About 3DVisA
People & Partners

Knowledge Base
Funding Information
Index of 3D Projects
Time-enabled Map

News & Events
Conferences & Events
3DVisA News
3DVisA Award

3DVisA Bulletin
3DVisA Reports
3D Bibliography
The London Charter

3DVisA Resources

3DVisA Index of 3D Projects: Architectural and Urban Studies

The Alberti Project

This project was concerned with a photogrammetric survey of architectural drawings of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) and digital visualisation of his designs in the context of contemporary developments in art theory and practice in Italy.

Alberti received a doctorate in canon law from the University of Bologna but his career and writings moved away from strictly religious concerns, demonstrating wide-ranging Humanistic and scientific interests. As a leading architect of the quattrocento, as well as a painter, sculptor and mathematician, he had a profound effect on the development of the arts based on the rules of geometrical perspective. Piero della Francesca and Leonardo da Vinci were among the artists who elaborated upon his ideas. Alberti's other interests included moral philosophy (he wrote on family ethics), philology and cryptography. He is credited with the invention of the cipher wheel.

In the treatise De pictura (On Painting), written in 1435 in Latin and a year later in Italian, as Della pictura, Alberti famously proclaimed that a painting is like a view through a window into the world, and set forth the rules for illusionistic, pictorial representation of three-dimensional scenes upon the two-dimensional plane. Ten books on architecture, De re aedificatoria, were conceived in collaboration with pope Nicholas V and completed by 1452 (published in 1485). Although this treatise was modelled on Vitruvius and was concerned with the classical paradigm, Alberti's approach was novel in many respects including the matters of aesthetics. He believed that beauty should be intrinsic to design (and not superficial, like an ornament) and independent of individual taste. His discussion of the harmony and proportionality of constituent parts of a building (concinnitas), departs from Vitruvius's concept of symmetry and hints a relationship between the design, its purpose and metaphysical qualities.

As a practitioning architect, Alberti designed a number of important buildings. His major works are in Florence and Manatua and include the façades of the Palazzo Rucellai (probably begun c. 1453) and Sta Maria Novella (1458–70) in Florence; the Rucellai Chapel (completed 1467) also in Florence; the external casing of the church of S Francesco, known as the Tempio Malatestiano (begun 1453, incomplete) in Rimini. His last works were the church of S Andrea in Mantua, rebuilt according to Alberti's design of 1470 for Ludovico Gonzaga, and the church of SS. Annunziata in Florence (1470).

Alberti's surviving buildings do not always correspond to the architectural theory he presented in the treatises: some of the works he was commissioned were left unfinished, some have been substantially altered. The Alberti Project set out to reconstruct digitally the Tempio Malatestiano, as well as the church of Sant' Andrea and some of his other designs, 'as they would have been if fully built'. Later modifications to the original structures were 'removed' and architectural details, as described in Alberti's theoretical work, superimposed. Photogrammetry was applied to survey the existing buildings. The survey data was provided as AutoCAD DWG files. Five Olivetti 486DX computers were used to run AutoCAD R12. WaveFront software on a Silicon Graphics Iris workstation were used for rendering and animation.

The project was instigated by Joseph Rykwert and Robert Tavernor while they worked on the English translation of the De re aedificatoria. They set up and led the Alberti Group, based at the University of Bath and the University of Edinburgh. The project was undertaken in the early 1990s. The photogrammetric drawings and computer reconstructions of architecture of Alberti were originally produced for an exhibition held in Palazzo Te, Mantua, Italy in the autumn of 1994. The exhibition was curated by the Group and sponsored by Olivetti SpA.

Computer reconstructions of all of Alberti's surviving buildings were complemented by models of the unbuilt architecture and paintings. Photogrammetry combined with solid modelling were employed to 'complete' the Tempio Malatestiano: the missing cupola, for which the only evidence is the foundation medal of 1450 by Matteo de' Pasti, was reconstructed digitally. The church of S Andrea was stripped of later modifications and placed in the urban landscape of 15th-century Mantua. A painting of an ideal city by Luciano Laurana with a possible contribution from Piero della Francesca (Palazzo Ducale, Urbino) was rendered by solid-modelling. Also modelled was Piero's enigmatic painting of the Flagellation of Christ (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino). A computer model of this painting created by the Alberti Group enabled a new interpretation of the composition in the context of principles of perspective set forth by Alberti in the De pictura.

By putting the emphasis on spatial analysis and proportioning, The Alberti Project offered new insights into the work of one of the most influential architects and theorists of Renaissance.

Project dates: 1994-1998

Resource status:

Alberti's photogrammetric survey drawings produced for this project are available online thanks to a British Academy Grant, 1998.


The Alberti Group: Joseph Rykwert and Alan Day, School of Architecture, University of Bath; Robert Tavernor, Department of Architecture, University of Edinburgh. Modelling: Julien Cornish.

Photogrammetric drawings produced by Computer Mapping Services Ltd (CMS), 3 Selsey Business Centre, High Street, Selsey, West Sussex PO20 ORJ, England.

Olivetti SpA, Sponsor of the Alberti exhibition, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, 1994.

Sources and further details:

Day, A. (1992), 'Using Computers to Investigate and Communicate the Ideas of Leon Battista Alberti', Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Systems Research Informatics and Cybernetics, Baden-Baden.

Rykwert, J. and Engel, A. (1994), Leon Battista Alberti, Milan: Olivetti/Electa.

[n.n.] (1994), 'Back to the Future', Caddesk, January, pp. 26-30.

Tavernor, R. (1996), 'Casting New Light on The Flagellation by Piero della Francesca', Computers and the History of Art, Vol. 6 (1), pp. 13-19.

Tavernor, R. (1998), On Alberti and the Art of Building, Yale University Press.

Record compiled by Anna Bentkowska-Kafel. Created: 11 September 2006. Last updated: 10 January 2007.

3DVisA gratefully acknowledges the help of Professor Robert Tavernor with preparation of this record.

© The Alberti Group and 3DVisA, 2006.

  • Back to the list of 3D projects