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Renaissance Architecture

Florence Cathedral - Santa Maria del Fiore (Italy), architecture, history, Renaissance Architecture,

The cultural revolution of the Renaissance began in Italy in the city of Florence in the early 15th. It substituted itself to Gothic architecture to return to the Antique architecture at the apogee of all arts.The Renaissance artists were versatile, they searched of the absolute knowledge. Architecture intellectualized and became thus a science in itself and the architect is a synthesis person that must not only master drawings, but also perspective, geometry and specific language of architecture. Artists tried to advance aesthetics, organization, harmony and beauty rather than technique and prowess. Churches were the summit of architecture, synthesis of knowledge. Everything must be visually beautiful.

Thanks to the diffusion of drawings and treaties as well as the circulation of people, new forms from the Quattrocento quickly spread into France and then gradually to Europe through Russia, Germany and England. Indeed, Renaissance corresponds to the emergence of new means of information dissemination and also to the interpretation of fundamental texts. Moreover, putting Antiquity culture back to honor allowed a revival of trade, thus leading to a changes of world representation. A European identity bore through the Renaissance. The Italian Renaissance architectural influence led to the turning of traditional fortified castles into palace castles. Indeed, the Renaissance era was focusing more on aesthetic rather on defense concerning buildings. Thus, drawbridges, machicolations, moats disappeared in favor of sumptuous geometrical gardens, to castles' symmetry, huge windows, columns, pediments and other decorative details that may show all the power of the castle's owner.


The main changes concerned first of all the reintroduction of proportions, symmetry and regularity, as well as the discovery of  antique techniques. Construction of houses  and public squares were introduced in addition to churches and palaces. The Renaissance also marked the relinquish of stained-glass window as well as acute and obtuse angles in favour of right angles. As far as the columns are concerned, it could be monolithic or in superposition of drums.

Streets were perceived as a mean of communicating its prestige. Thus, one may notice in buildings the presence of bossage corresponding to a relief of the stone and in some cases sober pediments or loggias. Furthermore, the frames of windows were also sober and finally floors of edifices were constituted of small square windows. In addition, institutions and palaces' walls were mainly made of stone.


Among the important figures of the Renaissance, one distinguishes Filippo Brunelleschi, an Italian architect , who was one of the first to develop this movement. Resorted to classical forms, his advocacy of an architecture based on mathematical proportions, his scientific perspective make him a major figure of his time; a radical transition between the late Gothic and the humanism of the Renaissance. He was also at the origin of the elevation of the Basilica San Lorenzo's dome in Florence, of which Michelangelo brilliantly realized the sacristy sheltering the Medici's graves. This project of Brunelleschi is one of the masterpieces of the beginning of the Florentine Renaissance. The artist shows here a rational and harmonic system of proportions. Thus, Roman arches, the use of the pietra serena as well as coffered central ceilings became reference characteristics of the Renaissance. Finally, this edifice is also the first built on a central plane of the Renaissance.   

However, if Brunelleschi built, Leon Battista Alberti theorized. Indeed, he set his scientific fundament to artworks, and gave back nobility to the artist rank. He placed painting, sculpture and architecture on the same level than literature and philosophy. Thus, the architect became an intellectual. Alberti's two main architectural writings are "De Pictura", in which he emphatically declares the importance of painting as a base for architecture; as well as "De Re Aedificatoria" in, which is his theoretical masterpiece.  The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini (1450) was the first building that Alberti designed and attempted to build based on his architectural principals. Up to that point Alberti's architectural experience was purely theoretic. Seldom are fields that Leon Battista Alberti did not tackle. His books on figurative arts and architecture were the first ones of Modern Times, his buildings projects created a new architectural language. His work was clearly a merge between Antiquity and a modernity already set up by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Renaissance architecture in Europe

In France this art was discovered during battles between France and Italy. Thus, French architects built several castles according to Italian Renaissance architecture that they adapted to the rainy weather of some French regions. Indeed, that was the case for the numerous famous castles of La Loire, Sully sur Loire's castle is a very good example to it.

Nevertheless, Renaissance architecture only reached England during the reign of Elisabeth I, a long time after having flourished in the Spanish Netherlands, where among other originals patterns, it gained special gables as well as Flemish cut leather  to cover geometrical patterns constituted walls. Hence those two elements not only can be found on the Wollaton Halls' Towers but also at Montacute House in Hardwick.

0. Florence Cathedral - Santa Maria del Fiore (Italy)
1. The Romanesque Baptistry at Florence Cathedral in Florence (Italy)
1. Dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (Italy)
2. San Giovanni Battista cathedral in Turin (Italy)
3. Tempio Malatestiano by Leon Battista Alberti in Rimini (Italy).
3. San Pietro Temple in Montorio (Rome-Italy)
4. Renaissance architecture in Europe
- Castle in Sully sur Loire (France)
- Chenonceau castle in Touraine (France)
- Cathedral in Berlin (Germany)
- Rumbeke Castle in Roulers (Belgium)
- New York Palace in Budapest (Hungary)

- Leon Palustre, L'architecture de la Renaissance
- Rudolf Wittkower, Les Principes de l’architecture à la Renaissance
- Encyclopeadia universalis
- photos from

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