RenaIssance Architecture: The Revival Of Architectural Philosophies And Styles

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“The Revival of architectural philosophies and styles have been a recurrent theme in architectural history. Discuss the motivating factors and the enabling events from one such revival drawing on examples from the lecture series.”

Revival of architecture is the restoration of visual styles and principles of previous architectural periods. This is provided that certain elements are reinforced into designs that signifies the community’s conceptions on their current political position, religious beliefs or other incidents through architecture. Renaissance is the period where Classical architecture is re-established through a series of developments of various buildings designed by numerous architects and patrons such as Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti. They had found an attraction towards the Ancient architecture and pursued their interest by travelling, analysing books and studying ruins through first-hand observations. Architects and patrons also had their own approach or interpretation of their learnings whether it be taking inspiration from each other’s design or directly referring to their studies. Consequently, looking at the transition from Late Medieval to Early Renaissance, particularly Italy, demonstrates the progression of the architectural style through several factors such as, warfare, political conflict and attitude towards religion.

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The major motivating factor at the end of the thirteenth century was the diplomatic dispute in Italy. Florence had rivalry with the German Emperor, the Pope as well as Pisa and Milan. This was the time where aristocrats were against wealthy merchants and the working classes against everyone, citizens of Italy fought violently amongst themselves. When princes were beginning to gain control, Florence resisted autocracy. The democracy at the time was very limited but brought out self-interest and self-respect. During the late thirteenth century, Florentines came to believe or realise that their personal freedom is much more than a legal pact but was a natural right. In terms of population, Florence did not change too drastically throughout the trials of the fourteenth century. Depopulation in Europe was caused by famine, plagues and war. A recession in the cloth industry emerged but eventually settled down. Turning partly towards silk, the business grew, and so money was not a problem. The large-scale business was aimed towards the countryside in which gave wealthy merchants the opportunity to run big estates efficiently. Due to the increase in estates in the rural areas, there was also an increase in interest of having a place in the countryside. Nobles now came to like the idea of moving out to the farms away from urban pressures and chaos. Nobles decided to build town houses on farmland that was not too structurally different from the traditional Tuscan farmhouse. This was the source of the focal element of a Renaissance villa, the loggia and so we encounter the first instance of an adaptation of existing architecture.

By mid-fourteenth century, Florence was nearing its civilisation peak fuelling the gradual process of town houses to be more urbanised. For example, the Palazzo Davanzati, the ballatoio at the top was replaced with an open gallery. As merchants and nobles were flourishing, they wanted to flaunt their wealth by having fancy cornices as well as creating a courtyard with octagonal columns supporting an arched loggia. The town house was specifically designed for the higher class as it represents the high status of the owners. Classical forms were brought back by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi palace such as the cornice of the courtyard executed appears to be a part of a Classical entablature and the use of symmetry with Classical proportions. By reintroducing symmetry in the arcade, it creates a more modest aesthetic but still is able display the wealth of the owners through the ornamental entablature. The predominant difference is the expansion of the residential space even if the household only houses one family and two or three servants. Palazzo Medici Riccardi came to be the model for later palaces. These renaissance palaces were a grand statement showcasing the owner’s position in the social hierarchy. The modified design of town houses with exterior loggias and shops to palaces that isolates itself from any means of social exchanges to preserve the household privacy. Humanists at the time formulated moral justification for the current forms of palaces proclaiming that the architecture should be designed to reflect the level of the owner’s nobility. Another measure of showing self-pride was to invest in a family chapel in the parish church, greatly decorated by an acclaimed artist. The churches also went through transitions such as the Franciscan church of S. Croce which does not have Gothic proportional rib vaults. The structural design of the interior could easily be changed to have Classical components to cloak the Gothic interior.

The Renaissance period is believed to be the advancement in culture from the Gothic period since all the doubts and worries that was present during the Middle Ages have reached their pinnacle. Filippo Brunelleschi creates a main structural design for all the chapels that are respective and consistent to each other through their coordinated nave and aisles that have correct classical proportions. He first designed a square crossing unit using the derivation of proportional choir and transept and repeating it, making up the unit. Brunelleschi was the original founder of one-point perspective. Many of his buildings were designed so that visitors could experience the feeling of “walking into a painted picture” (Kostof 2010, p. 382). This one-point perspective is unfamiliar in Classical architecture. Brunelleschi tried to follow the characteristics of centrally planned temple and his interest in this led him to design amendments for both San Lorenzo and San Spirito. Both churches now have domed crossing which combine three aisles and the centralised arrangement of the altar. Brunelleschi was given a greater task, the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral which originally had an octagonal crossing which measured to be over forty metres. This became a problem since the size of central space is too large for traditional wood centering. The solution that Brunelleschi came up with was from his learnings by studying the baptistery and the Pantheon in Rome. Through his trip to Rome, studying the Pantheon allowed Brunelleschi to learn first-hand how it was built and its correct proportions. He came up with the solution of using a double-shelled dome, each shell was made up of eight panels converging together at the peak. To execute the double dome, each individual panel were divided into sections held up by ribs which were supported by sandstone blocks place in a shape of a ring tied together with iron rods. Barrel vaults also spanned from rib to rib. This construction method is a combination of both Classical techniques, the tie rods and Gothic, the use of ribs. The ribs acted as flying buttresses for the inner dome shell and extended through the corners of the outer shell adding to the visual impact that the dome’s mass demonstrates. This accomplishment displays the subtle innovation of Brunelleschi working between the existing orthodoxy and his personal discoveries. Although, finding a methodical solution for the renovation for S. Maria del Fiore cathedral was the main reason behind the structural outcome, it was also commissioned to be renovated to adorn the skyline of the city. The dome became the city’s emblem as it congregates the governmental domain outside its brick panels that meet at the peak capped with a lantern, resembling a sense of community. Since the Roman period, Brunelleschi revived the Corinthian Order in the naves of the churches he had designed. He also began to use the Classic proportions for triumphal arches which became influential in later church designs, mainly Leon Battista Alberti’s. This set-in motion the slow reintroduction of simplicity into the Florentine Architecture.

The development of the Renaissance period in Florence was dependent on the community’s value towards their local traditions establishing the new fashion that displays the continuity and evolvement of their generation. Brunelleschi’s works were based on conceptual practices whilst integrating to an extent the precedents of antiquity and the shift in views. This mainly involved rustification of facades which is not necessarily pure Classical but of Roman origin. Florence is very religious, and most theorists believe that the development of Renaissance architecture was triggered by the religious changes. During the fourteenth century, there had been a shift in the political, social as well as the economic situation. Through these changes, new circumstances for the built environment were formed opening new opportunities for both patrons and architects. At this time, urban economies became disorganised and migratory problems occurred. These problems caused famines and internal conflict evoked damage to the cities in Europe. The cities experienced malpractice of finances and internal issues between merchants and working classes. This led to an increase in the fortification of the working classes and artisans became oppressed causing them to work with the monarchical authority. The decrease in urban independence was only one of the reasons how Royal Houses in France, England and Spain became more powerful. As the Royal Houses gained more authority, Popes were banished and there was rivalry tension to claiming the papal title. Gunpowder was introduced and was used during the open battles causing fortresses to become less secure. This led to the elimination of medieval castles as armies demand of manufacturing new structures. Alongside the warfare, present affairs of Europe’s royals became even more chaotic and so there was an increase in the demand for the one-man rule. Although, Northern and Central Italy planned to form a government instead. The formation of a government influenced an evolvement in building types such as residential buildings. For example, the first version of the New College in Oxford established by William of Wykeham was the standard arrangement where its buildings surround a quadrangle. William was the Bishop of Wykeham and had intended for the college to restore clergy as many had died due to the Black Death. The depopulation and rise in mortality rate left more people to become wealthier but many were restless resulting in them to grow a desire to acquiring luxury goods. Most had invested in embellishing their interiors, moving theatrical art, that was popular for exterior décor, indoors. People focused on the finest detail flaunting their expensive taste. Italy had adopted Gothic styles as part of their culture and tradition, especially the rib vaults in churches. Gothic architecture had been deeply engraved resulting in a strong resistance, excluding Florence, to the introduction of the new trend, Classical. Humanists learnt and read books about the classic antiquities and tried to restore the Greek language. Ciriaco of Ancona travelled to Greece and recorded buildings and copied inscriptions. Leon Battista Alberti was an acclaimed student and classicist. Although Alberti was a classicist, he did not neglect the Medieval styles, nor did he purely believe that Renaissance cities were the ideal future of Architecture. Alberti believed that architecture should reflect the structure of the natural world and therefore equivalent to God’s teaching, undertaking divinity. He had written ‘Ten Books on Architecture’, this was the first crucial architectural treatise after Vitruvius. Written in his book were plans of new towns which had high streets, varied views and design for military advantage.

Mid-century, the Hundred Years’ War came to an end, the general recuperation aided the growth of Renaissance architecture. Pope Nicholas was the first humanist pope, he and Alberti planned to build the what they believed would be the ideal city of God. To achieve this, they planned to cover any Medieval aspects of the old church, build a Classical theatre and library and finally to redesign the mausoleum in Alberti’s style. Before, there had been a papal ensemble built in Pienza, south of Sienna. This was the first completed ideal ambiences that many artists and artisans portrayed through their paintings and marquetry. The town Corsignano, now called Pienza, was the home of the Piccolomini family which claimed the papal throne in 1458 as Pius II. The architect of the town was Bernardo Rossellino who had assisted Alberti at the construction of the Palazzo Rucellai. Working alongside Alberti had greatly influenced his designs as the papal palace in Pienza is essentially a duplicate of the Rucellai. Although Pius was adamant on what he wanted and so the new humanist society had led Pius to build a Renaissance Piazza. He wanted the façade of the Piazza to acquire a perspective grid and paved with brick that had been engraved. The palaces either side had been carefully placed in coordination to the Church and Piazza. The arrangement intensified the significance of the church façade, illuminating the importance of religion to Pius. Pius had designed a new cathedral which was specifically laid out parallel to the old church, facing North. This orientation captivated the flow of the central axis by emitting a strong counterbalance. The cathedral had a combination of early Renaissance exterior and Gothic interior. It had broad windows that illuminated the interior by direct sunlight, through this design, Pius’ admiration for light is clear. At this point, the political diagram is very apparent in which the Piccolomini palace was the centre of power and the church was the essential area of honour. Pius’ structures express the intellectual views of his personal beliefs and a reflection of the society at the time. This demonstrates his judgement that buildings should not be materialised and seen as merely an accessory. Pius’ buildings, specifically the Palazzo Piccolomini, had encouraged cardinals to refurbish old houses or construct new houses. The development of the architecture in Pienza took on a natural transition as Early Renaissance style eventually prevailed. Pius wanted to preserve his church as it was originally designed.

The square’s façade regresses to Alberti’s orthodoxy as the palace plan is a progression on the early Renaissance model of Florence, the Palazzo Medici. The Palazzo Medici has horizontal layers that manipulate the perspective force, engaging with the visitors. Although, its façade is passive in relation to the street. On the other hand, Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai, which was built for Giovanni Rucellai, has vertical dividers that immerses the communal space, inviting passers-by towards the building. There is a strong relationship between the structure itself and the street by utilising both horizontal and vertical components. Likewise, Alberti created faint differentiation in the flow of the bays. The addition of the vertical elements and the supported cornices, unlike on the Medici, appear similar to a Classic composition of columns bearing the weight of the entablatures. The courtier of the Rucellai was inspired by Brunelleschi’s Medici Palace, using proportional triumphal arches forming an arcade. For the façade of the Palazzo Rucellai, Alberti adapted the arrangement of pilasters by applying a double order of pilasters. The elevation of the Palazzo Rucellai complies to what Alberti believed to be the standard models, using differing orders, such as the Colosseum, with Tuscan, Composite and Ionic orders. It was the first Renaissance palace to possess Classical Orders in its exterior. Compared to Brunelleschi, Alberti believed that columns are decorative and not just elements for sustaining load or plot partitions. Alberti tackled San Francesco at Rimini which was the complete contradictory of a Renaissance church model. The church consisted of a three-part section, a nave and two aisles. Alberti fashioned a solution that mimic the Arch of Constantine in Rome, applying three triumphal arches and combined them with pier columns. This resolved the noticeable divisions, but the varying heights of the nave and aisles was still evident. And so, Alberti concealed the lean-to roofs with stonework segments. This resolution was more effectively executed in the façade of Santa Maria Novella church. The church of S. Maria Novella in Florence was remodelled by Alberti. The lower section of the church has medieval components and the upper section was redesigned by Alberti. He incorporated his own style into the original scheme of the basilica by integrating a series of columns supporting a high attic.

Alberti’s façade prompted a new trend in the architecture of Renaissance churches. He had the opportunity to construct two new churches which allowed Alberti to take charge of the entire design, both took place in Mantua. One of them was the church San Sebastiano which has a centralised church plan. The façade was Alberti’s interpretation of the temple front which he designed to have a protruding arch into the pediment. By selecting the temple elevation as the façade, it reflects the function of the church as temples were used as a place of worship. The second church was San Andrea which clearly shows the development of Alberti’s personal understanding of the temple front form. The church has four main pilasters that rise to the entablature forming a border around the large triumphal arch, the entrance. The façade is a series of repeated piers and arches in proportion to each other. The visual effect of the church’s façade adopts the Roman grammar more so than Classical. Alberti had revived the pediment for his church designs, used to interrupt the vertical components creating a visual balance between horizontal and vertical lines. Although Alberti used Classic proportions, the use of pilasters for both S. Sebastiano church and S. Andrea does not particularly have a function, only for decorative purposes. In comparison to the S. Sebastiano church, the pilasters have minimal etchings whereas S. Andrea has intricate moulded capitals. This demonstrates Alberti’s understanding of both Classical and Roman grammar.

Studying Brunelleschi’s, Alberti’s and other architects’ structures, there was no solitary interpretation of the Classic style. It was a time of experimentation of Renaissance styles. Although Classical components were the main the subject of the building, architects and patrons explored their individual approaches and in turn the outcome is slightly dissimilar to former Renaissance Architecture. The majority of experimentations were influenced by their deep fascination of Classical grammar but had varying motives where it be for the function of the building or expressing the owner’s social status. Investigating the works of these various patrons, they all shared a feature which was presented throughout their buildings, a sense of harmony between components used. The take on a whole new style was not out of pure distaste of the existing orthodoxy nonetheless, it was still respected by architects whilst still exploring unfamiliar manners. Elements of the churches and palaces were in coherence and proportionally controlled hence the façade seems more appealing.


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