Italian Renaissance architects based their theories and practices on Classical Roman examples. The Renaissance revival of Classical Rome was as important in architecture as it was in literature. A pilgrimage to Rome to study the ancient buildings and ruins, especially the Colosseum and Pantheon, was considered essential to an architect's training. Classical orders and architectural elements such as columns, pilasters, pediments, entablatures, arches, and domes form the vocabulary of Renaissance buildings. Vitruvius's writings on architecture also influenced the Renaissance definition of beauty in architecture. As in the Classical world, Renaissance architecture is characterized by harmonious form, mathematical proportion, and a unit of measurement based on the human scale.
During the Renaissance, architects trained as humanists helped raise the status of their profession from skilled laborer to artist. They hoped to create structures that would appeal to both emotion and reason. Three key figures in Renaissance architecture were Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, and Andrea Palladio.Brunelleschi
Filippo Brunelleschi (1337–1446) is widely considered the first Renaissance architect. Trained as a goldsmith in his native city of Florence, Brunelleschi soon turned his interests to architecture, traveling to Rome to study ancient buildings. In his works he was strongly influenced by the writings of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. Among his greatest accomplishments is the engineering of the dome of Florence Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo). He was also the first since antiquity to use the classical orders Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian in a consistent and appropriate manner.
Although Brunelleschi's structures may appear simple, they rest on an underlying system of proportion. Brunelleschi often began with a unit of measurement whose repetition throughout the building created a sense of harmony, as in the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Florence, 1419). This building is based on a modular cube, which determines the height of and distance between the columns, and the depth of each bay.
Leon Battista Alberti (1406–1472) worked as an architect from the 1450s onward, principally in Florence, Rimini, and Mantua. As a trained humanist and true Renaissance man, Alberti was as accomplished as an architect as he was a humanist, musician, and art theorist. Alberti's many treatises on art include Della Pittura (On Painting), De Sculptura (On Sculpture), and De re Aedificatoria (On Architecture). The first treatise, Della Pittura, was a fundamental handbook for artists, explaining the principles behind linear perspective, which may have been first developed by Brunelleschi. Alberti shared Brunelleschi's reverence for Roman architecture and was inspired by the example of Vitruvius, the only Roman architectural theorist whose writings are extant.
Alberti aspired to recreate the glory of ancient times through architecture. His facades of the Tempio Malatestiano (Rimini, 1450) and the Church of Santa Maria Novella (Florence, 1470) are based on Roman temple fronts. His deep understanding of the principles of classical architecture are also seen in the Church of Sant'Andrea (Mantua, 1470). The columns here are not used decoratively, but retain their classical function as load-bearing supports. For Alberti, architecture was not merely a means of constructing buildings; it was a way to create meaning.
Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) was the chief architect of the Venetian Republic, writing an influential treatise, I quattro libri dell'architettura (Four Books on Architecture,1570; 188.8.131.52). Due to the new demand for villas in the sixteenth century, Palladio specialized in domestic architecture, although he also designed two beautiful and impressive churches in Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore (1565) and Il Redentore (1576). Palladio's villas are often centrally planned, drawing on Roman models of country villas. The Villa Emo (Treviso, 1559) was a working estate, while the Villa Rotonda (Vicenza, 1566–70) was an aristocratic refuge. Both plans rely on classical ideals of symmetry, axiality, and clarity. The simplicity of Palladian designs allowed them to be easily reproduced in rural England and, later, on southern plantations in the American colonies.A common feature of renaissance architecture was the dome. Almost all renaissance cathedrals had domes. Many domes had paintings or decorations on the ceilings. French renaissance architecture had outer walls, and towers, and the domes were usually only on the inside of a building. Some good examples of renaissance architecture with domes are the Duomo of Florence, and St. Peter's cathedral in Rome. Famous architects and artists such as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo Di Vinci, and Filippo Brunelleschi were shapers of renaissance architecture.In constructing churches, Renaissance architects no longer used the shape of a cross as a basis for their structures. Instead, they based them on the circle. Believing that ancient mathematicians equated circles with geometric perfection, architects used the circle to represent the perfection of God.
From The Western Tradition series.
In constructing their homes, wealthy people of the Renaissance often adopted a Roman style, building the four sides of their homes around a courtyard. Simple, symmetrical decorations--imitations of classical ones--were applied to the façades of buildings, and some structures also featured columns reminiscent of ancient temples.During the Renaissance the ideals of art and architecture became unified in the acceptance of classical antiquity and in the belief that humanity was a measure of the universe. The rebirth of classical architecture, which took place in Italy in the 15th cent. and spread in the following century through Western Europe, terminated the supremacy of the Gothic style.In Italy, there was a rediscovery and appropriation of the classical orders of architecture. Rome's structural elements, its arches, vaults, and domes, as well as its decorative forms, served as an open treasury, from which the designers of the 15th cent. unstintingly borrowed, adapting them to new needs in original combinations. Although built using Roman motifs, the churches, town halls, palaces, and villas showed new developments in plan and structure. The stone houses of Florence, of which the Medici-Riccardi Palace by Michelozzi is a principal example, are marked by a rugged simplicity. On the other hand, fondness for the free use of beautiful details led, particularly in Lombardy, to graceful designs, in which the more massive appearance of the building was submerged; the facade of the Certosa di Pavia exemplifies this spirit.
Numerous palaces and churches erected in Rome gave the city architectural preeminence, and Raphael, Peruzzi, Vignola, and Michelangelo worked there, as well as Antonio da Sangallo the younger, whose Farnese Palace exemplifies the period's highest standards. Work on St. Peter's Church was begun by Bramante and carried on by a succession of the finest artists and architects that Italy produced. The classical orders, often on a monumental scale, now played the chief role in decoration. Palladio, Serlio, Vignola, and others codified the system of proportioning, and their ideas were extremely influential in the development of European architecture.
In France in the 16th cent., Renaissance taste made one of its first tentative appearances in the Louis XII wing of the château of Blois. In the first period Gothic traditions persisted in plan, structure, and exterior masses, onto which fresh and graceful Renaissance details were grafted. The movement was sponsored by Francis I, a prolific builder. Handsome and livable châteaus replaced grim feudal castles. Fontainebleau, Chambord, and Azay-le-Rideau are famous examples.
The beginning (1546) of the construction of the Louvre by Pierre Lescot usually serves as the opening date of the classical period. Classical proportions and methods of composition were assimilated, and the use of the orders became general. Although Italian models were followed, a distinctively French brand of classicism took form. The leading architects were Lescot, Philibert Delorme, and the Androuet du Cerceau family. Jean Goujon and others contributed fine sculptural adornments.
Renaissance Architecture Elsewhere in Europe
In England the Renaissance flowered in the middle of the 16th cent. The Elizabethan style and the Jacobean style applied classical motifs while retaining medieval forms. The move toward a pure and monumental classical style was largely the work of Inigo Jones, whose royal banqueting hall (1619) in London decisively established Palladian design in English architecture.
In Germany, about the middle of the 16th cent., the medieval love for picturesque forms still dominated, although transferred to classical motifs. Freely interpreted and resembling the Elizabethan work in England, these gave full play to originality and craftsmanship. The style, however, lacking truly great architects, failed to achieve full development as in France and England. Nuremberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber are rich in works of the early period.
In the first period of the Renaissance in Spain, Gothic and Moorish forms (see Mudéjar) intermingled with the new classical ones. Under the leadership of Francisco de Herrera the younger, who imported strictly classical principles from Italy, the second period was one of correctness and formality. The palace of Charles V at Granada (1527) is its finest product.