of the Escorial by Juan de Herrera in the Context of the Design and Building Process
Once the Escorial was completed—the last stone was placed in September 1584—Juan de Herrera, architect of Philip II, asked the king for permission to print and sell drawings of the building. These drawings became the well-known Estampas drawn by Herrera and engraved by Pedro Perret between 1583 and 1589. Complete collections of these works are preserved at the Spanish National Library and Madrid Royal Palace Library and there are facsimile editions (Cervera Vera 1954; Kubler 1982). Herrera also published a book containing descriptions and a legend of the drawings (Herrera 1589; a facsimile appears in Cervera Vera 1954).
Although the building was already completed when these drawings were made, they do not accurately reflect the actual structure. Some authors believe that this inaccuracy could be a deliberate attempt to perpetuate an idealized image of the building that could not be realized for various reasons (Ortega Vidal 1999: p. 208). Alternatively, it is possible that the drawings used for engraving were the available layouts, most likely the initial ones, on which modifications made during the construction process would not have been recorded (Aramburu-Zabala et al. 2003: p. 334). Because most of the Escorial’s original layouts are now missing, primarily because of fire damage (López-Mozo and 2009a: p. 3–5), the Estampas may be exceptional documents that facilitate the reconstruction of the original building design.
Herrera’s Knowledge about Perspective
Juan de Herrera was born in Cantabria, northern Spain, in 1533 and died in Madrid in 1597. He joined the army and participated in Prince Philip’s two tours of Europe. His visits to Valladolid in 1559 and Alcalá de Henares in 1561–1562 correspond to the itinerary of Prince Charles, whose educational milieu may have included Herrera (Aramburu-Zabala et al. 2003: p. 89). In 1563, he was hired as an assistant to Juan Bautista de Toledo, first architect of the Escorial, who had worked as Michelangelo’s deputy at Saint Peter’s between 1546 and 1548.
Herrera was seen by many of his contemporaries as a mathematician. He not only founded the Madrid Academy of Mathematics promoted by the King but also participated in the discussions at the House of Castile that resulted in the establishment of mathematical studies in all Castilian cities.
The inventory of Herrera’s goods made in 1597 after his death was published by Ruiz de Arcaute (1936). A proposal to reconstruct its index was made by Sánchez Cantón (1941) and reviewed by other authors (Aramburu-Zabala et al. 2003). These works provide information about the contents of his library and, in this paper, to his understanding of perspective. The objective of this study is to analyze the geometrical correction of the two available drawings and identify the causes of the elongated representation of the cupola in the external perspective of the Escorial.
Differing significantly from a post-Renaissance understanding of perspective, Euclid’s studies on the geometrical aspects of vision interested Herrera; he owned four copies of Euclid’s Optics. Two of these copies, Italian and Spanish editions, are explicitly identified in the inventory of his goods: La prospettiva di Euclide by Egnatio Danti (1573) and La perspectiva y especularia de Euclides… by Ondériz (1585). He also owned three copies of Witelo’s Óptica (1535). His collection also comprised works on perspective, including a copy of La pratica della perspettiva by Daniel Barbaro (1569), a copy of Le due regole della prospettiva pratica by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1583) and three unidentified works by Sebastiano Serlio “on architecture”. One of these Serlian works may have been the 1552 Spanish edition of Serlio’s third and fourth books by Francisco de Villalpando (1552). Serlio’s second book, on perspective (1545), was first published in Paris in 1545, and although there is no evidence indicating that it was part of Herrera’s library, it was in the King’s library (Rodríguez Gutiérrez de Ceballos 1987: p. 121). Thus, the architect was likely familiar with it.
Herrera, likely familiar with at least these sources, was in a position to control the geometric accuracy of his perspectives, both of which use a single vanishing point, with regard to the location in plan and height of any point. Instructions for circumference control, essential to drawing the horizontal lines of the tambour, dome and lantern, were also found in the books in his library. Such instructions would also have been necessary for drawing the spherical shape of the dome, following Barbaro’s method of using parallels and meridians.
Analysis of the Drawings
The Seventh Drawing
El septimo papel, es una perspectiva de toda esta fabrica mirada por su delantera principal del Poniente, esta papel no lleva letras porque de la inteligencia, que se avra tenido de los demas papeles y diseños ya dichos: y por lo que del se dira, se vendra en conoscimiento de todo lo que se viere en este diseño (1589: p. 5r).
The seventh paper is a perspective of the entire building as viewed from the main façade on the west, this paper has no text because from the information contained in the rest of the papers and drawings, thanks to which it is possible to know everything that can be seen in this drawing).
shows the data obtained for the individual elements
The dome is the most distorted element in the perspective: 36.8 % higher than it should be, according the Fifth Drawing. However, within the context of Herrera’s pattern of increasing the heights, it is surprising that the lantern is lower in the perspective than in his own section.
The Main Altar Perspective
By drawing visual rays in perspective and locating them in the plan, a possible station point was identified in the church crossing, although not exactly in the center (Fig. 17).
The Hatfield Drawing
This drawing, kept at Hatfield House (England), shows the Escorial’s building site and reflects a stage of the construction corresponding to 1576. Thus, it is thought to have been created at that time. A complete study of its content and context was conducted by Navascués Palacio (1986). Its author is unknown, but Navascués proposes a Flemish origin based on the style and nature of the drawing. Bustamante García (1994: p. 419) suggests the name of Rodrigo de Holanda, who lived at the Escorial. Navascués dismisses Herrera as a possible author (see also Íñiguez 1963: vol. 2, p. 106; Cervera Vera 1985: pp. 220–222) because of serious errors in the drawing: a legend indicates a west orientation for an east façade and a dimension of 645 ft for one of 740 ft, the proportion of a set of windows is distorted, the cornice corbels and surrounding buildings do not follow the laws of perspective, and the human and animal figures are not drawn to scale.
This paper offers additional arguments against Herrera’s authorship of the Hatfield drawing. The drawing’s author was either not familiar with the works of Serlio (1545); Barbaro (1569) or did not understand them. The drawing fails in the easiest task: computing heights. There could also be a mistake in the length of the east façade, considering that a legend of the drawing itself shows erroneous data. Either the heights are correct and the widths are mistaken, or vice versa.
Herrera’s initial design for the church towers at the Escorial, which has been preserved, was modified during construction. However, these changes were not reflected in the Estampas drawn by Herrera after the building was finished; instead, the Estampas reproduce previous layouts. Herrera’s design for the main cupola is now missing, but it was changed during construction against his opinion and will, according to first-hand accounts. The Estampas drawings do not accurately reflect the completed dome. Based on an analysis of the towers, it is reasonable to conclude that for the Estampas, he depicted his initial project. Structural design in the sixteenth century had an empirical basis, and architects copied rules from existing buildings. The Estampas drawings include a cross-section of the main dome, which was a fundamental document for an architect. Herrera had to guarantee the safety of the design reflected in the Estampas, which he could not finally build, because it would become not only an architectural reference model but also a structural design pattern. Following the publication of the Estampas, dome construction in Spain at the end of the sixteenth century changed, and projects were altered to include extradosed domes and tambours. The proportions of the Escorial’s section were also borrowed, and its constructive arrangement was copied (López-Mozo 2013: pp. 95–99).
Herrera had in-depth knowledge of the geometric construction of perspective. He owned what were, at the time, the essential books on this subject, and he correctly draws both plan and heights, particularly the Seventh Drawing, with the exception of the height of the cupola. Herrera’s section in the Fifth Drawing is higher than the existing dome, but the perspective magnifies it even more. The remaining heights of the building are correctly controlled in the perspective. Barbaro’s method for representing a sphere may have given Herrera basic instructions for controlling the drawing. Thus, he intentionally used this graphic resource to depict an elongated main cupola, which appears to have been a fundamental part of his design.
The main altar perspective does not allow for an assessment of the geometrical correctness of the drawing. The position of the barrel vault should be higher and the lower part of the stairs matches the plan while the upper part matches the actual building, suggesting that the drawing contains several mistakes. Considering that there is no evident intention in these changes and that Herrera had already died when the drawing was engraved, it is reasonable to conclude that Herrera was not the final author.
The author of the Hatfield drawing fails the easiest task: computing heights. The lack of proportion in the representation of the east façade provides one more argument to the reasons given by Navascués Palacio (1986) for dismissing Herrera as a possible author. It is earlier than the Estampas perspectives, but, if it was actually drawn in 1576, it should reflect the knowledge being disseminated by Serlio’s and Barbaro’s works. Regardless, at that time, Herrera would not have made those mistakes. However, it is possible that the proportions were intentionally modified.
The lack of geometrical rigor in some elements of these three drawings does not diminish their interest. Instead, they constitute valuable documents for many reasons and contribute to construction history by showing initial projects and building sites in progress at the end of the sixteenth century.
The survey of the Escorial’s towers was performed by the author in 2002 using a laser total station (López-Mozo 2003).
The Castilian foot was the measurement unit used at the Escorial and it was drawn by Herrera at full scale in Estampas drawings. It is equivalent to 0.2786 m. In this paper, feet units always refer to the Castilian foot.
The only first-hand account of this episode was recorded by Sigüenza (1605). His information must be regarded with a certain degree of caution, considering that he visited the building site only occasionally (Rubio González 2006: pp 315–317). However, he met everyone involved in the construction process.
The fieldwork for this paper was conducted as part of the “Ashlar construction in the Hispanic area. Documentary sources and built heritage” research project, which was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education (BIA2006–13649). The initial conception of this paper was part of the author’s Ph.D. Dissertation, which was supervised by Enrique Rabasa Díaz. Image credits: Estampas of the Escorial drawn by Juan de Herrera and engraved by Pedro Perret: Digital files from the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, http://www.bne.es/es/Catalogos/BibliotecaDigitalHispanica/Inicio/index.html. Perspective of the main altar of the Escorial, drawn by Juan de Herrera and engraved by Pedro Perret: reproduced by permission of the Spanish National Library. Perspective of the Escorial in construction: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, England, reproduced by courtesy of the Marquess of Salisbury.
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