Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance Architecture was based on the study of Classical architecture, and emphasized harmony and perfection through the application of logic and geometry:

“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.”
Architecture in Renaissance Italy

Filippo Brunelleschi, Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence, begun 1420s, completed 1460s
Filippo Brunelleschi, Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence, begun 1420s, completed 1460s

Filippo Brunelleschi pioneered a new style of architecture based on Classical architecture.  Features of his style include the use of classical columns and rounded arches (as distinct from the pointed arches of Gothic architecture), and simple geometric shapes such as the circle and the square.  This simple, logical approach to architecture was a dramatic departure from the complicated, “mystical” style of Gothic architecture.

Filippo Brunelleschi, Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence, begun 1420s, completed 1460s Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dt. Steven Zucker

Divine Proportions
Renaissance architects believed that the circle and the square were “perfect” shapes that correspond to the proportions of the human body (this was the basis for Leonardo’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man).   Brunelleschi designed his buildings using modular units based on these two shapes, arranged in logical sequences:

“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.”
Architecture in Renaissance Italy

Filippo Brunelleschi, Santo Spirito, c. 1436, Florence

Brunelleschi’s Santo Spirito exemplifies his style.  In contrast to the complex, soaring interiors of the Gothic Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s space is simple, rational, and serene. Instead of being mystified or awed by the space, we sense its order and clarity — as if rationality, rather than faith, is its true message.

Filippo Brunelleschi’s Santo Spirito, Florence, 1428-81 Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker

Leon Battista Alberti, Sant’Andrea, Mantua, 1470-1472

Alberti was another major architect of the Renaissance.  He was deeply influenced by Vitruvius, a Roman architect who published several treatises on architecture.  His design for the Church of Ant’Andrea in Mantua shows the influence of Roman architecture in its massive scale, and its use of vaults.

Alberti published his own treatise on architecture, which had tremendous influence on his successors:

“Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) 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.”
Architecture in Renaissance Italy 

Alberti believed that universal beauty could be achieved through mathematical proportions. His ideas were similar to ancient Greek architects and sculptors who believed that beauty and perfection could be mathematically derived. Alberti rejected the columns and arches of Greek architecture in favor of the massive piers and vaults that were typical of Roman imperial architecture.

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Architecture in Renaissance Italy 

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