by Gerald Boerner
We continue to examine Renaissance Architecture in Italy with the consideration of a sample of the architects during the different periods of the Italian Renaissance. During these periods we have looked at the work of Brunelleschi, Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo. Their work produced some of the unforgettable works of the Renaissance, including those in Florence, Venice, and the Vatican.
Tomorrow we will examine how these influences transitioned to the Baroque period and then spread beyond Italy to other art centers in Europe. Join us for that examination. 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
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The Renaissance: Renaissance Architecture (Part 2)
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).
Due to space limitations, we will include only selected profiles within each period. Please check out the full article for a fuller coverage of those profiles of architects not covered here.
The leading architects of the Early Renaissance or Quattrocento were Brunelleschi, Michelozzo and Alberti.
The person generally credited with bringing about the Renaissance view of architecture is Filippo Brunelleschi, (1377–1446). The underlying feature of the work of Brunelleschi was "order".
In the early 1400s Brunelleschi began to look at the world to see what the rules were that governed one’s way of seeing. He observed that the way one sees regular structures such as the Baptistery of Florence and the tiled pavement surrounding it follows a mathematical order—linear perspective.
The buildings remaining among the ruins of ancient Rome appeared to respect a simple mathematical order in the way that Gothic buildings did not. One incontrovertible rule governed all Ancient Roman architecture—a semi-circular arch is exactly twice as wide as it is high. A fixed proportion with implications of such magnitude occurred nowhere in Gothic architecture. A Gothic pointed arch could be extended upwards or flattened to any proportion that suited the location. Arches of differing angles frequently occurred within the same structure. No set rules of proportion applied.
From the observation of the architecture of Rome came a desire for symmetry and careful proportion in which the form and composition of the building as a whole and all its subsidiary details have fixed relationships, each section in proportion to the next, and the architectural features serving to define exactly what those rules of proportion are. Brunelleschi gained the support of a number of wealthy Florentine patrons, including the Silk Guild and Cosimo de’ Medici.
Cathedral of Florence
Brunelleschi’s first major architectural commission was for the enormous brick dome which covers the central space that of Florence’s cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 14th century but left unroofed. While often described as the first building of the Renaissance, Brunelleschi’s daring design utilizes the pointed Gothic arch and Gothic ribs. It seems certain, however, that while stylistically Gothic, in keeping with the building it surmounts, the dome is in fact structurally influenced by the great dome of Ancient Rome, which Brunelleschi could hardly have ignored in seeking a solution. This is the dome of the Pantheon, a circular temple, now a church.
Inside the Pantheon’s single-shell concrete dome is coffering which greatly decreases the weight. The vertical partitions of the coffering effectively serve as ribs, although this feature does not dominate visually. At the apex of the Pantheon’s dome is an opening, 8 meters across. Brunelleschi was aware that a dome of enormous proportion could in fact be engineered without a keystone. The dome in Florence is supported by the eight large ribs and sixteen more internal ones holding a brick shell, with the bricks arranged in a herringbone manner. Although the techniques employed are different, in practice both domes comprise a thick network of ribs supporting very much lighter and thinner infilling. And both have a large opening at the top.
The new architectural philosophy is best demonstrated in the churches of San Lorenzo, and Santo Spirito in Florence. Designed by Brunelleschi in about 1425 and 1428 respectively, both have the shape of the Latin cross. Each has a modular plan, each portion being a multiple of the square bay of the aisle. This same formula controlled also the vertical dimensions. In the case of Santo Spirito, which is entirely regular in plan, transepts and chancel are identical, while the nave is an extended version of these. In 1434 Brunelleschi designed the first Renaissance central planned building, Santa Maria degli Angeli of Florence. It is composed of a central octagon surrounded by a circuit of eight smaller chapels. From this date onwards numerous churches were built in variations of these designs.
The Spread of the Renaissance in Italy
In the fifteenth century the courts of certain other Italian states became centres for spreading of Renaissance philosophy, art and architecture.
In Mantua at the court of the Gonzaga, Alberti designed two churches, the Basilica of Sant’Andrea and San Sebastiano.
Urbino was an important centre with a new ducal palace being built there. Ferrara, under the Este, was expanded in the late fifteenth century, with several new palaces being built such as the Palazzo dei Diamanti and Palazzo Schifanoia for Borso d’Este. In Milan, under the Visconti, the Certosa di Pavia was completed, and then later under the Sforza, the Castello Sforzesco was built.
In Venice, San Zaccaria received its Renaissance façade at the hands of Antonio Gambello and Mauro Codussi, begun in the 1480s. Giovanni Maria Falconetto, the Veronese architect-sculptor, introduced Renaissance architecture to Padua with the Loggia Cornaro in the garden of Alvise Cornaro.
In southern Italy, Renaissance masters were called to Naples by Alfonso V of Aragon after his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. The most notable examples of Renaissance architecture in that city are the Cappella Caracciolo, attributed to Bramante, and the Palazzo Orsini di Gravina, built by Gabriele d’Angelo between 1513 and 1549.
In the late 15th century and early 16th century architects such as Bramante, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and others showed a mastery of the revived style and ability to apply it to buildings such as churches and city palazzo which were quite different from the structures of ancient times. The style became more decorated and ornamental, statuary, domes and cupolas becoming very evident. The architectural period is known as the "High Renaissance" and coincides with the age of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Donato Bramante, (1444–1514), was born in Urbino and turned from painting to architecture, found his first important patronage under Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, for whom he produced a number of buildings over 20 years. After the fall of Milan to the French in 1499, Bramante travelled to Rome where he achieved great success under papal patronage.
Bramante’s finest architectural achievement in Milan is his addition of crossing and choir to the abbey church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan). This is a brick structure, the form of which owes much to the Northern Italian tradition of square domed baptisteries. The new building is almost centrally planned, except that, because of the site, the chancel extends further than the transept arms. The hemispherical dome, of approximately 20 metres across, rises up hidden inside an octagonal drum pierced at the upper level with arched classical openings. The whole exterior has delineated details decorated with the local terracotta ornamentation.
In Rome Bramante created what has been described as "a perfect architectural gem", the Tempietto in the Cloister of San Pietro in Montorio. This small circular temple marks the spot where St Peter was martyred and is thus the most sacred site in Rome. The building adapts the style apparent in the remains of the Temple of Vesta, the most sacred site of Ancient Rome. It is enclosed by and in spatial contrast with the cloister which surrounds it. As approached from the cloister, as in the picture above, it is seen framed by an arch and columns, the shape of which are echoed in its free-standing form.
Bramante went on to work at the Vatican where he designed the impressive Cortili of St. Damaso and of the Belvedere. In 1506 Bramante’s design for Pope Julius II’s rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica was selected, and the foundation stone laid. After Bramante’s death and many changes of plan, Michelangelo, as chief architect, reverted to something closer to Bramante’s original proposal.
Raphael, (1483–1520), Urbino, trained under Perugino in Perugia before moving to Florence, was for a time the chief architect for St. Peter’s, working in conjunction with Antonio Sangallo. He also designed a number of buildings, most of which were finished by others. His single most influential work is the Palazzo Pandolfini in Florence with its two stories of strongly articulated windows of a "tabernacle" type, each set around with ordered pilasters, cornice and alternate arched and triangular pediments.
Mannerism in architecture was marked by widely diverging tendencies in the work of Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Baldassare Peruzzi and Andrea Palladio, that led to the Baroque style in which the same architectural vocabulary was used for very different rhetoric.
Baldassare Peruzzi, (1481–1536), was an architect born in Siena, but working in Rome, whose work bridges the High Renaissance and the Mannerist. His Villa Farnesina of 1509 is a very regular monumental cube of two equal stories, the bays being strongly articulated by orders of pilasters. The building is unusual for its frescoed walls.
Peruzzi’s most famous work is the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne in Rome. The unusual features of this building are that its façade curves gently around a curving street. It has in its ground floor a dark central portico running parallel to the street, but as a semi enclosed space, rather than an open loggia. Above this rise three undifferentiated floors, the upper two with identical small horizontal windows in thin flat frames which contrast strangely with the deep porch, which has served, from the time of its construction, as a refuge to the city’s poor.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) was one of the creative giants whose achievements mark the High Renaissance. He excelled in each of the fields of painting, sculpture and architecture and his achievements brought about significant changes in each area. His architectural fame lies chiefly in two buildings: the interiors of the Laurentian Library and its lobby at the monastery of San Lorenzo in Florence, and the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.
St Peter’s was "the greatest creation of the Renaissance", and a great number of architects contributed their skills to it. But at its completion, there was more of Michelangelo’s design than of any other architect, before or after him.
St. Peter’s The plan that was accepted at the laying of the foundation stone in 1506 was that by Bramante. Various changes in plan occurred in the series of architects that succeeded him, but Michelangelo, when he took over the project in 1546, reverted to Bramante’s Greek-cross plan and redesigned the piers, the walls and the dome, giving the lower weight-bearing members massive proportions and eliminating the encircling aisles from the chancel and identical transept arms. Helen Gardner says: "Michelangelo, with a few strokes of the pen, converted its snowflake complexity into a massive, cohesive unity."
Michelangelo’s dome was a masterpiece of design using two masonry shells, one within the other and crowned by a massive lantern supported, as at Florence, on ribs. For the exterior of the building he designed a giant order which defines every external bay, the whole lot being held together by a wide cornice which runs unbroken like a rippling ribbon around the entire building.
There is a wooden model of the dome, showing its outer shell as hemispherical. When Michelangelo died in 1564, the building had reached the height of the drum. The architect who succeeded Michelangelo was Giacomo della Porta. The dome, as built, has a much steeper projection than the dome of the model. It is generally presumed that it was della Porta who made this change to the design, to lessen the outward thrust. But, in fact it is unknown who it was that made this change, and it equally possible, and in fact a stylistic likelihood that the person who decided upon the more dynamic outline was Michelangelo himself, at some time during the years that he supervised the project.
Michelangelo was at his most Mannerist in the design of the vestibule of the Laurentian Library, also built by him to house the Medici collection of books at the convent of San Lorenzo in Florence, the same San Lorenzo’s at which Brunelleschi had recast church architecture into a Classical mold and established clear formula for the use of Classical orders and their various components.
Michelangelo takes all Brunelleschi’s components and bends them to his will. The Library is upstairs. It is a long low building with an ornate wooden ceiling, a matching floor and crowded with corrals finished by his successors to Michelangelo’s design. But it is a light room, the natural lighting streaming through a long row of windows that appear positively crammed between the order of pilasters that march along the wall. The vestibule, on the other hand, is tall, taller than it is wide and is crowded by a large staircase that pours out of the library in what Pevsner refers to as a “flow of lava”, and bursts in three directions when it meets the balustrade of the landing. It is an intimidating staircase, made all the more so because the rise of the stairs at the center is steeper than at the two sides, fitting only eight steps into the space of nine.
The space is crowded and it is to be expected that the wall spaces would be divided by pilasters of low projection. But Michelangelo has chosen to use paired columns, which, instead of standing out boldly from the wall, he has sunk deep into recesses within the wall itself. In San Lorenzo’s church nearby, Brunelleschi used little scrolling console brackets to break the strongly horizontal line of the course above the arcade. Michelangelo has borrowed Brunelleschi’s motifs and stood each pair of sunken columns on a pair of twin console brackets. Pevsner says the “Laurenziana… reveals Mannerism in its most sublime architectural form”.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Italian Renaissance…
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