How the Renaissance Influenced Architecture
After a long period of cultural and intellectual starvation known as the Dark Ages, Europe was in desperate need of a renaissance. A growing desire to study and imitate nature itself began to emerge, along with a tendency to discover and explore the world. Between 1400 and 1600, Europe was to witness a significant revival of fine arts, painting, sculpture and architecture.
Before the dawn of the Renaissance, Europe was dominated by ornate, asymmetrical Gothic architecture. The period ushered in a new era of architecture after a phase of Gothic art, with the rise of a new notion “humanism”. The idea of attaching a lot of importance to the essence of individualism and minimizing religious themes. The effect of humanism included the emergence of the individual figure, greater realism and attention to detail.
15and century Florence heralded a period of great prosperity and marked the development of the Renaissance style of architecture. Here the renaissance began, with Medici patronage consciously rekindling a golden age, sparking a fascination with the arts and classical learning. From its heart, its influence spread to the rest of Italy and then to Western Europe.
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The revival of this classical learning sought the influence of the highly symmetrical and geometrically proportioned buildings of classical Rome and Greece. Predominant architectural features such as pilasters, round arches, orderly arrangements of columns, lintels and domes.
Considered the original architect of the renaissance is Fillippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Described as the first building from this era is the Catthedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Florence). Headless for two centuries, Brunelleschi devised a plan to create the largest masonry dome in the world, under the patronage of the Medici. Retaining its Gothic ribs and pointed arches in its design, the new dome was influenced by the great domes of ancient Rome, such as the Pantheon.
Constructed without supports or scaffolding, it uses a deep understanding of the laws of math and physics in its design. Brunelleschi proposed the construction of two domes, an inner dome with horizontal stone and chain hoops, reinforcing the octagonal dome resting above. Additionally, Brunelleschi pioneered a new herringbone pattern that allowed the masonry to self-reinforce during laying. A dome of this magnitude and technique had never been made before and is still considered a significant technical achievement.
Another key figure in the development of Renaissance architecture was Leon Battista Alberti (1402-1472), both theoretician and humanist designer, whose book on architecture “De re Aedificatoria” was the first architectural formal written work rebirth. His work includes the Palazzo Rucellai and the facade of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in the 15and Florence of the century, both strongly influenced by the architecture of the ancients and corresponded to the new individualistic vision of man.
The Palazzo Rucellai (1446-51) exhibits the developmental characteristics of Renaissance architecture, offering the use of pilasters and entablatures in proportional relation to each other and the classical order of columns. The embodiment of different classical orders creates an effect similar to that of the Colosseum, with the structure becoming more elegant than the ancient fortress like structures of the time.
Architects of this period were influenced by Roman orders of columns, including Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite, and Doric models. These controls were either structural or decorative, used as an integrated system. The dome also became popular after the success of the Brunelleschi, a feature very rarely used in the Middle Ages. After its construction, Donato Bramante designed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the element became an indispensable part of Renaissance church architecture, remaining popular during the transition to the Baroque period.
An essence of individualism was born, expressing an interest in creating spacious and well-lit interiors, reflecting the philosophy of Humanism. The arrival of print meant that architectural theory was in the spotlight. Architecture was no longer just practical; it was a subject of theoretical discussion not only for architects but also for patrons. Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) published ‘l Quattro Libri Dell’archittetura’ in 1570 (translated as The Four Books of Architecture). Many believe that the distribution of this print was responsible for spreading Renaissance ideas across Europe.
The birth of the renaissance in Florence, Italy sent shockwaves through Western Europe, as the style began to emerge in England, Bohemia, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and more. Their own variants materializing from elements of previous Gothic styles. The renaissance revolutionized the way architecture was perceived, as an art and a science that should be studied through architectural theory. Architecture became more captivated by user design, rather than symbolic and religious purposes. The rise of humanism changed our perception of the practice and continues to influence architectural design today.