by Gerald Boerner
Today we will continue our consideration of the artists who worked during the Renaissance period in Europe. During this time, art was either commissioned or done for the church, which essentially meant the same thing: the churches, monasteries, and other religious organizations gathered together a store of art that reflected the emotions and reality of people.
We are focusing on the advanced in Renaissance Architecture today and the principle artists involved during that period and look at some of their best works. In general, the renaissance represented a transition from highly stylized art of only religious subjects to art that incorporated the sense of light and color available in the new media available. In addition, innovations in the use of perspective gave these artworks a greater sense of reality.
We hope that this will provide you with food for thought regarding the Holy Week celebrations on which we are also focusing this week. GLB
“A man of eighty has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry and a hundred in dress.”
— Lord Byron
“All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.”
— Gilbert K. Chesterton
“All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”
— Philip Johnson
“All the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!”
— T.E. Lawrence
“Any architectural project we do takes at least four or five years, so increasingly there is a discrepancy between the acceleration of culture and the continuing slowness of architecture.”
— Rem Koolhaas
“Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.”
— Richard Meier
“Architecture can’t fully represent the chaos and turmoil that are part of the human personality, but you need to put some of that turmoil into the architecture, or it isn’t real.”
— Frank Stella
“After about the first Millennium, Italy was the cradle of Romanesque architecture, which spread throughout Europe, much of it extending the structural daring with minimal visual elaboration..”
— Harry Seidler
This posting is intended for the educational use of photographers and photography students and complies with the “educational fair use” provisions of copyright law. For readers who might wish to reuse some of these images should check out their compliance with copyright limitations that might apply to that use.
The Renaissance: Renaissance Architecture (Part 1)
Renaissance architecture is the architecture of the period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in different regions of Europe, in which there was a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance architecture followed Gothic architecture and was succeeded by Baroque architecture.
The Renaissance style places emphasis on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as they are demonstrated in the architecture of classical antiquity and in particular ancient Roman architecture, of which many examples remained. Orderly arrangements of columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and aedicules replaced the more complex proportional systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings.
Developed first in Florence, with Filippo Brunelleschi as one of its innovators, the Renaissance style quickly spread to other Italian cities and then to France, Germany, England, Russia and elsewhere.
The word "Renaissance" derived from the term "la rinascita" ("rebirth") which first appeared in Giorgio Vasari’s Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori Italiani (The Lives of the Artists, 1550–68).
Although the term Renaissance was used first by the French historian Jules Michelet, it was given its more lasting definition from the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose book, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien 1860, was influential in the development of the modern interpretation of the Italian Renaissance. The folio of measured drawings Édifices de Rome moderne; ou, Recueil des palais, maisons, églises, couvents et autres monuments (The Buildings of Modern Rome), first published in 1840 by Paul Letarouilly, also played an important part in the revival of interest in this period. The Renaissance style was recognized by contemporaries in the term "all’antica", or "in the ancient manner" (of the Romans).
Historians often divide the Renaissance in Italy into three phases. Whereas art historians might talk of an "Early Renaissance" period, in which they include developments in 14th century painting and sculpture, this is usually not the case in architectural history. The bleak economic conditions of the late 14th century did not produce buildings that are considered to be part of the Renaissance. As a result, the word "Renaissance" among architectural historians usually applies to the period 1400 to ca. 1525, or later in the case of non-Italian Renaissances.
Historians often use the following designations:
- Renaissance (ca. 1400–1500); also known as the Quattrocento and sometimes Early Renaissance
- High Renaissance (ca.1500–1525)
- Mannerism (ca. 1520–1600)
In the Quattrocento, concepts of architectural order were explored and rules were formulated. (See- Characteristics of Renaissance Architecture, below.) The study of classical antiquity led in particular to the adoption of Classical detail and ornamentation.
Space, as an element of architecture, was utilised differently from the way it had been in the Middle Ages. Space was organised by proportional logic, its form and rhythm subject to geometry, rather than being created by intuition as in Medieval buildings. The prime example of this is the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446).
During the High Renaissance, concepts derived from classical antiquity were developed and used with greater surety. The most representative architect is Bramante (1444–1514) who expanded the applicability of classical architecture to contemporary buildings. His San Pietro in Montorio (1503) was directly inspired by circular Roman temples. He was, however, hardly a slave to the classical forms and it was his style that was to dominate Italian architecture in the 16th century.
During the Mannerist period, architects experimented with using architectural forms to emphasize solid and spatial relationships. The Renaissance ideal of harmony gave way to freer and more imaginative rhythms. The best known architect associated with the Mannerist style was Michelangelo (1475–1564), who is credited with inventing the giant order, a large pilaster that stretches from the bottom to the top of a façade. He used this in his design for the Campidoglio in Rome.
Prior to the 20th century, the term Mannerism had negative connotations, but it is now used to describe the historical period in more general non-judgmental terms.
From Renaissance to Baroque
As the new style of architecture spread out from Italy, most other European countries developed a sort of proto-Renaissance style, before the construction of fully formulated Renaissance buildings. Each country in turn then grafted its own architectural traditions to the new style, so that Renaissance buildings across Europe are diversified by region.
Within Italy the evolution of Renaissance architecture into Mannerism, with widely diverging tendencies in the work of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano and Andrea Palladio, led to the Baroque style in which the same architectural vocabulary was used for very different rhetoric.
Outside Italy, Baroque architecture was more widespread and fully developed than the Renaissance style, with significant buildings as far afield as Mexico and the Philippines.
Characteristics of Renaissance Architecture
The obvious distinguishing features of Classical Roman architecture were adopted by Renaissance architects. However, the forms and purposes of buildings had changed over time. So had the structure of cities. Among the earliest buildings of the reborn Classicism were churches of a type that the Romans had never constructed. Neither were there models for the type of large city dwellings required by wealthy merchants of the 15th century. Conversely, there was no call for enormous sporting fixtures and public bath houses such as the Romans had built. The ancient orders were analysed and reconstructed to serve new purposes.
The plans of Renaissance buildings have a square, symmetrical appearance in which proportions are usually based on a module. Within a church the module is often the width of an aisle. The need to integrate the design of the plan with the façade was introduced as an issue in the work of Filippo Brunelleschi, but he was never able to carry this aspect of his work into fruition. The first building to demonstrate this was St. Andrea in Mantua by Alberti. The development of the plan in secular architecture was to take place in the 16th century and culminated with the work of Palladio.
Façades are symmetrical around their vertical axis. Church façades are generally surmounted by a pediment and organized by a system of pilasters, arches and entablatures. The columns and windows show a progression towards the center. One of the first true Renaissance façades was the Cathedral of Pienza (1459–62), which has been attributed to the Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli (known as Rossellino) with Alberti perhaps having some responsibility in its design as well.
Domestic buildings are often surmounted by a cornice. There is a regular repetition of openings on each floor, and the centrally placed door is marked by a feature such as a balcony, or rusticated surround. An early and much copied prototype was the façade for the Palazzo Rucellai (1446 and 1451) in Florence with its three registers of pilasters.
Columns and Pilasters
The Roman orders of columns are used:- Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. The orders can either be structural, supporting an arcade or architrave, or purely decorative, set against a wall in the form of pilasters. During the Renaissance, architects aimed to use columns, pilasters, and entablatures as an integrated system. One of the first buildings to use pilasters as an integrated system was in the Old Sacristy (1421–1440) by Brunelleschi.
Arches are semi-circular or (in the Mannerist style) segmental. Arches are often used in arcades, supported on piers or columns with capitals. There may be a section of entablature between the capital and the springing of the arch. Alberti was one of the first to use the arch on a monumental scale at the St. Andrea in Mantua.
Vaults do not have ribs. They are semi-circular or segmental and on a square plan, unlike the Gothic vault which is frequently rectangular. The barrel vault, is returned to architectural vocabulary as at the St. Andrea in Mantua.
The dome is used frequently, both as a very large structural feature that is visible from the exterior, and also as a means of roofing smaller spaces where they are only visible internally. Domes had been used only rarely in the Middle Ages, but after the success of the dome in Brunelleschi’s design for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and its use in Bramante’s plan for St. Peter’s Basilica (1506) in Rome, the dome became an indispensable element in church architecture and later even for secular architecture, such as Palladio’s Villa Rotonda.
Roofs are fitted with flat or coffered ceilings. They are not left open as in Medieval architecture. They are frequently painted or decorated.
Doors usually have square lintels. They may be set within an arch or surmounted by a triangular or segmental pediment. Openings that do not have doors are usually arched and frequently have a large or decorative keystone.
Windows may be paired and set within a semi-circular arch. They may have square lintels and triangular or segmental pediments, which are often used alternately. Emblematic in this respect is the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, begun in 1517.
In the Mannerist period the “Palladian” arch was employed, using a motif of a high semi-circular topped opening flanked with two lower square-topped openings. Windows are used to bring light into the building and in domestic architecture, to give views. Stained glass, although sometimes present, is not a feature.
External walls are generally of highly-finished ashlar masonry, laid in straight courses. The corners of buildings are often emphasised by rusticated quoins. Basements and ground floors were often rusticated, as modeled on the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (1444–1460) in Florence. Internal walls are smoothly plastered and surfaced with white-chalk paint. For more formal spaces, internal surfaces are decorated with frescoes.
Courses, mouldings and all decorative details are carved with great precision. Studying and mastering the details of the ancient Romans was one of the important aspects of Renaissance theory. The different orders each required different sets of details. Some architects were stricter in their use of classical details than others, but there was also a good deal of innovation in solving problems, especially at corners. Moldings stand out around doors and windows rather than being recessed, as in Gothic Architecture. Sculptured figures may be set in niches or placed on plinths. They are not integral to the building as in Medieval architecture.
Influences on the Development of Renaissance Architecture in Italy
Italy of the 15th century, and the city of Florence in particular, was home to the Renaissance. It is in Florence that the new architectural style had its beginning, not slowly evolving in the way that Gothic grew out of Romanesque, but consciously brought to being by particular architects who sought to revive the order of a past "Golden Age". The scholarly approach to the architecture of the ancient coincided with the general revival of learning. A number of factors were influential in bringing this about.
Italian architects had always preferred forms that were clearly defined and structural members that expressed their purpose. Many Tuscan Romanesque buildings demonstrate these characteristics, as seen in the Florence Bapistery and Pisa Cathedral.
Italy had never fully adopted the Gothic style of architecture. Apart from the Cathedral of Milan, largely the work of German builders, few Italian churches show the emphasis on vertically, the clustered shafts, ornate tracery and complex ribbed vaulting that characterise Gothic in other parts of Europe.
The presence, particularly in Rome, of ancient architectural remains showing the ordered Classical style provided an inspiration to artists at a time when philosophy was also turning towards the Classical.
In the 15th century, Florence, Venice and Naples extended their power through much of the area that surrounded them, making the movement of artists possible. This enabled Florence to have significant artistic influence in Milan, and through Milan, France.
In 1377, the return of the Pope from Avignon and re-establishment of the Papal court in Rome, brought wealth and importance to that city, as well as a renewal in the importance of the Pope in Italy, which was further strengthened by the Council of Constance in 1417. Successive Popes, especially Julius II, 1503–13, sought to extend the Pope’s temporal power throughout Italy.
In the early Renaissance, Venice controlled sea trade over goods from the East. The large towns of Northern Italy were prosperous through trade with the rest of Europe, Genoa providing a seaport for the goods of France and Spain; Milan and Turin being centers of overland trade, and maintaining substantial metalworking industries. Trade brought wool from England to Florence, ideally located on the river for the production of fine cloth, the industry on which its wealth was founded. By dominating Pisa, Florence gained a seaport, and also maintained dominance of Genoa. In this commercial climate, one family in particular turned their attention from trade to the lucrative business of money-lending. The Medici became the chief bankers to the princes of Europe, becoming virtually princes themselves as they did so, by reason of both wealth and influence. Along the trade routes, and thus offered some protection by commercial interest, moved not only goods but also artists, scientists and philosophers.
The return of the Pope from Avignon in 1377 and the resultant new emphasis on Rome as the center of Christian spirituality, brought about a boom in the building of churches in Rome such as had not taken place for nearly a thousand years. This commenced in the mid 15th century and gained momentum in the 16th century, reaching its peak in the Baroque period. The construction of the Sistine Chapel with its uniquely important decorations and the entire rebuilding of St Peter’s, one of Christendom’s most significant churches, was part of this process.
In wealthy republican Florence, the impetus for church-building was more civic than spiritual. The unfinished state of the enormous cathedral dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary did no honour to the city under her patronage. However, as the technology and finance were found to complete it, the rising dome did credit not only to the Blessed Virgin, its architect and the Church but also the Signoria, the Guilds and the sectors of the city from which the manpower to construct it was drawn. The dome inspired further religious works in Florence.
The development of printed books, the rediscovery of ancient writings, the expanding of political and trade contacts and the exploration of the world all increased knowledge and the desire for education.
The reading of philosophies that were not based in Christian theology led to the development of Humanism through which it was clear that while God had established and maintained order in the Universe, it was the role of Man to establish and maintain order in Society.
Through Humanism, civic pride and the promotion of civil peace and order were seen as the marks of citizenship. This led to the building of structures such as Brunelleschi’s Hospital of the Innocents with its elegant colonnade forming a link between the charitable building and the public square, and the Laurentian Library where the collection of books established by the Medici family could be consulted by scholars.
Some major ecclesiastical building works were also commissioned, not by the church, but by guilds representing the wealth and power of the city. Brunelleschi’s dome at Florence Cathedral, more than any other building belonged to the people of the city because the construction of each of the eight segments was achieved by a different sector of the city.
As in the Platonic academy of Athens, it was seen by those of Humanist understanding that those people who had the benefit of wealth and education ought to promote the pursuit of learning and the creation of that which was beautiful. To this end, wealthy families—the Medici of Florence, the Gonzaga of Mantua, the Farnese in Rome, the Sforzas in Milan—gathered around them people of learning and talent, promoting the skills and creating employment for the most talented artists and architects of their day.
During the Renaissance, architecture became not only a question of practice, but also a matter for theoretical discussion. Printing played a large role in the dissemination of ideas.
- The first treatise on architecture was De re aedificatoria (English: On the Art of Building) by Leon Battista Alberti in 1450. It was to some degree dependent on Vitruvius’ De architectura, a manuscript of which was discovered in 1414 in a library in Switzerland. De re aedificatoria in 1485 became the first printed book on architecture.
- Sebastiano Serlio (1475 – c. 1554) produced the next important text, the first volume of which appeared in Venice in 1537; it was entitled "Regole generali d’architettura [...]" (or "General Rules of Architecture"). It is known as Serlio’s "Fourth Book" since it was the fourth in Serlio’s original plan of a treatise in seven books. In all, five books were published.
- In 1570, Andrea Palladio (1508 –1580) published I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) in Venice. This book was widely printed and responsible to a great degree of spreading the ideas of the Renaissance through Europe. All these books were intended to be read and studied not only by architects, but also by patrons.
To Be Continued
We will continue our examination of Renaissance Architecture on Monday, with the consideration of the specific architectural styles during the different phases of the Renaissance.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Renaissance Architecture…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Brainy Quote: Architectural Quotes…