Medical aspects of Renaissance pneumatic architecture

Barbara Kenda, University of Pennsylvania


The primary purpose of this study is to elucidate the embodiment of medical aspects of pneumatic theories within the practice of sixteenth century architecture. I claim that Renaissance architects considered pneuma--air, wind, breath, spirit, soul--to be the fundamental condition in the harmonic relationship of the human body, a building and the cosmos. Therefore, the integral aim in the making of Renaissance pneumatic architecture was to augment the powers of pneuma so as to foster the art of well-being. Pneumatological doctrines are most significantly present in the architecture of the Venetian villas of Costozza: Eolia, Trento-Carli, Trento-Buoni Fanciulli, Trento-da Schio, Ca' Molina-da Schio and Garzadori-da Schio. These edifices are linked by underground caves from where the air is conveyed through wind-channels into the rooms of the villas, thus forming a sophisticated, natural climatic system. Since environmental control and eolic character (from Aeolus, the god of winds) are most uniquely achieved and expressed in Eolia, this villa will be, together with its architect Francesco Trento, the focus of the study. Eolia is physical and metaphysical realization of pneumatic theories, as well as a unique representation of the sixteenth-century understanding of the cosmos. This paradigm appears in Eolia's geometry, iconography as well as in the pneuma which the villa embodies. Eolia as villa spiritale demonstrates that the ensouled edifice functions as an indispensable link in the establishment of harmony between the human soul and the cosmos, and that this triangular relationship is fundamentally conditioned by pneuma, and thus by the respiratory process of not only the human body, but also of the building and the universe. Echoing the ideas of ancient pneumatists, and those of Ficino, Leonardo, Cardano and Cornaro, Trento constructed a Renaissance model of pneumatico-hygienic architecture and a therapeutic machine to promote the beneficial pneuma for the inhabitants. This study thus explores the theories and practice of Renaissance pneumatic architecture, and, uncovers in the process, the path-breaking work of Francesco Trento and the villas of Costozza. Most modern architects, however, have strayed far from the concept of the building as therapeutic apparatus. By examining the role of pneumatology in Renaissance villas, this study intends to contribute to a reawakening of such concerns and to revitalize the ethics of present architectural discipline.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Kenda, Barbara, "Medical aspects of Renaissance pneumatic architecture" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9840207.