Rhetoric and the city : reading Alberti, reading urban design.
This thesis addresses the affinities between rhetoric and architecture. It is an essay in
cultural history prompted by the reading of a text: Leon Battista Alberti's famous,
mid-Quattrocento treatise on architecture, De re aedificatoria. It is about the
interrelation of rhetoric and architecture in the city in Italy between the Trecento and
the Cinquecento. The argument is framed by the notion that the city is a duality
involving material and discursive cultures. The built and the written city unites
architecture and rhetoric as cognate cultural practices, a kinship which suggests that
one can be read in terms of the other. Accordingly, this thesis proposes rhetoric as a
tool for reading actual cities, and develops a model of rhetoric to apply to Italian
medieval/Renaissancec ities basedo n a precedent found in De re aedificatoria.
The thesis is arranged into two parts. The first involves a thorough reading of
Alberti's treatise. Chapter One focuses on the analogy between rhetoric and
architecture in his theory, arguing that De re aedificatoria demonstrates a
comprehensive grafting of rhetoric onto architecture that goes beyond analogy. It
further suggests that this interdisciplinary approach is a product of the humanist
culture of which Alberti was a part. Chapter Two expands this reading by recognizing
the long-standing history of association between rhetoric and architecture in literature,
a history that has continued into modem discourse. That association is then discussed
in general historical and cultural terms extrapolated from Alberti's text. These terms
form the basis of case studies presented in the second part of the thesis.
Given that rhetoric is integral to the design of the city, the second part of the thesis is
a demonstration of two propositions: the first, that rhetoric is a useful way of reading
actual cities; and the second, that rhetoric is a useful way of reading the history of
actual cities. These propositions are explored in two thematically defined case studies.
Chapter Three looks at the relationship between art and power in the urbanism of
Florence from 1280 to 1560, with a brief comparative discussion of Herculean Ferrara
(1471-1505). Chapter Four examines a rhetorical practice of intertextuality and textualauthority in the late-Quattrocento building projects of Pope Pius II at Pienza and
Federico da Montefeltro at Urbino.
Both Part One and Part Two are prefaced by introductions that establish the terms of
the rhetoric used in this thesis. The Introduction to Part One offers an explanation in
general theoretical terms of rhetoric's capacity to be an integrative public discourse.
The Introduction to Part Two sketches a proposed rhetoric of the city which is
applied comparatively in the case studies that follow. The thesis as a whole works to
establish the coexistence of the built and written cities in history and to show how
rhetoric is able to integrate them. It argues that rhetoric is an appropriate and flexible
means of reading the complex interweaving of aesthetics and politics, memory, text,
discourse and material culture, the real and the unreal, in the construction and
articulation of the city