- The time after the Middle Ages, from around 1400 to 1600, can be characterized as an age when the classical world of Ancient Greece and Rome enjoyed a renewed and broad-based popularity. Thus, in the mid-19th century, the term "Renaissance" was given to this period because its culture reflected a "rebirth" of antiquarianism. Building upon late medieval advances in higher education and the arts, as well as the end of the feudal society and the growth of city life, the Renaissance enjoyed an increasing economic prosperity and a relatively stable political structure. The newly emerging merchant class provided more venues for architectural patronage that complemented and expanded upon the continued patronage of the nobility and the Catholic Church. Thus, architecture flourished.In addition, "humanism" emerged as a philosophy based on the Ancient Greek ideal of a human-centered world, blended in the Renaissance with Christianity to provide a balance between the secular and sacred worlds. Architects, like artists working in other media, enjoyed an increase in social importance and came to be viewed by the end of the Renaissance as creative geniuses rather than just skilled craftsmen. This more prominent position came about with the merging of the medieval role of the capomaestro, or "headmaster," who oversaw construction of a building, and the more intellectual approaches of the Renaissance scholar or artist, who sought to better understand the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of classical architecture. The design of a Renaissance building therefore required more than just geometry and pattern books. It required the aesthetic background of a painter, the three-dimensional studies of a sculptor, together with a mathematical examination and philosophical study of historical structures — all combined to produce a more intellectually based role for the architect.The Renaissance architect was not trained in the profession of architecture, which did not yet exist as a separate career; rather, artists became architects via a variety of professions. Filippo Brunelleschi, widely considered the first Renaissance architect, is a good example. Trained as a goldsmith in Florence, he traveled to Rome around 1402 after losing a commission to create a set of bronze doors for the Baptistry of Florence. In Rome, Brunelleschi embarked on a sustained study of Ancient Roman architecture, including the Pantheon. He returned to Florence to build the largest dome since antiquity for the Florence Cathedral, later called the "Duomo." After that, Renaissance architecture spread across Italy and then throughout Europe, defining itself with such elements as the classical column, the portico, the triangular pediment, the round arch, and the dome. Aesthetically, Renaissance architecture is based on symmetry and a logical and clear system of proportion that harks back to the Ancient Greek ratio studies of the human body. In order to better understand classical architecture, Renaissance artists relied heavily not only on existing buildings in Rome, but also on the sole surviving ancient treatise on architecture, written by Vitruvius in the first century BC and titled De architectura. This manuscript was rediscovered in 1414, and copies of it became immediately popular among Italian Renaissance artists and scholars, spawning a whole series of Renaissance treatises written by architects such as Leon Battista Alberti, Sebastiano Serlio, and Andrea Palladio, all modeled in part on this ancient manuscript.Because of its connection to classicism, Renaissance style is widely considered to have been born in Italy—more specifically, in the prosperous central region of the peninsula. It was in Florence in the early 1400s that the Renaissance first appeared, largely a result of the great interest in architecture demonstrated by patrons such as the Medici family, who used buildings to glorify their political power in much the same way as the Ancient Romans. For example, the Medici Palace, built by Michelozzo di Bartolommeo in the 1440s, set the design standard for the Tuscan palaces of many subsequent patrons, including the Rucellai and the Pazzi families. In order to become a rationally designed urban home, the Medici Palace softens the features of the fortified medieval castle, such as rough-cut stone, towers, crenellations, and irregularly arranged doors and windows. This late-medieval-style palace is also epitomized by the Palazzo della Signoria (the Palazzo Vecchio), built in the 1290s and used as the main government building in Florence. This is a tall building made of rusticated stone, with a small entrance door that was guarded at all times. External windows are located at irregular intervals across the façade to suggest a four-story building. Some windows are in the Gothic bifurcated style, with two vertical sections and pointed arches at the top, while the others are unadorned square shapes. The top of the building has an attic that juts out from the wall surface and provides a room of open windows used by the guards. It is capped with crenellations along the roofline, a feature that is sometimes called a battlement. Finally, a tall bell tower, also with a battlement, rises to the right side of the building. Inside the building, a large courtyard based upon classical models welcomes the visitor and brings light to the internal rooms.In contrast, the three-story Medici Palace is built with rusticated stone at the lower level but with smoother masonry at the upper levels, where round-arched windows divided in the middle by slender classical columns are placed equidistant from each other. In addition, the stories are clearly separated by an entablature, and the second and third stories are visually linked by the placement of windows one exactly atop the other. The ground floor originally had a series of arched doorways that entered into shops, but they were closed in the early 1500s by Michelangelo. Entering the building, the visitor would first come upon the large classical courtyard in the form of a rectangular arcade of thin columns with composite Corinthian capitals and round arches. From there, the visitor would ascend the stairs to the house's large front hall, which was used to entertain guests. This second story, called the piano nobile, was the central living floor of the house. On the way, one would pass the beautifully decorated chapel, located in a small alcove off the stairwell. The bedrooms were then located toward the back of the house, with the children's and servants' rooms in the third story.These grand Renaissance palazzi reveal what is called the "theory of magnificence"; even though private, their beauty and grandiosity were intended to be a source of pride for all Florentines. This palace style quickly spread across all of Italy, and excellent examples can be seen in Rome, Siena, and Urbino in the 1400s. In the next century, the Palazzo Farnese, begun in Rome by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and completed by Michelangelo in the 1540s, is an even larger palace with an even clearer articulation on the exterior. This three-story building features smooth masonry throughout, with entablature bands that run beneath each row of windows to demarcate each story. In the piano nobile, the windows feature the new rectangular format, with alternating semicircular and triangular pediments on top of each, whereas simpler triangles cap the third-story windows. A heavy cornice tops the building, and stonework runs down the corners of the building. Stone is also used in the center of the building to provide a focus to the central door. More architectural elements are used to articulate and clarify different aspects of a building, in keeping with the Renaissance desire for a rational and logical design.As the feudal era waned, fortified architecture also gave way to more open and classically inspired rural homes as well. Although Andrea Palladio was best known for his Renaissance villas, many similar country homes can be found across Italy. The Medici Villa, located at Poggio a Caiano in the hills outside Florence, was built by Giuliano da Sangallo in the 1480s and epitomizes this new Renaissance architectural type. This country home is not surrounded by busy streets and flanked by other urban homes and thus can have open porticoes on the front and back of the building. The front façade features a tripartite plan, with three stories divided into three parts vertically as well. The whitewashed masonry provides a smooth exterior surface. The ground floor, which housed the equipment needed for the farm, features an arched loggia with three sets of three arches that jut out from the wall to provide an open porch on the piano nobile. The piano nobile is reached via two sets of stairs that curve up toward each other from the ground floor. The center of the façade features a classical portico entrance, with six columns that support a triangular pediment. Above that are rows of windows at the third story, and the building is capped by a simple roof with a clock tower rising from the middle. It is this overall design that formed the basis for Palladio's subsequent villas, built in the Veneto in the 1500s.The Renaissance classical aesthetic can also be seen in church architecture at this time. The small church of Santa Maria delle Carceri, located in Prato, outside Florence, was built by Giuliano da Sangallo in the 1480s. This Greek-cross-plan church, with transepts located on all four sides, conforms to the Renaissance desire for perfect symmetry. It is considered the earliest church of this type in Renaissance Italy to be modeled on Brunelleschi's earlier versions in Florence and on Alberti's discussion of the perfect form of this church in his treatise on architecture. It is a small square building with a dome over the central core, elevated on a drum surrounded by round, or oculus, windows. The arms, or transepts, which extend outward from this central square, measure one-half the width of the square and are covered by barrel vaults. The articulation of the interior, done in pietra serena, or dark stone, follows the number symbolism as first established by Brunelleschi. As such, the dome features 12 ribs and rests upon the square crossing that rises up to meet the round dome via transitional triangular sections called pendentives. Thus, 3, which refers to the Trinity, multiplied by 4, which often refers to the Evangelists, results in the 12 ribs, or 12 apostles. Ultimately, although given a Christian interpretation, symbolic values for these numbers can be traced back to ancient scholars such as Pythagoras. Of the three basic geometrical shapes employed by Sangallo here, the circle, in keeping with Christian tradition, was considered the most perfect. With no prede-termined beginning or end, the circle referred to the idea of infinity, and thus, to God himself. In the next century of the Renaissance, Donato Bramante took this plan a step further in Rome in 1504 with his small church of San Pietro in Montorio, called the Tempietto.The Church of Saint Peter's in Rome, begun by Bramante, served as inspiration for the next generation of architects as they provided visual symbolism to the continued strength of Roman Catholicism despite the advent of the Protestant Reformation. In France, François I (who ruled from 1515 to 1547) sought to introduce this new Renaissance style to his country with a major artistic campaign centered in Paris and at his country home, the Fontainebleau Château. In Paris, the medieval-styled Louvre Palace was updated with classical elements added by Pierre Lescot. In Spain, the Renaissance style was introduced in the court of Philip II (ruled 1556-1598), who hired Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera to build the Escorial outside Madrid, both as his palace complex and as a monastery. In the Protestant break with the papal church and the establishment of the Church of England, Tudor and Elizabethan architecture reveal a blend of late medieval Gothic elements with regional influences. The Tudor style, later called the Tudor Revival, continued to be popular in England and then in the United States through the 19th century.Renaissance style maintained a lasting significance for architecture, with classical revivals appearing repeatedly until the modern era. With the birth of humanism and its intellectual underpinnings, architects came to be seen not simply as manual laborers who specialized in stonemasonry, but as intellectuals who, with a better understanding of classical ideals, created a theoretical base for architecture that established a new aesthetic imbued with symbolic meaning. These ideas continued into the next century, when they were reformulated to fit the needs of the ensuing Counter-Reformatory Church in Rome and the increasingly powerful aristocratic culture across Europe. This new era is called the Baroque.See also ANCIENT GREEK ARCHITECTURE.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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