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Geometric Proportioning in Sixteenth-Century Fortifications: The Design Proposals of Italian Military Engineer Giovanni Battista Antonelli

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Abstract

The geometry underlying the design of sixteenth-century fortifications is a subject of considerable interest among scholars of military architecture. Many treatises from the period emphasize the importance of using geometrical constructions for the design of defensive elements in proper proportion to the entire edifice. One treatise, the Epitomi delle fortificationi moderne, was written in 1560–1561 by Italian military engineer Giovanni Battista Antonelli (1527–1588), whose family had been in the service of the Spanish crown for nearly a century. In this paper, we investigate the methods set forth by Antonelli in his work, paying particular attention to the geometrical design of typical architectural elements in fortifications of the early modern period. We then provide a case study of the reconstruction of a bastion according to the engineer’s proposals.

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The Rock of Gibraltar rises on the West, on the European side, closing the Mediterranean basin, and corresponds to the Phoenician Calpe, one of the two Hercules’ columns that in antiquity bordered the limit of the world. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the small peninsula is characterized by a promontory with cliffs overlooking the sea and it has an history intimately linked to its strategic position and therefore characterized by military events and the development of fortifications to defend the important commercial port and outpost control of Mediterranean. First military structures date back to Arab conquest even if not much remains of the high-medieval fortresses, especially as result of numerous conquer wars that alternated from 1309, when King of Castile Ferdinando IV tried to reclaim the peninsula, until 1501 when the city was finally incorporated into the dominions of Queen Isabella of Castile. In 1552 Carlo I sent Giovanni Battista Antonelli, an Italian military engineer at the service of Spanish Crown, to erect bastions and a military wall to fortify the city. The remains of Antonelli’s fortresses are still visible today and it is possible to virtually reconstruct the development of the fortified system that characterized Gibraltar during the successive wars, until the treaty of Utrecht which sanctioned the dominion of Great Britain and beyond the Great Siege of Gibraltar that saw the Spanish trying in vain to subtract the peninsula from the British. Through inspections and photogrammetric surveys, the contribution presents a reflection for the study of Antonelli’s defensive system in the desire to document what remains of the military system designed by the Italian engineer. The elaboration of 3D models of analysis, from architectural scale to wall masonry detail, identifies methodological processes of digitization for the development of a possible project of enhancement of the wall circuit within the modern urban and infrastructural asset of the Rock.
Article
This paper deals with the relationship between geometrical rules and proportions as design techniques for military architecture proposed by the engineer Giovanni Battista Antonelli during the late sixteenth century. After a short introduction about the Antonelli family of engineers, the paper focuses on a case study, the Fort of Bernia near Alicante (Spain). The study of the original drawings and reports on the building preserved in the Spanish national archives has been a fundamental means of gathering details about the defensive structure. Additionally, a three-dimensional survey carried out on what remains of the outpost allowed a careful analysis reconstruction of its history and the geometrical proportion of its parts. In conclusion this project, a perfect example of geometrical design for a defensive purpose, represents Antonelli's total failure as a military engineer, because his too strict adoption of the theoretical model in a mountainous site contradicted all the considerations made in his treatise on modern fortification.
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