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Renaissance art and architecture

Architecture of the Renaissance

During the Renaissance the ideals of art and architecture became unified in the acceptance of classical antiquity and in the belief that humanity was a measure of the universe. The rebirth of classical architecture, which took place in Italy in the 15th cent. and spread in the following century through Western Europe, terminated the supremacy of the Gothic style.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

In Italy, there was a rediscovery and appropriation of the classical orders of architecture. Rome's structural elements, its arches, vaults, and domes, as well as its decorative forms, served as an open treasury, from which the designers of the 15th cent. unstintingly borrowed, adapting them to new needs in original combinations. Although built using Roman motifs, the churches, town halls, palaces, and villas showed new developments in plan and structure. The stone houses of Florence, of which the Medici-Riccardi Palace by Michelozzi is a principal example, are marked by a rugged simplicity. On the other hand, fondness for the free use of beautiful details led, particularly in Lombardy, to graceful designs, in which the more massive appearance of the building was submerged; the facade of the Certosa di Pavia exemplifies this spirit.

Brunelleschi, the earliest great architect of the Renaissance, produced its first examples (c.1420) in the Florentine churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito and in the revolutionary plan for the dome of the Cathedral of Florence. Alberti was the first important architectural theoretician of the Renaissance. In his works he was strongly influenced by the writings of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius; the books of both men served as a basic source of inspiration for later architects. In ecclesiastical building there was a trend toward the centralized structure. Brunelleschi, Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio, and Leonardo designed many variations on the theme, creating polygonal and Greek-cross plans. The greatest realization of the circular form was achieved by Bramante in his Tempietto (c.1502) in Rome.

Numerous palaces and churches erected in Rome gave the city architectural preeminence, and Raphael, Peruzzi, Vignola, and Michelangelo worked there, as well as Antonio da Sangallo the younger, whose Farnese Palace exemplifies the period's highest standards. Work on St. Peter's Church was begun by Bramante and carried on by a succession of the finest artists and architects that Italy produced. The classical orders, often on a monumental scale, now played the chief role in decoration. Palladio, Serlio, Vignola, and others codified the system of proportioning, and their ideas were extremely influential in the development of European architecture.

French Architecture

In France in the 16th cent., Renaissance taste made one of its first tentative appearances in the Louis XII wing of the château of Blois. In the first period Gothic traditions persisted in plan, structure, and exterior masses, onto which fresh and graceful Renaissance details were grafted. The movement was sponsored by Francis I, a prolific builder. Handsome and livable châteaus replaced grim feudal castles. Fontainebleau, Chambord, and Azay-le-Rideau are famous examples.

The beginning (1546) of the construction of the Louvre by Pierre Lescot usually serves as the opening date of the classical period. Classical proportions and methods of composition were assimilated, and the use of the orders became general. Although Italian models were followed, a distinctively French brand of classicism took form. The leading architects were Lescot, Philibert Delorme, and the Androuet du Cerceau family. Jean Goujon and others contributed fine sculptural adornments.

Renaissance Architecture Elsewhere in Europe

In England the Renaissance flowered in the middle of the 16th cent. The Elizabethan style and the Jacobean style applied classical motifs while retaining medieval forms. The move toward a pure and monumental classical style was largely the work of Inigo Jones, whose royal banqueting hall (1619) in London decisively established Palladian design in English architecture.

In Germany, about the middle of the 16th cent., the medieval love for picturesque forms still dominated, although transferred to classical motifs. Freely interpreted and resembling the Elizabethan work in England, these gave full play to originality and craftsmanship. The style, however, lacking truly great architects, failed to achieve full development as in France and England. Nuremberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber are rich in works of the early period.

In the first period of the Renaissance in Spain, Gothic and Moorish forms (see Mudéjar) intermingled with the new classical ones. Under the leadership of Francisco de Herrera the younger, who imported strictly classical principles from Italy, the second period was one of correctness and formality. The palace of Charles V at Granada (1527) is its finest product.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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