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The Architecture Of M. Vitruvius Pollio: Translated From The Original Latin, By William Newton, Architect. Volume The First. (Second.)


RA Collection: Book

Record number



Uniform Title

[De architectura., English., Newton., 1771.]


London:: Printed for James Newton, 32, Thornhaugh Street, Bedford Square; And Sold By I. And J. Taylor, Holborn; R. Faulder, New Bond Street; P. Elmsly, Strand; And T. Sewell, Cornhill., M.DCC.XCI.

Physical Description

2 vols.; 481 mm. (Folio.)

General Note

Vol. I: [iv], xix, [iii], 122, [4] p., frontis. (port.), 26 pl. [carrying figures 1-LII] - Vol. II: [vi], [123-]280 p., 20 pl. [carrying figs. LIII-CXVII]. In some copies (incl. that of the Royal Academy) the plates are not numbered. Some copies (incl. that of the Royal Academy) have the four-page Appendix of Volume I bound in after the text in Volume II.


Vol.1: [Frontis. (port.), t.p., dedic.] - To The Public - Preface - Observations Concerning The Life Of Vitruvius - Contents - Errata - [Text, books 1-5, with notes and commentary] - [Plates] - Appendix [notes on books 1-4]. - Vol.2: [T.p.] - Advertisement - Contents - [Text, books 6-10, with notes and commentary] - [Plates].

Responsibility Note

The frontispiece portrait of William Newton in Volume I is signed as drawn by R. Smirke and engraved by J. Newton. Of Volume I some copies (including that of the Royal Academy) have the plates unsigned (these are reissues of the 1771 plates); others have eight re-drawn and re-engraved plates signed by W. Newton (pl. 9-13, 21, 22, 26), and most others signed as engraved by or under the direction of James Newton. Of Volume II some copies (including that of the Royal Academy) have all plates unsigned; others have most plates signed as engraved by or under the direction of James Newton but pl. I unsigned and pl. 5 and 10 signed as etched by William Newton. All plates are based on William Newton's drawings, some of which are held in the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London.

In the imprint 'T. Sewell' is a misprint for 'J. Sewell'.

The edition is dedicated by William Newton to King George III.


ESTC, T22370.33-4.
Royal Institute of British Architects, British Architectural Library ... Early printed books, 4 (2001), no. 3507.
E. Harris and N. Savage, British Architectural Books (1990), no. 895.
J. Archer, Literature of British domestic architecture (1985), no. 221.2.
Johns Hopkins University, The Fowler Architectural Collection (1961), no. 428, p.3.

Summary Note

This was the first unabridged English translation of Vitruvius. (The only earlier version had been the 1692 An Abridgment Of The Architecture Of Vitruvius - an English translation of the 1674 French abridgment of Perrault's French version. This had been reissued in 1729. About 1727 Burlington, Sir John Clerk and William Aikman had dropped their planned translation hearing that Robert Castell was preparing one - which in fact never appeared.) Newton's translation had a long publishing history. His first volume first appeared in 1771 (published by J. Dodsley); by 1776 Newton was exhibiting at the Royal Academy reconstructions of Roman houses 'for the second volume of the translation of Vitruvius'; but in 1780 he published only Commentaires sur Vitruve, and it wasn't until 1791 that the complete version appeared.

Volume I of this edition is a reissue of the original 1771 sheets but with cancel title leaf and cancel leaf 3O1, and the addition of a dedication by William Newton, an address 'To the Public' by James Newton and a two-leaf Appendix. Some issues have eight of the plates newly engraved (9-13, 21, 22, 26) and now signed as etched by W. Newton, and reprints of the remaining plates but now numbered and signed. Other issues are simply reissues of the original unnumbered and unsigned plates (the Royal Academy's copy is one of these, except that it has plate VI numbered and signed and pl. [5] and [24] signed.) Most copies of the 1791 edition have not only the cancel title leaf but further cancel slips pasted over the imprints and adding the name of James Newton to those of the Taylors, Faulder, Elmsly and Sewell.

Newton's commentary takes account of the work of Galiani and the archaeological investigations of Stuart and Revett, Piranesi and Le Roy. His chief concern is with proportion and propriety. He applauds Vitruvius's observation that proportions must be varied in accordance with purpose, place, magnitude and other considerations, and deplores attempts by modern authors to prescribe fixed modulations - even insisting that it is the intercolumniation, not the species of order (Doric, Ionic or Corinthian) that should determine the proportional magnitudes of the column and its members.

The plates show: (Vol. I) plans, sections and elevations of reconstructions of Vitruvian subjects, including a city plan, fortifications, masonry, rectangular and circular temples, orders, roofs, doorways, basilicas, theatres, harmonic ratios (pl. 22), baths; (Vol. II) sections of rooms, plans, sections and elevations of reconstructed Greek and Roman town houses and villas, construction and levelling techniques, geometry, details of sundials, construction machines, waterwheels, an Archimedean screw, a water organ, a cyclometer, military catapults and siege engines.


William Newton's presentation of Volume I (only) was reported to the RA Council on 20 January 1772 (RA Council Minutes I, 125). James Newton presented the complete work (probably this copy) in 1792 (see RA Council Minutes, II, 157).

Copy Note

The Appendix of Volume I has been bound in after the text in Volume II. In Volume II the Advertisement and Contents have been bound in between pages 126 and 127. This copy has bound in, in each volume, a copy of A Catalogue of Modern Books on Architecture ... on sale at I. and J. Taylor's Architectural Library (n.d.).

Binding Note

18th-century mottled calf; rebacked in 1996, red and black morocco spine-labels, lettered, 'Newton's Vitruvius Vol. I (II)', spines lettered 'R.A.' and '1791'.


Architecture - Theory - Architecture, Roman
Architecture, Roman - Architecture, Greek - History
Treatises - Latin literature - 1st century B.C.
Treatises - Translations from Latin - Translations into English - Reconstructions - Great Britain - 18th century
Pictorial works - Great Britain - 18th century


William Newton, 1735-1790, translator, draughtsman, engraver
James Newton, 1748-1804, publisher, draughtsman, engraver
Robert Smirke RA, draughtsman
George III King of Great Britain, dedicatee
Isaac Taylor the elder, bookseller
Robert Faulder, 1747?-1815, bookseller
Peter Elmsley, 1736-1802, bookseller
John Sewell, 1734?-1802, bookseller
I. and J. Taylor, bookseller