Renaissance Architecture

Italian text by AnnaLisa Limardi - Translation and adaptation by Domenico Russumanno

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The Renaissance is certainly one of the most important periods in Italian cultural history, although the distribution of art centers on the map reveals a concentration in central Italy and in particular around Florence, the real capital in this period.

It was in Florence that Filippo Brunelleschi, using innovative techniques, carried out a decisive transformation in the art of building and established the role of the architect as a planner rather then a master mason.
The basic of Renaissance architecture lies in rationalism, simple proportional relationships, rigorous attention to perspective and the revival of the ideals and forms of Classical art.


Space was used in a deliberately more harmonious and balanced way, no longer striving for the transcendent  but representing the supremacy of man as the "measure of things".

One of the most instantly recognizable churches in the world, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is also the highest and widest (143 feet in diameter) masonry dome in the world. 
The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini is one of the clearest examples of this taste for the Classical and it is not by chance that it was planned by Leon Battista Alberti, a theoretician as well as an architect. It was named to St Francis.

St Francis was originally a thirteenth-century Gothic church belonging to the Franciscans. The original church had a rectangular plan, without side chapels, with a single nave ending with three apses.

The central one was probably frescoed by Giotto, to whom is also attributed the crucifix now housed in the second right chapel.
Donato  Bramante, who began work in Milan and then moved to Rome, deepened his understanding of central planning to produce the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio (Rome).

Appointed as the papal architect in the early 1,500, he drew up the first plan for the renovation of St Peter Basilica and became the leader of the 16th century Classical school.
Below, St Peter Basilica before the renovation.


Bramante had envisioned that the central dome be surrounded  by four lower domes at the diagonal axes.  
At each corner of the building was to stand a tower, so that the overall plan was square.
Each apse had two large radial buttresses, which squared off its semi-circular shape.
When Pope Julius died in 1513, Bramante was replaced with Giuliano da Sangallo. 
The project for the Vatican Basilica was changed several times and completed with the enormous dome by Michelangelo.
Raphael (Villa Madama, Rome) was inspired by Bramante , as were Antonio da Sangallo (Palazzo Farnese, Rome), Jacopo Sansovino (Biblioteca Marciana, Venice), and many others.

Classicism dominated the 16th century but signs of an evolution toward Mannerism can already be detected in the work of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano (Palazzo Te, Mantua).

In Veneto, towards the end of the century, Andrea Palladio (church of St. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice) combined the model of the Classical temple with the Christian one.

While the magnificent buildings where 15th century princes lived were  still fortified, by the end of the century and throughout the 1,500 palaces and country houses began to have greater freedom in their construction, to the benefit  of their relationship with their surroundings and the development of gardens .
Below, Villa 'D'Este, Tivoli , approximately 30 km from Rome.


Classical Roman architecture, studied from its ruins, provided models for the great villas which Andrea Palladio built in the Veneto countryside (La Malcontenta, La Rotonda, Villa Barbaro), leaving its marks on the landscape.
Together with the first great public works (built for civil purposes, like hospitals and schools), the Renaissance also initiated reflections on the ideal form for a city and produced the first treaties on urban planning.

Starting with Leonardo, these theories combined aesthetical ideals with the impetus toward rationalism in the use of space and led to the realization of Pienza, Sabbioneta, Ferrara and the fortress city of Palmanova. (images below).
Pienza, in the province of Siena, Tuscany, is the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism. In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire valley, the Val d'Orcia, was included on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.

Sabbioneta is located in the province of Mantua, Lombardy region. A World Heritage Site since 2008. The town is also also known for its historic Jewish Ghetto, Synagogue, and in particular for its Hebrew printing-press.

Ferrara is also a World Heritage Site. The town is still surrounded by ancient walls, mainly built in the 15th and 16th-centuries. Along with those of Lucca, they are the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy.

Palmanova in the northeastern Italy region of Friuli Venezia Gulia, in the province of Udine. The town is an excellent example of star fort of the Late Renaissance, built up by the Venetians in 1593. The town was built following the ideals of a utopia. It is a concentric city with the form of a star, with three nine-sided ring roads intersecting in the main military radiating streets. The shape also comes from cosmological ideas, reflecting the religion of the day.

After 1,450, with the arrival of increasingly powerful artillery, the methods of constructing fortifications changed.
Towers were replaced by massive bastions and fortresses assumed regular geometrical forms (fortress of Sassocorvaro, province of Pesaro & Urbino in the Marche region). 


Great artists such as Francesco di Giorgio Martini (fortress of San Leo, on the border between Le Marche and Emilia Romagna regions) and Leonardo da Vinci devoted themselves to planning fortresses.

For centuries scholars have wondered how the Florentine architect could roof the huge octagonal of the Cathedral using not concrete and steel, but 25,000 tonnes of stone, timber and brick — and no scaffoldings.

Italian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a mini dome near Florence’s cathedral — evidence, they say, that the structure served as a scale model for the majestic dome structure designed by Brunelleschi (1377-1446).

The small dome could be the first example of an herringbone pattern structure in Europe. This building technique had been previously used in Persian domes, but Brunelleschi was the first to introduce it into Europe when he worked at the dome.” 
Some of the sites you might consider visiting if you are in the proximity.
PIEMONTE (Piedmont)
Torino (Turin): Duomo
LOMBARDIA (Lombardy)
Milano: Canonica di St Ambrogio, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Santa Maria by San Satiro (by architect Donato Bramante), Universita' Statale and Castello Sforzesco (by Filarete), Palazzo Marino (by G. Alessi).


Pavia: Certosa (CMantegazza, G.A. Amadeo), Duomo ( C. Rocchi, G.A. Amadeo, Bramante, Leonardo), Colleggio Borromeo (P. Tribaldi).


Bergamo: Cappella Colleoni ( G.A. Amadeo).
Mantova: Cattedrale, Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te (G. Romano), St. Sebastiano and St Andrea (by L.B Alberti).

Sabbionetta: Palazzo Ducale, Teatro Olimpico (V. Scamozzi)

Genoa: Loggia di Villa Cambiaso  and Porta del Molo (by G. Alessi)
Venezia: St. Giovanni Crisostormo, Santa Maria Formosa, Chiesa del Redentore, St Giorgio Maggiore, St Michele in Isola, Piazza San Marco, Scuola di San Marco, Balcone Palazzo Ducale, Porta della Carta, Porta dell'Arsenale, Palazzo Dario, Palazzo Grimani, Palazzo Vendramin, Palazzo della Zecca, Palazzo Corner, Bibblioteca Marciana, Ponte di Rialto, Villa la Malcontenta a Mira.

Padova: Duomo, San Giustina, Palazzo Monte di Pieta', Loggia Comaro, Loggia Gran Guardia, Corte del Capitaniato, Villa Contarini Cameriani a Piazzola sul Brenta.
Treviso: Villa Barbaro a Maser (A. Palladio).
Verona: Loggia del Consiglio (Fra' Giocondo), Palazzo Bevilacqua (M. Sanmicheli).


Ferrara: Palazzo dei Diamanti, Palazzo Prosperi-Sacrati and Palazzo Turchi by B. Rossetti.
Rimini: Tempio Malatestiano.
TOSCANA (Tuscany).

Cortona in the province of Arezzo: Chiesa della Madonna del Calcinaio (F. di Giorgio Martini) 
Firenze: By architect F. Brunelleschi - Cupola di Santa Maria del Fiore, St. Lorenzo, St. Spirito, Cappella de' Pazzi, Spedale degli Innocenti, Palazzo Pitti.
Facciata di Santa Maria Novella by L.B. Alberti,
Cappelle Medicee and Bibblioteca Laurenziana  by Michelangelo.
Convento di San Marco, Palazzo Medici.
Riccardi and Cafaggiolo by Michelozzo. 
Ponte SS Trinita' by B. Ammannati.
Palazzo Strozzi, by B. da Maiano.
Palazzo degli Uffizi by G. Vasari.
Ville medicee : Poggio a Caiano by G. da Sangallo.
La Ferdinanda a Signa by Buontalenti.


Montepulciano in the province of Siena : St Biagio, Palazzo Cervini.

Pienza also in the province of Siena: Cattedrale, Palazzo Borgia, Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Pubblico.

Todi, Perugia province: Santa Maria della Consolazione (Bramante).
Orvieto: Pozzo di St Patrizio ( A.da Sangallo).

Urbino: St Bernardino, Palazzo Ducale.
Frascati: Villa Aldobrandini.
Roma: Cupola di St Pietro, Chiesa del Gesu', St. Marcello, St Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Cortile si St Damaso, Palazzi Vaticani, Palazzo della Cancelleria, Palazzo Farnese, Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Palazzo del Colleggio Romano, Palazzo Ruspoli, Tempietto di St Pietro in Montorio, Cortile del Belvedere, Villa la Farnesina, Villa Giulia, Villa Madama, Villa Medici, Porta Pia, Piazza del Campidoglio.

Napoli: Santa Maria la Nova, Santa Caterina a Formiello, Cappella Pontano, Palazzo Cuomo, Palazzo Gravina, Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Carafa Santangelo, Palazzo Marigliano, Palazzo del Monte di Pieta', Porta Capuana.

Palermo: St. Giorgio dei Genovesi, Santa Maria della Catena, Santa Maria di Porto Salvo, Palazzo Aiutamicristo.

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