Multi-tasking „Pre-professional“ Practitioners

Multi-tasking „Pre-professional“ Architect/Engineers and Other Bricolagic Practitioners as Key Figures in the Elision of Boundaries between Practice and Learning in Sixteenth-century Europe. Some Roman Examples

Pamela O. Long - Independent Scholar

In a previous publication I hypothesized that a growing number of "trading zones" developed in fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe—that is, arenas in which on-going and substantive communication occurred between individuals with practical, artisanal backgrounds and those with a university education. In this paper, I focus on particular kinds of individuals, most of them practitioners that we could place under the rubric of architecture/engineering. I investigate the great variety of tasks routinely undertaken by such practitioners and their simultaneous participation in the culture of learning and writing, the latter often an aspect of their re-imagining themselves as individuals different from and higher status than practitioners only. 

I suggest that the very condition of their "pre-professionalism," that is their ability to work without specific training or licensing requirements, their ability to respond to the exigency of patronage and the offering of contracts in a multitude of diverse ways and for diverse tasks, was a key condition that allowed increasingly porous boundaries between learning and practice and the rising two-way traffic back and forth through such boundaries. 

I will begin with two familiar figures, Francesco di Giorgio and Leonardo da Vinci and will suggest, for example, that Leonardo, the so-called "universal man of the Renaissance" was following, in his multiple and diverse undertakings, what would become a common path for a variety of practitioners who moved into arenas of architecture and engineering. I will include such figures as Palladio, but then also those less well known. The central locus of the paper will be Rome, where I have done extensive archival research. I will conclude with a focus on practitioners who worked in Rome such as Leonardo Bufalini, Pirro Ligorio, Antonio Trevisi, and Domenico and Giovanni Fontana. 

I suggest that at least in the past, historians of the modern professional disciplines, such as architectural historians, have tended to somewhat anachronistically project the modern professionalized discipline back onto such figures, thereby ignoring the tasks that they did that don’t quite fit the modern profession. To the extent that this has been done however, it ignores an important arena in which values such as empiricism and the positive valuation of handwork and instrumentation, and practices such as precise measurement, including the articulation of these things in writings, made their way into the broader culture, ultimately influencing the development of the new sciences.

  • Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of New Sciences, 1400-1600, Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2011.
  • Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.