Geometry, method, and the rise of trace italienne: fortification in the sixteenth century

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Conference Proceeding

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The development of fortifications from castle in the early modern period has always been taken as one of geometry above all, for the later trace italienne fortifications were above all, polygonal. By comparing late castle-building in the fifteenth century with developed trace italienne fortresses in the seventeenth century, such a progressions seems uncontestable. But such a comparison leaves out th developmental stage in the first half of the sixteenth century where fortification designers and commentators considered what it was to be a defensible place in regard to the newly-powerful gunpowder artillery.

This presentation takes a look at northern European developments from the 1520s to the 1560s in order to investigate how the initial Italian developments began to be integrated into town and fortress wall design, and how authors considered the process and intellectual framework of that development. In particular, I will look at Albrecht Dürer’s Befestigungslehre (1527), Robert Corneweyle’s Keye of the Treasorie (1556) and Jacopo Aconcio’s Booke of Fortyefying (c.1560) to see how northern design tactics evolved in this period. Principally, what I hope to prove is that geometry was foregrounded in the study (Dürer) which was unsuccessful in fundamentally altering the design of military architecture, while the “method” of fortifying specific situations drove the implementation and dissemination of the more successful Italianate (polygonal) system, but did so without much geometry proper.

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Publisher's version of record: http://www.ichstm2013.co.uk/programme/guide/p/0738.html

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