When we hear the word ‘Renaissance’, we think of Michelangelo, Medici, and Italy. Of all the art movements and architectural periods in the world, the Renaissance is one of the most significant periods that originated in Europe, specifically in Florence, Italy.
Renaissance Architecture is characterized by symmetrical façades, domes, Roman columns, and pilasters. What originated in the early 15th century and faded into the Baroque style of architecture by the end of the 16th century is what we call the ‘Age of Renaissance’. As this period was coming to an end and transitioning into other styles in Italy, the early 16th and 17th centuries saw the revival of this style in other parts of the world like Portugal, Poland, Russia, England, etc.
Through the following projects, we can see how this unforgettable style evolved with time:
EARLY RENAISSANCE (c. 1400- c. 1500)
1. Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence (c.1419-27) | Renaissance Architecture
Popularly known as the ‘Hospital of the Innocents’, this children’s orphanage turned historic museum was designed by Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Its most prominent feature is the nine-arch loggia or gallery. With this building, Brunelleschi initiated the use of geometry and symmetry in architecture.
2. Florence Cathedral, Florence (c.1436)
Even though this cathedral’s construction began in the 13th century, it wasn’t until 1436, when Brunelleschi added its dome that the structure was complete. For years, the cathedral stood without a roof as nobody could figure out how to place such a large dome atop this gigantic church. Using his mathematical skills and innovative thinking, Filippo outdid everyone, including himself, and erected the magnificent dome which is even more gorgeous in person than it is through images.
3. Pazzi Chapel, Florence (c.1442-43) | Renaissance Architecture
Another masterpiece by Filippo Brunelleschi, the Pazzi Chapel is one of his most perfect structures. He used all his knowledge on geometry and planning that he learned throughout his travels and his study into this project. Unfortunately, he died before he could see it till completion. Its Corinthian columns and umbrella-shaped dome are some notable features.
4. Pienza Cathedral, Pienza (c.1459-62)
Built on the ruins of an ancient Romanesque church, the Cathedral of Pienza is one of the most significant creations of the Renaissance period. This famed cathedral was designed by Bernardo Rossellino and its façade has some innovative elements of its time. The structure also has a touch of Gothic architecture in its windows and internal planning.
5. Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence (c.1470) | Renaissance Architecture
San Lorenzo was the parish church for the Medici family designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with his classic elements of Roman columns and a two-storey loggia. It is also the place where most of the Medici family is buried and is the oldest church in Florence. The Medici chapel designed by Michelangelo, within the San Lorenzo complex is its most breath-taking space.
6. Santa Maria Novella, Florence (c.1470)
As the church was planned by two Dominican brothers in the 14th century, Santa Maria Novella has a dominating Gothic style, but by the time it was completed in 1470, Brunelleschi’s mentor L.B. Alberti took over the construction, hence making this church a beautiful combination of Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles.
HIGH RENAISSANCE (c. 1501- c. 1520)
7. San Pietro in Montorio, Rome (c.1500)
Architect Donato Bramante was asked to design the San Pietro in Rome at the exact spot where Saint Peter was martyred. The structure he created is to date known as the very essence of the high renaissance. Inside the church is a chapel designed by Lorenzo Bernini along with frescoes by famous Italian artists.
8. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (c.1506) | Renaissance Architecture
People from all over the world travel to Rome to visit this UNESCO world heritage site for a reason; St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church was designed by Donato Bramante in a typical Greek cross-plan. After his death, Michelangelo took over the project and erected the famous dome atop the church. This basilica was constructed when the Renaissance style of architecture was at its peak.
9. Santa Maria della Consolazione, Todi (c.1508)
Unlike the usual elongated cross plan, the pilgrimage church was designed as a square with apses on all four sides. While there is no record of who the chief architect was, many Italian architects were involved in the completion of the project.
10. Château de Chambord, Loire Valley (c.1519) | Renaissance Architecture
Outside the realm of Italian Renaissance architecture, this world-famous Château in France blends French classical architecture with Renaissance style to create a distinct style of its own.
MANNERISM AND LATE RENAISSANCE (c. 1521- c. 1600)
From the 1520s, the Renaissance style of architecture gradually transitioned into the Baroque style. These last few projects reflect how the Renaissance style was perceived within and outside Italy before making a complete shift to Baroque.
11. Laurentian Library, Florence (c.1523-71)
The Laurentian Library was designed by Michelangelo, and is situated inside the before mentioned Medici chapel. The staircase of the library is its main feature but even though Michelangelo designed its plans, he never got to see it in person.
12. Palazzo del Te, Mantua (c.1525–35)
The Palazzo is an Italian palace and museum designed by Guilio Romano. The structure was originally supposed to be a pleasure palace for the Duke of Mantua. Today, the palace is a public museum and cultural centre.
13. Royal Summer Palace, Prague (c.1538) | Renaissance Architecture
An excellent example of late Renaissance architecture in Europe is the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace, designed by Italian stonemasons. The original staircase of the palace is painted with scenes from Czech history.
14. Antwerp City Hall, Antwerp (c.1561)
The City Hall of Antwerp, designed by Cornelis Floris de Vreindt is a fusion of Flemish and Italian craftsmanship. The façade is a pure Renaissance architectural beauty, covered with flags of all the European Union countries.
15. Hardwick Hall, England (c.1590) | Renaissance Architecture
Towards the end of the 16th century, the Renaissance style had finally reached England, but it blended with Elizabethan architecture and produced the Hardwick Hall. It was designed by Robert Smythson to be a country house and is now a tourist hotspot.