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 the 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 the early 1400s, the Italian town of Florence was flourishing under the rule of ‘the Medici’. This banker family was monopolizing trade in the Tuscan area when 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 that will later become the largest dome in entire Europe!
Renaissance in Europe meant ‘the age of awakening’. A new style of architecture developed leaving behind the Gothic architecture and new ways of art, sculpture, and literature took place. The Italian Renaissance period was further classified into three periods; the Early Renaissance which took place in the early 1400s, the High Renaissance, when art and science were peaking, and Mannerism which brought an end to this artistic era.
Characteristics of Italian Renaissance Architecture
The commencement of the 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 a symmetrical appearance where windows and doors were positioned in proportions based on a module.
2. Façade of Italian Renaissance
The façade of Renaissance buildings was 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 were headed by a cornice on top. The centrally located door had balconies on 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.
4. Arches of Italian Renaissance
Arches were supported on columns or piers and were shaped as semi-circular or segmented at times. This was adapted from 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 the 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 that were decorated. The most outstanding example of the extravagant ceiling is the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of Vatican City which was painted by Michelangelo.
The exterior of the buildings had exposed stones and brickwork. Often the buildings had niches with decorated sculptures. The façade of churches had intrinsic detailing of white and green marble. And oftentimes held busts 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. The invention of linear perspective, light and shadow theory, the 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 the 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 Italian 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, the Czech Republic welcomed the 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 the Late Renaissance. Germany, France, and Hungary were affected the earliest. Due to trade, wars, family ties, and a 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 epicenter of the 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 Italian 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.
Italian 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 that we know today. And even after so many years that the Renaissance period is over, plenty of artists are still inspired by that art and artists of that time.