ad infinitum ad finem

When Sebastiano Serlio records Donato Bramante’s design for the Tempietto, he does not draw the project in its existing rectilinear context, but rather draws the Tempietto within a circular courtyard. In so doing, it might seem that Serlio’s intention is to exaggerate and intensify the Tempietto’s circular nature. After all, Serlio forcefully destroys the existing rectilinear courtyard, seemingly affirming the dominance of circle over square and suggesting the possibility of infinitely expanding Bramante´s concentric logic.

A close reading of the poché, however, will reveal that Serlio does not, in fact, obliterate the bounding rectangle, but rather re-introduces it as a perfect square. The figure, then, does not exceed the frame, suggesting that Serlio harbored skepticism of infinity. The square contests the ideal, serving as a foil to the infinitely expandable and providing a limit to something that would otherwise, perhaps, grow too powerful.

The problem of the square is further compounded when the project is understood through the lens of mathematically constructed perspective. Rectilinear perspectival space is measurable, proportional, and homogenous. While Bramante’s teachers, Alberti and Brunelleschi, applied this new knowledge of mathematical perspective in order to rationalize space, the Tempietto´s circular nature stands in defiance of any single picture plane. This drawing shows the Tempietto in tension with a series of regularized picture planes, thus arguing that the Tempietto, despite the possibility of concentric expansion in plan, does not operate within the logic of perspectival deep space. The Tempietto, far from being infinitely expandable, inherently contains a limit to its own expansion.