Avery Classics Acquisition Highlight


Andrea Memmo
Elementi dell’architettura Lodoliana
Rome, 1786

In 2006, the Avery Classics rare book collection acquired one of the rarest of eighteenth-century architectural books: Andrea Memmo’s Elementi dell’architettura Lodoliana o sia l’arte del fabbricare con solidità scientifica e con eleganza non capricciosa. Libri due. Vol. primo. (Rome, 1786). In this work, Memmo, Venetian ambassador at Rome, sought to record for posterity the ideas of his teacher Fra Carlo Lodoli, regarded by former Columbia professor Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., as the first man to draft a constitution for architecture suited to the modern world.


Lodoli, a Franciscan friar, developed a highly refined theory of art and architecture, which he transmitted personally in aristocratic circles in Venice. Francesco Algarotti summarized Lodoli’s ideas in print in 1756, but Memmo found this account sadly inadequate. Finally, thirty years later, Memmo published the first part of his own understanding of Lodoli’s theory, widely regarded today as the more accurate. However, Memmo was extremely dissatisfied with the printing of the book, and relatively few copies seem to have survived.

The Avery Classics copy is one presented by Memmo to the Neapolitan architect Niccolò Carletti. It has been heavily annotated by a contemporary hand, most probably with those alterations Memmo thought necessary for a proper reading. Carletti is mentioned in the printed text, and the chapter where his name first appears—the judgments of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius—is soiled from handling, with one large fingerprint evocatively prominent.

Memmo never published the second part of his account. Only after his death, did his daughter, Lucia Mocenigo, arrange for a corrected version of volume one to be published (these corrections correspond closely to the manuscript ones in Avery’s 1786 copy), along with the second volume of Lodoli’s positive ideas on architecture. The great British art critic John Ruskin is said to have received a copy of this complete printing when he was resident in Venice. The two-volume 1833-34 publication is also a rare book, although it is far more common than the 1786 publication.

None of the few buildings Lodoli is believed to have designed is known to be extant. Lodoli’s reputation was revived in the mid-twentieth century, and today he is widely considered a forerunner of functionalism. But it’s important not to simplify anachronistically his theory. For Lodoli, perfect design was a gondola, and all the beauty, complexity, and unique functionality such a vehicle embodied.

Avery Library has sought to acquire the 1786 Elementi for the past fifty years and is pleased to announce its purchase in a special copy that documents the drama of the book’s creation and reception.