Sebastiano Serlio (September 6 1475 – c. 1554) was an Italian Mannerist architect, who was part of the Italian team building the Palace of Fontainebleau. Serlio helped canonize the classical orders of architecture in his influential treatise, "I sette libri dell'architettura" (aka "Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospettiva").
The first volume of his treatise appeared in Venice in 1537, titled "Regole generali d'architettura [...]" (or "General Rules of Architecture"). It is also known as Serlio's "Fourth Book" (albeit published first) because it was the fourth in Serlio's original plan of a treatise in seven books. Serlio never brought this plan to completion. Serlio' model of church façade was a regularized version, cleaned up and made more classical, of the innovative method of providing a facade to a church with a high vaulted nave flanked by low side aisles, a classical face to a Gothic form, first seen in Alberti's Santa Maria Novella in Florence (c. 1458). The idea was in the air in the 1530s: several contemporary churches compete for primacy: but Serlio's woodcut put the concept in every architect's hands. Serlio's "Third Book", on the antiquities of Rome, followed in 1540, also in Venice.
Serlio's publications, rather than any spectacular executed work, attracted the attention of Francois I. Serlio's career took off when he was invited to France by Francis I, to advise on the construction and decoration of the Château of Fontainebleau, where a team of Italian designers and craftsmen were assembled. Serlio took several private commissions, but the only one that has survived in any recognizable way is the Chateau of Ancy-le-Franc (see below), built about 1546 near Tonnerre in Burgundy.
Serlio died around 1554, after spending his last years in Lyon (France).
Serlio’s major contribution remained his practical treatise on architecture. Serlio pioneered the use of high quality illustrations to supplement the text. Five books of his treatise were published at intervals from 1537; Serlio added one book, not part to the original plan, which was printed in Lyon in 1551. Another book was published posthumously. Some of Serlio's unpublished manuscripts are also extant. Intended as an illustrated handbook for architects, Serlio's volumes were highly influential in France, the Netherlands, and England, as a conveyor of the Italian Renaissance style. A version of his treatise was translated from a Dutch translation as The Five Books of Architecture and printed in London, 1611. Its example countered the influence of the engravings of Antwerp Mannerism that were the main inspiration for Jacobean architecture. Later Serlio's book was in the libraries of Sir Christopher Wren and John Wood, the entrepreneur who laid out Bath.
Serlio's treatise was translated into Dutch in 1539 by Pieter Coecke van Aelst. His pupil the Dutch architect and engineer Hans Vredeman de Vries propagated his style and ornaments north of the Alps. The book was published in 1552 in Toledo by Juan de Ayala with the same illustrations as the original Italian editions. Serlio's plans and elevations of many Roman buildings provided useful repertory of classical images, often reprinted.
Serlio published several books of woodcuts of designs for stage setting (Scenographies) in Paris 1545, in a part of his treatise devoted to perspective. As a civil engineer he designed fortifications.
A manuscript of Serlio's unpublished Book VI is in the Avery Architectural Library, Columbia University.
Treatises on line: http://www.cesr.univ-tours.fr/architectura/Traite/Auteur/Serlio.asp