F O R M A L C A U S E
The Formal Cause will answer the question: “What is the Villa Emo?” What gives Form to the Villa Emo? It is in Palladio’s Second Book, that he addresses this question of Form, first of the house in the city, then in the country.
“In the Second [Book], I shall treat of the quality of the fabricks that are suitable to the different ranks of men…of a city; and then of the most convenient situation for villas…”
Preface to The Four Books of Architecture
For in the most general of senses, the Villa Emo’s Form is defined as a “fabrick,” a building; and in more specific sense its Form is that of a building outside the city, that of a Villa. He further defines the Villa in its two constituent parts: the habitation and the barchesse.
“There are two sorts of fabricks required in a villa: one for the habitation of the master, and of his family; and the other to manage and take care of the produce and animals of the villa.” Bk II, Ch. XIII
Palladio, in the following paragraph of the same chapter, further qualifies the Form of the habitation in terms of its design “to be made with just regard to his family and condition…” Palladio identifies the quality of this family as “belonging to the Magnificent Signor Leonardo Erno [Emo],” thus identifying the nobility and wealth of the family. And a final qualification of this family should be given that will animate what this Villa is. For records testify that the construction of this villa concurred and may have even been occasioned by the marriage of Leonardo Emo to Cornelia Grimani in 1565.
Lastly, as Palladio clarifies that the villa type is “not confined by public walls” such as the residences of those in the city, the rural situation is integral to the villa type; the quality of the rural c condition completes the full breadth of the Form of the villa. Therefore, Palladio dedicates a chapter to this. Chapter XII elaborates the site conditions of an ideal location which will extend and complement the twofold form of the agricultural and domestic ambitions of the villa. Convenience and beauty are paramount; the former complementing the agricultural use and the latter complementing the domestic use. Palladio, in his description of the Villa Emo, maintains the importance of the aesthetic benefit:
“ "Behind the fabrick, there is a square garden of eighty campi trevigiani; in the middle of which runs a little river, which makes the situation very delightful and beautiful.”
Bk II, Ch. XIV
At this point we may state that a building, a villa, gardens, an agricultural facility, nobility, and the married state are the Formal Causes of this work of art. These Formal Causes answer what the Villa Emo is and this whatness is formally expressed in the Definition. Therefore, we may synthesize these causes in the following definition:
The Villa Emo is a country estate belonging to a noble couple of the Emo Family, comprised of a building and servicing lands dedicated to the employment of agriculture for the purpose of elevating, extending, and enriching the family and social life of the same family.
F I N A L C A U S E
Final Cause asks the question: “for the sake of what shall I do or make this?” Signor Emo and Palladio asked the same question of the Villa Emo. The structure of the Final Cause is such that all motives for acting are ordained to an ultimate motive.
St. Thomas Aquinas systematically addresses the full breadth of this cause and Palladio mirrors this understanding.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, I-II, Question I, Article 7, proposes the question: “Is there the same ultimate end for all men?” He responds by referencing the erudition of St. Augustine, who explains in his work, On the Trinity: ..”that all men are alike in seeking the ultimate end, which is happiness.” St. Thomas proceeds, in the following questions, to ask what the goods are that men, sometimes mistakenly, seek after to satiate
that happiness. He questions whether riches, honors, fame, power, health, pleasure, or any created good whatsoever can satiate man’s thirst for happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas analyzes and answers in the negative. In the following article, he answers in what happiness consists. He begins by making a crucial distinction between the object that will make men happy and the bliss that ensues in man as a result of the possession of that object. Therefore, he establishes that only an uncreated object can satiate man’s desire for happiness, which is God; and that the consequent bliss is a virtuous activity of the soul, which is the act of contemplation:
“It should be said that ultimate and perfect happiness can lie only in the vision of the Divine essence.” (emphasis added)
Aquinas, On the Ultimate end. Summa Theologiae, I-II, Question III, Article 8
Palladio also ponders the various goods that will motivate the construction of the Villa, specifying its intermediate cause of agriculture, but concluding in its final motive of happiness, contained in contemplation.
“…by industry, and the art of agriculture, improving his estate; where also by the exercise which in a villa is commonly taken, on foot and on horseback, the body will the more easily perceive its strength and health; and, finally, where the mind, fatigued by the agitations of the city, will be greatly restored and comforted, and be able quietly to attend the studies of letters, and contemplation.” (emphasis added)
“Hence it was the ancient sages commonly used to retire to such places like places; where being oftentimes visited by their virtuous friends and relations, having houses, gardens, fountains, and such like pleasant places, and above all, their virtue, they could easily attain to as much happiness as can be attained here below.” (emphasis added) Bk II, Ch. XII
M A T E R I A L C A U S E
The Material Cause will answer the question: “Of what is the Villa Emo?” What materials make up the Villa, both the building and its estate? Palladio provides a general exposition of the material causes of buildings in his First Book. Common to the habitation and barchesse is the materials of bricks and mortar, terra cotta tiles, terrazzo, stone, timber, and stucco. The Final Cause guides the selection of materials specific to each part. Therefore, the agricultural uses of the barchesse require a durability in material selection not as necessary for the habitation; and the domestic and educational uses of the living quarters require a refinement in material selection not necessary for the barchesse. For example, the exterior corridors of the barchesse are of stone pavers, which may sustain the animal and cart traffic and general agricultural uses, whereas, the exterior pronaos or porch of the habitation is of terrazzo decorated in beautiful patterns fitting to the elevated use of this part of the villa. The material treatment of the walls even more clearly distinguishes the difference in uses. Whereas the durability of stucco is necessary for both, the addition of artistic frescos in the habitation is selected to serve the more dignified purposes of the same.
Just as the bricks, tiles, terrazzo, etc. make up the matter of the house, so does the earth, rivers, plants, and air make up the gardens and farm of the Villa. Palladio explains the necessary qualities of these materials in Chapter XII of the Second Book. Here as well, the Final Cause, the purpose, guides the material selection. Given the agricultural purpose of the villa estate, Palladio prioritizes health and convenience in these materials. And, given the domestic and noble pursuits of the estate, he emphasizes not only health, but also beauty as a material quality of the site.
E F F I C I E N T C A U S E
The Efficient Cause will answer the question: “By which means did the Villa Emo come to be?” This is the cause we normally think of when we think of cause. It is preceded by a formulation of the Form in the mind of the architect, an Exemplar, and by a consideration of the reason why the Villa will be built. It is said that the reason or Final Cause is principle among the causes because it first moves the others: first in intention, last in existence. The raison d’etre is first conceived and the last to come into existence. The fruits of agricultural endeavor and the virtuous life of the Villa’s residents are foremost in mind, but last to be achieved.
It is these reasons that will initiate the means to begin the Villa and it is by these means that the Form of the Villa will be caused to exist in the materials collectively and the Materials of the Villa will gradually receive the Form of the Villa Emo. Palladio describes this process and the specific means in the First Chapter of his First Book:
“When those several particulars have been duly examined upon the model or draft, then exact calculation ought to be made of the whole expense, and a timely provision made of the money, and of the materials that shall seem most necessary…Therefore, having made choice of the most skilled artists that can be had…” (emphasis added)
Palladio describes two means by which the Villa will be effected; a remote cause that is not proportionate, or communicating itself, to the effect – money; and a proximate cause that is proportionate, or communicating itself, to the effect – skilled artists. It should be noted that Palladio makes two important qualifications. The first is that of artists rather than workmen or laborers, for it is the artistry of the men that is the real cause here; the art of masonry and terrazzo, and stucco, etc. is the real cause of the erection of this building. The second is that of skilled, for the expertise of the workman will communicate itself to the effect in a paramount manner.
By these Four Causes – Formal, Final, Material, and Efficient – we conclude a comprehensive explanation of the Villa Emo. We may truly say that we know the Villa Emo.
In like manner, equipped with an understanding of the Four Causes, we seek to persuade that any maker of things - the architect, interior designer, builder, developer, craftsman, planner, engineer, etc. – may also comprehensively and with grace conceptualize his or her own work. We make this assertion because these causes underlie not only the built environment, but all of creation; therefore, encompass all these disciplines. As a starting point, let the Four Causes allow us to understand the architectural environment around us, as we have done for the Villa Emo. And, as Palladio’s Villa Emo demonstrates a masterful understanding and example of the Four Causes, may our own work approach this masterpiece by a similar inspiration of these perennial principles.
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A P P E N D I X: Understanding the Villa's Form in Respect to its Nature and Perfections.
The Formal Cause will explain the essence of what the Villa Emo is, but to penetrate into that essence we need to understand what the Villa is meant to be. This understanding of Form is termed its Nature.
By Nature, we mean to explain the Form’s principles of activity which are ordained to a perfection. And by perfection, we may refer to an internal perfection, whereby the principle of activity performs well, or we may refer to an external perfection, whereby the principle of activity attains its end. In natural objects such as plants and animals, their Nature’s operate internally; whereas in man-made objects, such as art, their Nature’s operate externally, in so far as man designs, implants, and moves the object to an end or perfection. Let us consider man’s nature. Man is organic, composed of parts and faculties that work together to man’s highest perfection. It is in man’s highest faculties in his soul that man attains his highest perfection. For the purely spiritual intellect of man is perfected in possessing its end in the contemplation of the Divine, and his will delights in this possession in what is called happiness. By analogy, we may consider the agricultural function of the Villa as an organic entity, in so far as Palladio has invested it with parts and faculties that work together to an end, a perfection. For as a virtuous operation of man’s capacities will perfect man, so will an efficient operation of the agricultural capacities of the Villa perfect the Villa in terms of possessing its end which is a bountiful harvest and delighting in this end which is bodily health to the family and others and material prosperity to the Emo family.
An understanding of nature's organic structure and its translation to the discipline of architecture (and all the arts), is the great lesson of Michelangelo as expressed at the beginning of this article. The architect may ask: 1) To what perfection is my work of architecture ordained? 2) How should I compose its parts to efficiently attain that perfection?
Palladio, the Master Builder, shows us the way. In his Second Book, Chapter XII, Palladio explains the Villa in terms of an idealized setting in imitation of the “ancient sages” which in like manner will endeavor to attain what all men desire: “as much happiness as can be attained here below.” And he explains in a hierarchal manner how the Villa will perfect man, ending with that summit of perfection that may be attained in contemplation, demonstrating as well an understanding of those things that sustain this activity: “virtuous friends….pleasant places [beauty], and above all, virtue…”
Palladio communicates this understanding of human nature in the design of the Villa Emo. For the site selection is made not only in view of the convenience of the agricultural use, but also in view of the beauty for the spiritual benefit of the owner. And, in the basic assembly of the Villa, those parts sustaining the higher perfections of human nature are given precedence, for not only is the living quarters elevated physically above the agricultural quarters, but also symbolically in attributing an almost sacredness to the former in utilizing the language of the ancient Greek temple.
The paintings of Zelotti are a symphony in harmony with Palladio and in harmony with the Nature of the Villa. The frescos sing the perfections of the life of the Villa. (See also the caption under the illustration of Formal Cause). The perfections of the family’s civic life is admonished in the Central Hall in the depiction of tragic and edifying episodes in the history of Roman government. The perfections of the marriage, understood as virtues attained, are displayed in the Allegories of Conjugal Harmony and Wise Administration. And, the perfections of human nature are expressed and given accommodation in the Room of the Arts, in the exercise and contemplation of the arts and in the pinnacle and model of not only human perfection, but of family life, in the fresco of the Holy Family.
Because the discipline of architecture is at the service of man, it is necessary that the architect understand human nature and to what perfections human nature aspires, for architecture must be a support and channel for those aspirations. This understanding is an inquiry into philosophy, and it truth, it is a daunting inquiry for it touches upon virtually every field of philosophy. A beginning may be an understanding of psychology, the logic of the soul; therefore, the following definition of and grades of the soul is provided for meditation:
the soul is a principle of life defined as "the first act of a natural organic body."
its grades are three, each higher having the lower virtually; "the first is plants, the second is the imperfect immobile animals which have the sense of touch, and there are the perfect animals which move with progressive movement and also have the other senses. Manifestly, on a fourth level are the things which have all these and intellect besides [immortal soul of human nature]." Aquinas, Definitions of Soul. On Aristotle's De Anima, Lessons I-III
That out of which something is made or exist.
This cause is composed of the things we can touch in the Villa: brick, timber, terrazzo, frescos, stucco, etc.
Material Cause and Formal Cause are inseparable. That a chair be, it needs both the form of chairness and the matter of wood or metal, etc. The lesson here that materiality does not explain everything. Materiality works in unison with an immaterial explanation, Formal Cause. And, because architecture is undertaken for the benefit of men and sometimes explicitly for God, that immateriality extends to spiritual natures as well. We may understand that the work of architecture is very much elevated among purely material considerations.
Secondly, materials themselves have a form. They have their nature - principles of operation - that need to be understood in order that these materials be employed according to this inherent nature. It is a question of “convenience” so often quoted in the writings of Palladio and others; a material's beauty is manifested in its use being in harmony with what it tends to be.
That into which something is made or exist.
The universal "whatness" of a thing - not the form, shape, or outline, but the thing's essence.
The frescos of the ceiling of the central vestibule declare what the Villa is by representing its perfections. The perfections of married life and agricultural life, understood as attained ends, are symbolized in the child of Cupid – the fruit of chaste love (red and white roses), and in the fecundity of the grape vines.
An architect's principle meditation is upon a work's essence. How will this work of architecture radiate its essence fully, in a fitting manner, and clearly? The architect should conceptualize this for all the genera of a work; the work's genera being synthesized in the definition, which describes the work in a unified way. To explain by example, the Villa Emo is a villa, but contained within villa is the genus of building. If we may propose that the essence of a building is to provide shelter, then a principal essence to manifested in the Villa is that of providing shelter. The success of the Villa Emo, and any work of architecture, begins in being true to its most fundamental notions or forms and then likewise to those essences more specific or subsequent.
A second meditation, following from the first, will be to ask what are the perfections of this work? This is a question of Form understand as Nature, and we refer to the Appendix for a discussion of this topic.
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That by which something is made or exist.
That by which something is made or exist.
The artisans, illustrated here making the bricks for the villa, are instrumental causes of the villa. The entire art of the brick artisan is a principle explanation of how the villa comes to be.
Art is defined as right principles in things made. Therefore, a wise craftsman is an artist in the proper sense. He will literally communicate his wisdom (or lack thereof) into the work of architecture. Although the architect does not undertake the labor of the craftsman, the architect must have some wisdom of the artisans craft, that he may judiciously select him, direct him when needed, and employ him in a manner conducive to magnifying the beauty of the craft and the overall design.
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That for the sake of which something is made or exist.
The emblems of the façade declare the purposes of the Villa; agricultural, symbolized by the goddess, Ceres; which in turn is ordained to the exaltation and prosperity of the Family Emo, symbolized in the prominent and hierarchal placement of the Family’s Coat of Arms.
The Coat of Arms further elaborates the ambitions of the Family; for the colors or red and silver, given a classical interpretation, respectively signify virtue and truth.
"Every agent acts for an end."
This dictum summarizes Final Cause. Final Cause is principal among the causes, guiding them; and, it establishes hierarchy. Each end is undertaken for the sake of another until arriving at an end worthwhile in itself. An artist's work, to be beneficial, must place itself within that hierarchy and ever bear in mind ultimate ends: man's happiness and God's glory. These ends will characterize subordinate ones.
Secondly, each object within that hierarchy should also be considered in itself. Each object may be understood and perfected not only in its Final, but in its Formal, Efficient, and Material Cause. Brick masonry for a wall, for example, will have its own form, means, and matter fitting to its nature.
Author: Paul Benavente | © Stella Maris Architecture | March 31, 2019
Illustrations: © 2019 Madison Brake | email@example.com
What are the underlying principles that define our natural and artificial environment? The ancient Greek philosophers, and those who profited and built upon the fruit of their labor, began the inquiry into this question as an expression of wonderment: “Why?”
“We think we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.”
Aristotle, Physics, Bk II 194 b 17-20
In the 4th and 5th century before Christ, the Fathers of Western philosophy, Plato and especially Aristotle in his Metaphysics; and later in the 13th century, the Common Doctor (common due to extent of influence), St. Thomas Aquinas, gave precision to this wonderment in what is known as the Four Causes. An understanding of why an object is such a way or became such a way may be explained by answering “why” in four ways: the Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient Cause.
Commenting on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
“…the Philosopher [Aristotle] distinguishes the various senses in which cause is used; and in regard to this he does two things…First, he enumerates the various classes of cause. Second, he reduces them to four.” Aquinas, Lesson II, no. 763
The Four Causes are first observed in the natural environment, and, according to the dictum, art imitates nature, may also be observed in the artificial environment. The first article in this series; therefore, explained the Four Causes and proceeded to illustrate them in nature in the consideration of an oak tree. The second article in this series made the step into the artificial environment by considering them in a simple tool: a joiner’s mallet. This article, the third, will undertake to explain the Four Causes in a complex and arguably the most noble of arts, a work of architecture.
Given the intention that this investigation is to understand a building from the most general principles of philosophy, we could consider a building from any era or any place. A temporary building of primitive construction, such as a tepee of Native American use or a monument of sophisticated technology, such as the Empire State Building of contemporary use, could equally be understood through an explication of the Four Causes in them. Neither the Native American nor the American architect needed be aware of these Causes to build. The Four Causes are inherent in nature and things we build.
However, there are periods of history when Western philosophy more prevailed and its principles may be more easily and clearly be identified in the work and theory of that same period. The period of history we would like to consider is the Renaissance. For, by the time of the Renaissance, the study of Aristotle was integral to the core curriculum of the universities. And St. Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized Aristotle within a Christian context, was of similar stature in the academic world, having become regarded as the “Common Doctor” because of his universal influence in the understanding of theology and philosophy. We give emphasis to these two thinkers because of their universal influence, authority, and because they most clearly initiated and elaborated on the Four Causes.
By the time of the Renaissance, Greek authors of architectural theory had also exercised a universal influence. Vitruvius, whose Ten Books on Architecture is alleged to have been rediscovered in the Library of St. Gall Abbey in 1414, gives credit in this book to the Greek philosophers, notably its Fathers - Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle - as sources of his education.
It should be of no surprise; therefore, that when Leon Battista Alberti wrote his treatise on architecture inspired and modeled after that of Vitruvius’, that his theory evidences latent, if not explicit reference to the Four Causes. In his Preface to the treatise, On the Art of Building, he outlines his method for the treatise, where may be seen the Formal and Material Cause explicitly enumerated and the remaining two referenced:
“In treating of which, we shall observe this Method: We consider that an edifice is a kind of Body consisting, like all other bodies, of Design [Formal Cause] and of Matter [Material Cause]; the first is produced by the Thought, the other by Nature; so that the one is to be provided by the application and contrivance of the mind, and the other by due preparation and choice. And further reflected, that neither the one nor the other of itself was sufficient, without the hand of an experienced Artificer [Efficient Cause],that knew how to form his Materials after a just Design. And the Use of Edifices [Final Cause] being various…” (emphasis added.)
Michelangelo did not compose a formal dissertation of architectural theory as Alberti did; however, his letters evidence a similar understanding of causality as that of Alberti and predecessors. St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle were wont to say, “art imitates nature;” therefore, art will imitate the organic structure of nature, principally organized according to purpose, known as the pre-eminent among the cause, Final Cause. Michelangelo expresses this understanding in a letter to an Ecclesiastical dignitary, and James Ackerman, in his scholarly study of Michelangelo, comments to the same letter as follows:
“It is anatomy, rather than number and geometry, that becomes the basic discipline for the architect; the parts of a building are compared, not to the ideal overall proportions of the human body, but significantly, to its functions.” (emphasis added)
Before proceeding to the analysis of Palladio's work, please allow one further reference to an architect of stature. Although Andrea Palladio's work is a beautiful demonstration of these causal principles, because we contend that ultimately these principles transcend styles and epochs, we digress in order to observe them in an epoch vastly different than the Renaissance. Let us briefly consider the Modern epoch and its education as expressed by Mies van der Rohe in his architectural curriculum for the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The foundational segments of the curriculum prescribe Means and Purposes. The Means portion educates upon materials, construction, and form (of simple buildings). Building materials, their methods of construction, and their implementation in simple building forms are learned. The categories bear a similitude to the Material Cause, Efficient Cause, and Formal Cause (at a generic level), respectively. The Purposes portion educates upon the “analysis of various functions of building.” Here the various building types are analyzed in terms of their function. This also bears a similitude to the Causes; specifically, the Formal Cause – what are the building types – and Final Cause – what are the buildings’ purpose. The advanced segment of the curriculum, Planning and Creating, specify further the accidental parts that define the Form of a building: walls, openings, color, light, structure, etc. Furthermore, this segment proposes an “analysis of the supporting and compelling forces of the times” - an understanding of the values of a particular epoch - which guide the choice of and are expressed in the material, methods, forms, and purposes of a building. The demonstration of the Four Causes in the Villa Emo will reveal at the same time the epoch in which it was built. Without attempting an exhaustive analysis of Mies van der Rohe’s curriculum, which is not the scope of this article, but rather with the intention of noting the presence of these transcendent principles within this program of education, let us lastly note the significance in this program of a study of human and societal nature. For as we contend in the Appendix concerning Formal Cause, this understanding of human nature is essential to conceptualize the Form of a building.
Andrea Palladio in his writings and work also give testimony to these transcendent Four Causes. However, the intention of this article is not to argue that Palladio wrote or worked according to a conscious application of the Four Causes. Rather, the intention of this article is to analyze and observe the Four Causes as they exist in a masterpiece of architecture, whose demonstration may be judged to be that much more marvelous because their understanding was that much more imbued in the epoch of which the work was designed and constructed.
The work of architecture shall be the Villa Emo, completed by 1559, located in Fanzolo di Vedelago, Italy. Its architecture is complemented by the paintings of Battista Zelotti. Some consider it a pinnacle of Palladio’s agricultural villas and a pinnacle of the artist, Zelotti. To understand it, we offer the interpretation of underlying causes.