Renaissance. The word itself means re-birth. Re-birth of the Greek and Roman architecture. Renaissance is considered to start in the 14th century followed by the Gothic architectural style. Many reasons contributed to the revival of Greco-Roman style which we call renaissance architecture.
The invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1450 was one of the main reasons. Europeans were putting more emphasis on learning to read and write during the early 1400s and were sharing the ideas and knowledge of art and culture through newspapers. This was also because of the royal family in power- The Medici Family, which promoted the art and artists by supporting them financially and socially. This brought Greek and roman art and architectural styles back into limelight. Also, the concept of humanism was gaining more attention in Italy. Humanism promoted the idea that man was the centre of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science. This somehow affected the artists to represent their thoughts in a more realistic way by using techniques like perspective, lights and shadows but most of all infusing the emotions to depict realism.
All of this started in Florence and slowly spread in other Italian cities like Milan, Rome Venice, etc. During the 15th century the ideas spread from Italy to France to northern and western Europe. The greater part of 14th century was considered as Early Renaissance Period when the ideas were just spreading and people were becoming more aware of the concepts of Greco-Roman architectural style. The real impact was seen from 1490- 1530 (the High Renaissance) where more and more architects were following the Renaissance architectural style. The style declined in 16th century with the fall of Medici family, the plagues and European wars which destroyed most of the cities and the financial conditions of Europe was deteriorating.
Common features that can be seen in renaissance style are rectangular or square-ish plans with symmetrical features following the concepts of order, proportions and repetition. Features like dome, arches and colonnade from Roman style were used with a flat roof. Facades were made symmetric along the vertical axis.
We can understand the style through examples. Since the origin of renaissance is from Florence, let’s look at the buildings that capture the essence of Renaissance style:
1. San Lorenzo
Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches in Florence. It is the basilica of St. Lawrence where all the principal members of Medici family were buried. Filippo Brunelleschi was the leading architect but the building was not completed until after his death. It is made with an integrated structural system of columns, arches and entablatures. Nave and aisles are made proportional where aisle grid is square and nave grid is rectangular. Whole of the plan is symmetric. The vaults of the side aisles are made in spherical segments. The façade was designed by Michelangelo in proportions keeping in mind the ideal proportions of human anatomy. Interior is done in combination of white and grey colour with beautiful ornamentations.
2. Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is the first great basilica in Florence, and is the city’s principal Dominican Church. The vast interior is based on a basilica plan, designed as a Latin cross, and is divided into a nave, two aisles with stained-glass windows and a short transept. The large nave is 100 metres long and gives an impression of austerity. There is a trompe l’oeil effect by which, towards the apse the nave seems longer than its actual length. The slender compound piers between the nave and the aisles are progressively closer the deeper the observer moves into the nave. The ceiling in the vault consists of pointed arches with the four diagonal buttresses in black and white. The interior also contains Corinthian columns that were inspired by Greek and Roman classical models.
3. The Baptistery of Saint John
The Florence Baptistery is a religious building in Florence and has the status of a minor basilica. The octagonal baptistery stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza San Giovanni, across from Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto. The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style. The Baptistery has eight equal sides with a rectangular addition on the west side. The sides, originally constructed in sandstone, are clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay, reworked in Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128. The pilasters on each corner, originally in grey stone, were decorated with white and dark green marble in a zebra-like pattern.
4. Palazzo Pitti
The Palazzo Pitti also called the Pitti Palace, in Florence, Italy is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. Ammanati, the architect created a large courtyard immediately behind the principal façade, to link the palazzo to its new garden. This courtyard has heavy-banded channeled rustication. In the principal façade Ammanati also created the kneeling windows, replacing the entrance bays at each end. A monumental staircase leads with more pomp to the piano nobile, and he extended the wings on the garden front that embraced a courtyard excavated into the steeply sloping hillside at the same level as the piazza in front, from which it was visible through the central arch of the basement. On the garden side of the courtyard Ammanati constructed a grotto, called the “grotto of Moses” on account of the porphyry statue that inhabits it.
5. Palazzo Medici
Palazzo Medici Riccardi is a palace designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for cosimo de Medici, head of Medici Family. Built between 1444 and 1484, with stone masonry and ashlar giving it a rustic look, this tripartite division is emphasized by horizontal stringcourses that divide the building into stories of decreasing height. The transition from the rusticated masonry of the ground floor to the more delicately refined stonework of the third floor makes the building seem lighter and taller as the eye moves upward to the massive cornice that caps and clearly defines the building’s outline. Michelozzo was influenced in his design of the palace by both classical Roman and Brunelleschian principles. The open colonnaded court that is at the centre of the palazzo plan has roots in the cloisters that developed from Roman peristyles. The palazzo is divided into different floors. The ground floor contains two courtyards, chambers,
Anti-chambers, studies, lavatories, kitchens, wells, secret and public staircases and on each floor there are other rooms meant for family.
6. Loggia dei Lanzi
The Loggia dei Lanzi, also called the Loggia della Signoria, is a building on a corner of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy, adjoining the Uffizi Gallery. It consists of wide arches open to the street. The arches rest on clustered pilasters with Corinthian capitals. On the façade of the Loggia, below the parapet, are trefoils with allegorical figures of the four cardinal virtues (Fortitude, Temperance, Justice and Prudence) by Agnolo Gaddi. The blue enameled background accents well with the golden stars. The vault is composed of semicircles. On the steps of the Loggia are the Medici lions; two Marzoccos, marble statues of lions, heraldic symbols of Florence; that on the right is from Roman times and the one on the left was sculpted by Flaminio Vacca in 1598.
7. Pazzi Chapel
Pazzi Chapel is located on southern flank of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence. Completed in 1443, chapel was built by Andrea Pazzi to show off their wealth and leave their mark on the city. Plan is based on simple geometrical shapes- square & circle. But execution was not the same. The architectural elements of the interior are all made in serene stone. And the structural blocks are concrete blocks joined together with lime and man- made adhesive. Brunelleschi is considered to be the architect of chapel but there is no proof that he was. It has a somewhat symmetrical planning with colonnades supporting semi-circular arches and beautiful domes.
8. Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower), is the cathedral of Florence, Italy. Its work began in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink, bordered by white, and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris. It was the first ‘octagonal’ dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame. It was one of the most impressive projects of the Renaissance. The structure of this motet was strongly influenced by the structure of the dome. The cathedral of Florence is built as a basilica, having a wide central nave of four-square bays, with an aisle on either side. The chancel and transepts are of identical polygonal plan, separated by two smaller polygonal chapels. The whole plan forms a Latin cross. The nave and aisles are separated by wide pointed Gothic arches resting on composite piers. The dimensions of the building are enormous: building area 8,300m2, length 153m, width 38m, width at the crossing 90m. The height of the arches in the aisles is 23m. The height of the dome is 114.5m.
9. Basilica di Santo Spirito
The Basilica di Santo Spirito (“Basilica of the Holy Spirit”) is a church in Florence, Italy. Usually referred to simply as Santo Spirito, it is located in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name. The internal length of the building is 97 meters – is one of the preeminent examples of Renaissance architecture. The Latin cross plan is so designed to maximize the legibility of the grid. The side chapels run along the entire perimeter of the space, in the form of niches of the same size (forty in all). Brunelleschi’s facade was never built and left blank. In 1489, a columned vestibule and octagonal sacristy, designed by Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Il Cronaca, and Giuliano da Sangallo respectively, were built to the left of the building. A door was opened up in a chapel to make the connection to the church. A Baroque baldachin with polychrome marbles was added by Giovanni Battista Caccini and Gherardo Silvani over the high.
10. The Ospedale degli Innocenti
Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents is a historic building in Florence, Italy. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, who received the commission in 1419 from the Arte della Seta. The façade is made up of nine semicircular arches springing from columns of the Composite Order. The semicircular windows bring the building down, earthbound and is a revival of the classical style, no longer a pointed arch. In the spandrels of the arches there are glazed blue terracotta roundels with reliefs of babies designed by Andrea della Robbia suggesting the function of the building. There is an emphasis on the horizontal because the building is longer than it is tall. Above each semicircular arch is a tabernacle window (a rectangular window with a triangular pediment on the top).The building reveals a clean and clear sense of proportion. The height of the columns is the same as the width of the intercolumniation and the width of the arcade, making each bay a cube. The building’s simple proportions reflect a new age, one of secular education, and a sense of great order and clarity. Similarly, the height of the entablature is half the column height.