Renaissance, is a French word meaning ‘rebirth’, which is the time period in European history where the revival of art and culture took place. It is the golden era that completely transformed the perception of art in any form. Florence, the cradle of Renaissance acted as a buffer zone to all the architects, artists, writers, painters, sculptors, scientists and all the Italian polymaths born at that time. During early 1400s the Italian town of Florence was flourishing under the rule of ‘the Medici’. This banker family was monopolizing trade in Tuscan area when the entire Europe faced a plaque epidemic, which meant that the banks were overflowing with the coins of dead people. This is when the Medicis benefited, but for a good cause. They commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to design a tomb which will later become the largest dome in entire Europe!
Renaissance in Europe meant ‘the age of awakening’. New style of architecture developed leaving behind the Gothic architecture and new ways of art, sculpture and literature took place. The renaissance period was further classified in three periods as; Early Renaissance which took place in early 1400s, High Renaissance, when the art and science was peaking and Mannerism which brought an end to this artistic era.
Characteristics of Renaissance Architecture
The commencement of Renaissance brought back distinguished features of Classic Roman architecture but in a modern way. A few characteristics of renaissance architecture were –
1. Symmetrical plan
The typical plan of churches and other public buildings had symmetrical appearance where windows and doors were positioned in proportions based on a module.
The façade of Renaissance buildings were symmetric about the vertical axis. The columns and windows progressed centrally into the head of the structure or triangular pediment. Domestic buildings had symmetric frontal openings and headed by cornice on top. The centrally located door had balconies or either side which enhanced the outer appearance.
3. Columns and Pilasters
The pilasters topped on columns were either structural, supportive or decorative. The architects aimed to put together the entire integrated system of columns, pilasters and entablatures.
Arches were supported on columns or piers and were shaped as semi-circular or segmented at times. This was adapted from the Roman and Greek architecture.
Domes were first introduced by Brunelleschi when he designed the Duomo in Florence. Following that, St Peter’s Basilica was surmounted by dome too and since then it became a mandatory element in the churches.
Earlier the ceilings of buildings were mostly left open but Renaissance architects designed the structures with flat or fitted ceilings which were decorated. The most outstanding example of extravagant ceiling is the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of Vatican City which was painted by Michelangelo.
The exterior of buildings had exposed stones and brick work. Often the buildings had niches with decorated sculptures. The façade of churches had intrinsic detailing of white and green marble. And often times held bust or sculptures of the noble and wise men of that time. The cornices on the exterior were sometimes the symbol of political agenda, family emblem or other detailed pieces to show their prosperity.
Fun fact: The ‘David’ by Michelangelo was first commissioned to be exhibited in front of Florence Cathedral.
Renaissance was not just limited to aesthetics and beauty. Invention of linear perspective, light and shadow theory, study of human anatomy and various other scientific discoveries took place during this golden period. Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raffaele are considered the three flag bearers of Renaissance. They did not only pushed the limits of intellect but also expanded the horizon of what we knew and what our potential was. These Italian men created the masterpieces of art and architecture while also coining various scientific mumbles.
Effect of Renaissance on world architecture
In the European continent, almost all the countries perceived Renaissance in one form or the other. In the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) Renaissance came late but did not affect the architecture significantly. Bohemia, or what we call today, Czech Republic welcomed Renaissance with both arms open. Gothic and Renaissance existed parallelly in Bohemian Region. In fact, the Royal Summer Palace in Prague is the purest Renaissance structure outside Italy. The city of Prague later became one of the most crucial hubs of Mannerism or Late Renaissance. Germany, France and Hungary were affected the earliest. Due to trade, wars, family ties and plethora of other reasons these three countries always had a close connection with Italy and hence it was inevitable not to adapt to the Renaissance style.
In Spain, Renaissance amalgamated with gothic forms and the new blended style was called, Plateresque. Otherwise an epicentre of Gothic style, Spanish architects accepted the Roman and Greek forms in structures but in their own way. However considerable attributes of Mannerism can be seen in ‘Ecorial Palace’ in Spain designed by Juan Toledo. The Scandinavian countries were massively affected by plaque and hence adopted the Renaissance style after a bit of delay. ‘Frederiksborg palace’ in Denmark is the largest Renaissance palace in Scandinavia. A few attributes of Renaissance like spaciousness, symmetry and proportion can also be seen in the earlier architecture of buildings in Russia.
Renaissance period truly crafted what we call ‘the modern’ life. It introduced the concepts of art, architecture, aesthetics, anatomy, physics, war weapons and what not! Renaissance artists shaped the human mind in a way to accept progression. They planted the seeds of modernism and acted as a base for people to grow. It is that explosive era that brought back the ancient Roman and Greek art which we know today. And even after so many years that Renaissance period is over, plenty of artists are still inspired by that art and artists of that time.