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Architecture in the Renaissance Era

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    The period between the early 15th and the early 17th Centuries heralded the conscious revival and development of certain elements of classical Roman and Greek though and material culture.  Renaissance Architecture was born out of this resurgence of classical contemplation and culture. Fillipo Brunelleschi blazed the trail as a trendsetter in Florence, Italy from where the Renaissance style of architecture quickly spread to other Italian cities.  From there, it spread to France, Germany, England, Russia and other parts of Europe. The Renaissance approach to architecture is characterized by an emphasis on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as expressed in the architecture of classical ancient Rome of which many visible examples existed (Hale, 1971).

    The underlying feature of Brunelleschi work was order.  In the early 1400’s he observed that the buildings remaining among the ruins of ancient Rome appeared to respect a simple mathematical order in a way that Gothic buildings did not.  From this observation came a desire for symmetry and careful proportion (Howard, 1993).

    The result was that in Brunelleschi buildings as a whole and all their subsidiary details, each has a fixed relationship. Each part in proportion to the next and the architectural features define exactly what those rules of proportion are (Sir, Banister, 1896), Brunelleschi architectural works include the brick done which covers the central space over Florence’s Cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambia in the 14th Century but left unroofed.  That was his fist commission which was followed later by the churches of San Lorenzo and San Spirito also in Florence where Brunelleschi new architectural philosophy is best demonstrated.  In 1434, Brunelleschi designed the first Renaissance Central planned building, the church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli of Florence.  Form then onwards numerous churches were built in variations of these designs (Rykwert & Alberti, 1986).

    Michelozzo Michelozzo, (1396-1472) was an architect under the patronage of the Medici family and was one of the first architects to work in the renaissance style outside Italy by building a palace at Dubrovnik.  His most famous work was the palazzo Medici at Fiesole build in 1444.

    The Palazzo Medici Riccardi is classical work of Renaissance architecture which Michelozzo was commissioned to design for Casimo de Medici as well as the Library at the convent of San Marco, Florence. It would be improper to leave out Leon Battista Alberti, (1402-1472) a Humanists theoretician and designer whose book on architecture “De re Aedifictoria” had such a lasting effect on the architectural world.  Alberti incorporated the aspect of humanism through his perception of the architect as a person with great social responsibilities.  One of his greatest designs was that of the church of Sant’ Andrea in Mantua. An extremely dynamic building both without and within (Hale, 1971), two other buildings, the Palazzo Rucellai and the Santa Maria Novella, in Florence are some of Alberti’s best known works of architecture (Rykwert & Alberti, 1986).

    Historians usually classify the Renaissance in Italy into three phases. The black economic conditions of the late 14th century did not produce building that are considered to be past of the Renaissance.  As a result the word, the word “Renaissance” among architectural historians usually applies to the period 1400 to CA 1525 (Hale, 1971) or later in the case of non-Italians Renaissances (Rykwert & Alberti, 1986).

    The architects cited in this paper belong to the Renaissance period (CA, 1400-1500) also known as the Quattro cento or Early Renaissance.  It was later followed by Cinquecento or High Renaissance (CA, 1500-1525) and later by Mannerism (CA 1520-1600).  In the Quattro cento period which featured such as Brunelleschi, Michelozzo and Alberti the pioneers of Renaissance architecture, the concepts of architectural order were explored and rules were formulated. The study of classical relics led to the adoption of classical detail and ornamentation space, as an

    Element of architecture, was organized and utilized by proportional logic. Rather than being created by intuition as had been the case of medieval building in the middle ages, the form and rhythm of the new buildings were subject to geometry as exemplified by the Pazzi chapel in Florence by Fillipo Brunelleschi (Sir, Banister, 1896),

    With its origins in Italy, the Renaissance spread throughout Tuscany to Lombardy, Rome and beyond.  The courts of the lesser Italian states became centers for spreading Renaissance philosophy art and architecture.  The Renaissance flourished at the famous Ducal Palace at Urbino, among other places (Hale, 1971).

    In southern Italy, Renaissance masters were called to Naples by its conqueror, Alfonso V of Aragon.  The most notable example of Renaissance architecture being the Cappella Caracciolo and the palazzo Orsini di Gravina build between 1513 and 1549.

    Eventually, the Renaissance spirit was exported to France, Portugal, Spain, England Germany, Sweden, Poland and Eastern Europe. It had to collaborate with local traditions and climates.  Generally, it was not until about 1500 that signs of Renaissance architectural style began to appear outside Italy (Sir, Banister, 1896),

    In France, Renaissance architecture developed to what has been termed as new-renaissance architecture.  This developed during the early years of the 16th Century when the French were involved in wars with Northern Italy.  As their war boats, they not only brought back art treasures but also stylistic ideas which led to the new renaissance architectural style developed in France (Rykwert & Alberti, 1986).

    There are no similarities involving Renaissance and Gothic Architecture.  However, as the French Renaissance evolved, the addition of Renaissance ornament to Gothic based buildings; on occasion the two styles were mixed and resulted in new renaissance architecture.  A good example of this is the National Museum in Stockholm completed in 1866.  By the beginning of the 20th Century, new renaissance architecture was a common sight on the main streets of thousands of towns, large and small around the world.  While new renaissance did not develop into a style as recognizable as that of the Renaissance, it is easily recognizable as derivative of the renaissance form of architecture. Neo renaissance architecture, because of its diversity, is perhaps the only architectural style to have existed in so many forms yet still common to so many countries (Rykwert & Alberti, 1986).


    Hale, J.R. (1971).  Renaissance Europe, 1480 – 1520.  Fontana.

    Howard, S.  (1993). Fillipo Brunelleschi: The Buildings.  London: Zwemmer.

    Sir, Banister, F. (1896).  A history of Architecture and the Comparative Method.   New York: Elsevier Science and Technology.

    Rykwert, J. & Alberti, L. B. (1986) Architectural Design, Vol. 49, No. 5-6, London: Holland St.

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