I shall deal first of all with private houses, and then with public buildings; and I shall briefly discuss roads, bridges, squares, prisons, basilicas which are places of judgement, xisti and palestre which were places where men took exercise, temples, theatres, amphitheatres, arches, baths, aqueducts, and finally the way to fortify cities and ports. (Palladio, Quattro Libri, Preface, 1570)
Architectural theorists from Alberti to Palladio thought about architecture typologically. For them buildings were identified principally by their function rather than their form. This way of categorizing architecture has long been recognized by scholars and it has been profitably applied to the study of Italian fifteenth- and sixteenth-century architecture, especially that of villas and palaces. And yet the church, together with its typological subdivisions, such as the oratory, the monastic church, and the pilgrimage church, has remained relatively neglected. As a consequence many aspects of the design of individual churches have been ignored or misunderstood. One example is the church of the Madonna delle Carceri in Prato (Figs 1 and 2). It has generally been discussed either as one of the most beautiful of fifteenth-century centralized churches, or as part of an attempt to characterize the style of its Florentine architect, Giuliano da Sangallo. Although these approaches have revealed much about how the Madonna delle Carceri’s design came into being, when the building is seen from a different perspective, that of its function as a pilgrimage church, it becomes easier to explain aspects of its form, and to suggest alternative models for its design.