The Prague Vitruvius is named in honour of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, the celebrated Roman engineer and architect who lived in the first century BC. His greatest work (dedicated to Augustus Caesar) was entitled De Architectura, the world’s first comprehensive guide to civic planning and building design.
Vitruvius covered almost every aspect of architecture. To paraphrase Wordsworth: towers, domes, theatres and temples (not to mention bridges, aqueducts, baths and private houses) were all laid open to the enquiring minds of his readers. He dealt with everything in minute detail, from engineering and construction methods to plaster and stucco decoration for the beautifying of interiors and exteriors; and his writings were devoured by historians and artists, as well as civil and military engineers.
In time, the fame of De Architectura spread across the globe as the vogue for classical Greek and Roman design took hold, particularly during the European Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci developed his famous drawing of the proportions of the human body directly from his reading of the architect; the diagram is usually referred to as ‘Vitruvian Man’.
From Palladio in 16th-century Italy to Claude Perrault in 17th-century France, the flame was ultimately carried to England, where architects such as Inigo Jones revolutionized design by strict adherence to classical ideals; indeed, many of Britain’s stately homes are modelled on designs derived from the English translation of Vitruvius.
In the Czech Republic the same legacy is clear, especially in the remodelled Nové Město (New Town) and Vinohrady districts of Prague, where romantic historicism played an important role in the politics of the Czech National Revival.
Despite its name, The Prague Vitruvius is not just a record of neo-classical architecture; Prague has an abundance of great buildings, from Gothic to high Baroque, and from Art Nouveau to the functionalism of the Soviet era and beyond. But throughout the long history of Prague and the Czech lands, the essential qualities of proportion, order and form first articulated by Vitruvius have been the guiding principles of the architecture.