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Villalpando, Juan Battista

1. Dates
Born: Córdoba, Spain, 1552
Died: Rome, 1608
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 56
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
One source, quoting a historian of Córdoba, said that it was possible Villalpando's father was a physician. No other source said anything at all about the family. I find the information far too uncertain to list. The first secure information about Villalpando is his joining the Society of Jesus in 1575 (or possibly 1574).
No information on their finanical status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Spanish
Career: Spanish, Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Villalpando was a man of extensive learning, and he was a Jesuit. Nevertheless, the sources do not say a word about his education, not even within the order. Some do suggest that he was a student under Father Prado, another Jesuit, but the detailed studies of Villalpando make it clear from the chronology that this cannot be true. The first mention of him with Prado is in 1583. It seems clear that the order assigned him to Prado's project because of Villalpando's interest in the temple of Solomon.
By his own statements, Villalpando studied mathematics and architecture with Juan de Herrera, the leading architect in Spain at the time, and a man influential in mathematics. Villalpando does not indicate the setting of the studies. Ceballos thinks that he studied with Herrera before entering the Jesuit order. It cannot have been in the Academy of Mathematics, which was established in 1582. It may have been in or around the court, however; Villalpando stated that he owed his education to Philip II.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
Villalpando joined the Jesuit order in 1575 (Ceballos says 1574) and remained a Jesuit all his life. He died in the Collegio Romano in Rome.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Engineering, Mathematics, Mechanics
Subordinate: Optics, Music, Astrology
In or near 1583 the Jesuits assigned Villalpando to collaborate on Jerónimo Prado's great exegesis of Ezekiel, Villalpando to concentrate on the description of the temple of Solomon in Chaps. 40-2. When Prado died in 1595, Villalpando fell heir to the whole thing. In 1596 he published the first volume of Hieronymi Pradi et Ioannis Baptistae Villalpandi e Societate Iesu in Ezechielen explanationes et apparatus urbis ac templi Hierosolymitani. This was largely Prado's work. The other two volumes that appeared finally in 1604 were Villalpando's. They were the work of a polymath with information on all sorts of things. Especially important was the description of the temple of Solomon, which caused a sensation in Europe and catapulted Villalpando to the front rank of authorities on architecture (listed here under Engineering). Villalpando described the temple in terms of Vitruvian, classical architecture, which thus acquired a divine certification. In England, Inigo Jones was influenced by this exposition. In Spain, the description of the temple appears to have influenced the Escorial. (At least the souces speak of this; the chronology--the Escorial was begun in 1563 and completed in 1584--does not seem compatible with the thesis even though Villalpando apparently showed some sketch to Philip in 1580. Is it possible that Herrera's Escorial was the model of Villalpando's temple?) Villalpando was a major influence in establishing the austere style of the Spanish Jesuits.
He also expounded the Euclidean theory of proportions in volume 3 (possibly under the influence of Father Grienberger--Villalpando's originality here cannot be established or disproved, but he did understand).
Volume 3 also contains an exposition of centers of gravity--in effect, a treatise on statics. He enunciated the so-called polygon of suspension. Mersenne was impressed enough to republish Villalpando's propositions on statics. Equally there are discussions of optics (in connection with the perspective of the temple) and of music (which linked the proportions in architecture with those in music, all understood as aspects of a univeral harmony).
In Villalpando's rendition of the temple, its astrological orientation is very prominent.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Early in his career as a Jesuit Villalpando may have taught some in the order's schools in Spain. In or near 1583 the order assigned him to assist Prado, and that task consumed virtually all of the rest of his life. In 1592 the two were translated to Rome, where they could find more abundant sources.
8. Patronage
Type: Court Official
Villalpando's relation to the court of Philip II is not entirely clear in its details but nevertheless unmistakable. He himself said that he owed his education to Philip, but he supplied no details. His early sketch of the temple, shown to Philip about 1580, may have influenced in some way the design of the Escorial, which (it has been clearly established) was supposed to be a reincarnation of the temple. Philip financed the publication of the first volume of the commentary on Ezekiel, which Villalpando dedicated to him. In 1597, the year following publication, he sent Philip a plaster model, gilded, of the city of Jerusalem and the temple, together with the engravings of his plans of the temple as they appeared ultimately in volume 3. It may have been at this time that he also sent a manuscript "Relacion de la antigua Hierusalem," which still exists in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Architecture
Villalpando was not only an authority on architecture who was influential throughout Europe, but before leaving Spain he practiced. He constructed several residences and churches for his order, and left behind a number of plans. As I said, he was one of the influences behind the Spanish Jesuit style.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. José M. Lopez Piñero, et al., Diccionario historico de la ciencia moderna en España, 2, 418-20.
  2. _____, Ciencia y técnica en la sociedad española de los siglos XVI y XVII, (Barcelona, 1979), pp. 238-9.
  3. Carlos Sommervogel, ed. Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, (Brussels, 1891), 8, 768-9.
  4. Quentin Aldea Vaquero, Tomas Marin Marinez and José Vives Getell, eds. Diccionario de historia ecclesiástica de España, (Madrid, 1975), 4, 2761.
  5. René C. Taylor, "Architecture and Magic: Considerations on the Idea of the Escorial," in Douglas Fraser, Howard Hibbard, and Milton J. Lewine, eds., Essays in the History of Architecture Presented to Rudolph Wittkower, (London, 1967), pp. 81-109.
  6. _____, "Hermeticism and Mystical Architecture in the Society of Jesus," in Rudolph Wittkower and I.B. Jaffe, eds., Baroque Art: the Jesuit Contribution, (New York, 1972), pp. 63-97.
  7. _____, "El Padre Villalpando (1552-1608) y sus ideas estéticas," Academia. Anales y boletín de la Real Academia de San Fernando, 1951-2, pp. 411-73. Though it does not have much on Villalpando the man, this article, together with Taylor's other two, is the best source on the intellectual content of his work.
  8. Pierre Duhem, Les origines de la statique, (Paris, 1905-6), 2, 115-23.
  9. A. Rodriquez y Gutiérrez de Ceballos, "Juan de Herrera y los jesuitas Villalpando, Valeriani, Ruiz, Tolosa," Archivum historicum Societatis Iesu, 35 (1966), 285-321. I found this easily the best source on Villalpando the man.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Rudolph Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, 3rd ed. (London, 1962), pp. 121ff.
  2. Moritz Cantor, Vorlesungen über der Geschichte der Mathematik, (Leipzig, 1899), 2, 662.
  3. Patrica Peñalver y Bachiller, Bosquejo de la matemática española en los siglos de la decadencia, (Sevilla, 1930), pp. 22-35.
  4. Victor Navarro Brotons, "Los teoremas de J.B. Villalpando sobre el centro de gravedad de los cuerpos," in Estudios sobre la ciencia en la España de la Contrareforma, (Valencia, c.1979).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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