Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

Nothing strictly related to Tarot, but maybe someone else here will find the subject interesting.
This building is described in the XVIII book of Filarete's Treatise on Architecture (1464 ca).
According to Wikipedia, "[the House was planned as] a ten-story structure with a brothel on the bottom and an academy of learning on the higher levels. Filarete did much study on representation of Vices and Virtues, and there are suggestions that his radial design for the city was inspired by St. Augustine’s Earthly City, whose circular shape was divided into sections, each of which had its own Vice and Virtue."

Here is the complete Italian text of the Treatise (book XVIII begins at p.531).

From "History of Architectural Theory" by Hanno-Walter Kruft:
In Filarete's most extreme project, the House of Vice and Virtue, architectural allegory attains the dimensions of “architecture parlante”. A cylindrical building crowned with a monumental statue of Virtue reflects, in its inner compartmentalisation and means of circulation, a programme of educational instruction. Seven rooms must be traversed to learn the seven Liberal Arts, and the seven storeys correspond to the four Cardinal and the three Theological Virtues, or the Seven Deadly sins, etc. Architecture becomes the external representation of an educational idea.

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

About the allegory at the top of the building.

Prima, pensando in che modo questa Virtù si potesse figurarla 
che in una sola figura si rapresentasse essa Virtù, in questa forma 
mi venne a mente di fare una figura a modo d'uno il quale fusse ar-
mato, e la sua testa era a similitudine del sole, e la mano destra 
teneva uno dattero e dalla sinistra teneva uno alloro; e stesse diritta 
su uno diamante, e di sotto a questo diamante uscisse una fonte d'uno 
liquore mellifico, e di sopra dalla testa la Fama.

“I represent Virtue as a man wearing an armour, his head similar to the Sun, holding a date palm in his right hand and a laurel in his left hand. He stands on a diamond and honeyed water springs from below the diamond. Fame flies above his head”.
(167.98 KiB) Downloaded 280 times
Another page of the manuscript presents the seven-fold division of the circular tower and a different view of the entire building.
fil2.jpg (125.88 KiB) Viewed 5824 times

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

Hello Huck,
according to Utopian Thought in the Western World, the building was "in the very center of Sforzinda".
Since I haven't read much of Filarete's Treatise, I currently cannot answer your question about the 16 sections of the city.

PS: The most interesting document about the House I have found so far is Architecture and the bee : virtue and memory in Filarete's Trattato di architettura. This essay links Filarete's description of the building to classical Art of Memory. The last chapter is entirely dedicated to the House of Vice and Virtue.
utopia.jpg (134.48 KiB) Viewed 5801 times

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice


Enlarged: ... va1600.jpg
Report at:

Palmanova is very similar to Sforzinda, though naturally much smaller and the idea was fortification. They had a defending tower in the center. It still has its form: ... TF-8&hl=en

... but a visit with Google maps and Street view shows, that the Tower is gone.

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

Thanks very much for the images and links, Marco. Perhaps you could give us the source for the quote about "appeasement of sexual needs" that you gave; I could not find it in Yocum's "Architecture and the Bee".

Reading in "Architecture and the Bee" about the House of Virtue and Vice in the middle of the 16 sided city of Sforzinda, I could not help but see the same ideas as those inspiring Bartolomeo di Bertoli's illustrated "Song of the Virtues and Sciences" done a century earlier for Bruzio Visconti (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=862), both works inspired by the great Augustinian theologian Hugh of St. Victor, and before that by Raymond Lull: from the seven liberal arts, an ascent through the seven virtues, each of which must be crossed in order to scale the heights. Where Hugh had a ladder, Filarete has stairs and bridges.

This imagery seems to me also to suggest the Cary-Yale triumphs--supposing there were 16 triumphs, of which 7 were these virtues. From the ascent through the virtues, if one takes the numbered sequence as an ascent, one arrives at Fama, i.e. Glory--although the ultimate aim, explicit in Lull's picture of the ladder, is the City of God.

I was interested in the image of Fama here. It is rather different than the usual one.If there is a trumpet, it is not prominent. I count seven bee-like winged creatures flitting about it. Filarete says they are "four eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth" (p. 70 of Architecture and the Bee)--i.e. they symbolize the senses. That adds up to 8, of course. Perhaps there is another one that we don't see. Or else, when he did the drawing, he was thinking of three eyes, as in the case of his earlier treatise on Will and Reason, to see the past, present, and future.

There is a postulated Fama in the Cary-Yale as well, at or near the end of the sequence. However it is not that Filarete's treatise inspired the Cary-Yale, unless the deck was much later than most of us think it was, but rather that Filarete is articulating some of the same concepts that went into that deck. He helps us to understand, I think, how that deck would have been seen in the early Sforza era, as well as in the Visconti era that preceded it.

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

Since writing the above, two new pieces of information have arrived. One is my Minchiate Francesi deck, c. 1730 (reprint of 1985). Its "Renomme", card , #24, shows a male angel, looking like an 11 year old boy, flying, blowing one horn, and holding something else with his left off to the side; all we see is something like a stick, but it is probably to be taken as a second horn. Except for the horns, he could be Filarate's Fama. On the Poilly thread, Huck gave a link that has an image of the same card but in color and with a different number; it is image 36 at ... hemindefer.

The other thing that arrived was my interlibrary loan of Pellegrin's Bibliotheque des Visconti et des Sforza. I see that not only was Raymond Lull represented in the Visconti inventory of 1426 (which I could have learned from Ross's article at, but also Hugo de Sancto Victore, whose De Arca Noe Mystica Yocum cites. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas are there, too, of course. The only problem is that none of the works that Yocum cites as relevant is listed as being in the library or elsewhere in possession of the Visconti and Sforza. Well, Filarete would have had his own library, as well as the use of Filelfo's, and before that the ones in Florence and Rome. Hugo/Hugh on memory and the mystical ladder to heaven was standard fare at that time, and so was Thomas Aquinas on memory.

That Filarete wrote a treatise on Will and Reason, with an illustration contrasting the two, may also be relevant to the tarot as it later developed. Which virtues pertain to "Will" and which to "Reason"? Could it be that the moral virtues of Justice, Courage, and Temperance are of the will, and Prudence and the Theologicals are of Reason? I don't quite see how the Theologicals would have been, but then I don't know medieval theology, or what Filarete said. The point would be that once the Theologicals were eliminated, Prudence would have been as well.

Filarete seems to me relevant to the tarot in other respects. One, of course, is his depiction, on the bronze doors he did at St, Peter's in Rome, of Peter as hanging upside down ( ... tPeter.jpg), one way of interpreting the PMB Hanged Man (as opposed to the versions with the money bags). Another, as has also been observed, his Sforzinda bears some resemblance to the walled city on the PMB World card. A third is that, judging from the details of the Greek delegation on his doors, he seems to have been in Florence at the time of the Council of Florence, one possible point of dissemination of the tarot, as well as of the Neoplatonic mysticism of Plethon that is sometimes attached to it. In that connection, he writes in his Treatise on Architecture about how images, in the Egyptian way of writing, had meanings quite different from what was apparent to the uneducated eye.Here is Filarete:
...They are all picture letters; some have one animal, some another, some have a bird, some a snake, some an owl, some are like a saw and some like an eye, and some with some kinds of figures, some with one thing and then another, so that there are few that can translate them. It is true that the poet Francisco Filelfo told me that some of these animals meant one thing and some another. Each one had its own meaning. The eel means envy. Thus each one has its own meaning...
(Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance p. 85).

Here is the Italian for this last sentence (quoted in Charles Dempsey, “Renaissance Hieroglyphic Studies,” in Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe):
Vero e che ‘l poeta Francesco Filelfo mi diesse che quegli animali significavano chi una cosa e chi un’altra, ciascheduno ognuno per se, l’anguilla significa la ‘nvidia, e cosi ognuna ha sua significazione, se gia loro ancora on avessino fatto ch’elle fussino pure come sono l’altre e potessinsi compitare.
Let me make it clear that I do not wish to imply in any way that the tarot triumphs were invented with hidden meanings in mind, just that it would be natural for people like Filarete or Filelfo to develop such meanings, and perhaps suggest modifications in the imagery to make such meanings plausible (i.e. in the PMB World card).

There is an English translation of Filarete's Treatise ( ... ZISQAACAAJ). I can see I'll have to look at it. Fortunately, it seems to be available at my local library, next time I'm there. But if anybody sees an online version, let us know.

Re: Filarete’s House of Virtue and Vice

Thank you, Marco. You had given this link earlier at the beginning of the post, but somehow I missed it.

In this book, Utopian Thought in the Western World, the quote on p. 169 is also of interest. Filarete compares the inhabitants of Sforzinda to bees, and their lord to a king of bees. Here is the beginning and end of the quote:
The animals that produce honey are industrious, severe and just. They desire and have a lord and ruler over themselves and they follow all his commands... Thus should the men of the city be....The lord should be severe and just when it is needful and at times clement and merciful.
It seems to me that this way of describing bees and their ruler derives from Horapollo's Hieroglyphica, of which Filelfo had a copy (Filelfo's 1444 letter to Scalamanti, which I cite, following Dempsey, at ... stcount=44). Horapollo says (Curran p. 57) that
...under the figure of a bee making honey they designate “a king,” showing by this imagery that in a ruler sweetness should be combined with a sting as well.
And so the creatures in the liquid at the base of the diamond on which the figure of Virtue stands are bees, symbolizing not just the industriousness of the bee but also the combination of justice and mercy to which Harapollo refers, which makes it symbolic of the king. And so Virtue is King of Filarete's idealized city. The bee here is an example of a Renaissance hieroglyph, applying what Filarete took to be an Egyptian model.

Here is Spencer's translation (p. 119 of Filarete's Treatise on Architecture, vol. 1 - The Translation) of one of the descriptions of the figure of Virtue (it appears earlier than the one you quoted, Book IX, f. 68v)
First of all I made a pointed diamond surmounted by a figure in the form of an angel with a head like the sun. He is armed and in one hand he holds a laurel branch and in the other a date branch. Below the diamond there is a fountain of honey in which there are many bees. A flying [figure of] Fame is above it.
The drawing accompanies the later description (Book XVIII, f. 143r) which you quoted, Marco, at the beginning of the thread. By then the "fountain of honey" has changed to a flow of "honeyed water". The bees in this later passage are no longer mentioned explicitly. But they are still there in the drawing.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests