Daniele Matteo Alvise Barbaro 1514 – 1570

Symmetry is the beauty of order as ‘eurythmia’ is the beauty of disposition. It is not enough to order the measurements singly one after the other, but it is necessary that those measurements be related to each other, that is to say that there must be some proportion between them. Thus, where there is proportion there can be nothing superfluous. And as nature’s instinct is the ruler of natural proportion, so the rule of art is master of artificial proportion. From this it results that proportion belongs to form and not matter, and where there are no parts there cannot be proportion.

-Commentary to Vitruvius, 1556. p.179


Daniele Matteo Alvise Barbaro (also Barbarus) (8 February 1514 – 13 April 1570)[1] was an Italian cleric and diplomat. He was also an architect, writer on architecture, and translator of, and commentator on, Vitruvius.[2]

Barbaro’s fame is chiefly due to his vast output in the arts, letters, and mathematics. A cultured humanist, he was a friend and admirer of Torquato Tasso, a patron of Andrea Palladio,[3] and a student of Pietro Bembo.[2] Francesco Sansovino considered Daniele to be one of the three best Venetian architects, along with Palladio and Francesco’s father Jacopo.

He was born in Venice, the son of Francesco di Daniele Barbaro and Elena Pisani, daughter of the banker Alvise Pisani and Cecilia Giustinian.[4] Barbaro studied philosophy, mathematics, and optics at the University of Padua.[5] He has been credited with the design of the university’s botanical garden.[6]

Barbaro served the Republic of Venice as ambassador to the court of Edward VI in London and as representative at the Council of Trent.[7] In 1561 Pope Pius IV appointed him a cardinal in pectore, that is, secretly, to avoid causing diplomatic complications, but since Pius never made the appointment public Barbaro was never a cardinal. In 1550 he was elected Patriarch of Aquileia,[8][7] an ecclesiastical appointment that required the approval of the Venetian Senate.

On the death of his father, he inherited a country estate with his brother Marcantonio Barbaro. They commissioned Palladio to design their shared country home Villa Barbaro, which is now part of a World Heritage Site. Palladio and Barbaro visited Rome together and the architecture of the villa reflects their interest in the ancient buildings they saw there. The interior of the villa is decorated with frescoes by Paolo Veronese, who also painted oil portraits of Daniele; one reproduced in this article shows him dressed as a Venetian aristocrat, the other shows him in clerical dress.[9]

Barbaro died in Udine. His will refers to his collection of purchased and constructed astronomical instruments. Daniele renounced his inheritance in favor of his brother Marcantonio and was buried in an unmarked grave behind the Church of San Francesco della Vigna instead of the family chapel there. Daniele commissioned the church’s altarpiece of The Baptism of Christ (c. 1555) by Battista Franco.[6]


Barbaro may have designed the Palazzo Trevisan in Murano, alone or in collaboration with Palladio. Like at the Villa BarbaroPaolo Veronese and Alessandro Vittoria probably also worked on the project, which was completed in 1557.[6]

His works include:

  • (1542) Exquisitae in Porphyrium Commentationes.[7]
  • (1542) Predica de’ sogni, published under the pseudonym of Reverend padre Hypneo da Schio.[7]
  • (1544) Edited an edition of the commentaries on Aristotle’s Rhetoric written. by his great-uncle Ermolao Barbaro.[10][7]
  • (1545) Edited an edition of Ermolao Barbaro’s Compendium scientiae naturalis.
  • (1556) An Italian translation with extended commentary of Vitruvius‘ Ten Books of Architecture, published as Dieci libri dell’architettura di M. Vitruvio.[2][8] The work was dedicated to Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, patron of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli.[6][7]
  • (1567) He later simultaneously published a revised Italian edition and a Latin edition entitled M. Vitruvii de architectura. The original illustrations of Vitruvius’ work have not survived, and Barbaro’s illustrations were done specially by Andrea Palladio, and engraved by Johann Chrieger. As well as being important as a discussion of architecture, Barbaro’s commentary was a contribution to the field of aesthetics in general. El Greco, for example, owned a copy. Earlier translations had been made, by Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1511) and Cesare Cesariano (1521), but this work was considered the most accurate version to date. Barbaro clearly explained some of the more technical sections and discussed the relationship between nature and architecture, though he also acknowledged the way Palladio’s theoretical and archeological expertise contributed to the work.[6][7]
  • (1567) Dell’Eloquenza Dialogo[7]
  • (1568) La pratica della perspettiva, a book on perspective for artists and architects.[6][7] This work describes how to use a lens with a camera obscura.
  • an unpublished and unfinished treatise on the construction of sundials (De Horologiis describendis libellus, Venice, Biblioteca MarcianaCod. Lat. VIII, 42, 3097). The latter work was supposed to have discussed other instruments as well, including the astrolabe, the planisphere of Spanish mathematician Juan de Rojas, the navigation instrument cross-staff, the torquetum, an astronomical instrument and Abel Foullon‘s holometer, a surveying instrument.