Renaissance Architecture Style Characteristics & Examples

In this article, which is based on Renaissance architecture style, we would like to introduce the most important Renaissance architects and structures after briefly mentioning the birth of Renaissance and its general architectural features.

The middle age, one of the darkest periods of Europe, has found a way out thanks to the Renaissance. By this means, it has leaded up a way for a path from the illumination era to the our modern world. Renaissance meaning rebirth is the story of people who lost their individiuality, importance, art and free thought. Then, it is the story of regaining these qualities under the leadership of artists.

Artists and scholars have estranged from the religious focus, which is a part of the middle age culture. They had analyzed the antiquity deeply and have upheld the idea that the Roman and Antique Greece civilizations have the real values. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that Rome, one of the center of antique world, is the birthplace of Renaissance.

Shortly, the Renaissance movement born in Italy has been one of the most effective and large-scale movements of all times.

Birth of Renaissance Idea

It triggered the start of a new era called Renaissance that Ottoman Empire conquered the Constantinople and made it a muslim city in 1453. After this case, the Roman Empire was totally collapsed. Artists, architects and scholars, who lives in Constantinople before Ottomans, had recorded the art, science and architecture of Greek civilization in these Greek-speaking lands and had a rich knowledge.

After the collapse of Rome, these intellectual people migrated to the Western Europe. By this means, they took a chance to teach their knowledges and experiences to the Italians.

The intellectual class consisted in the light of these informations constituted the first artists of Renaissance. They have criticized the middle age with a rough side of tongue. They were at a peak of a knowledge mountain illuminating surround. And the other luminous mountain is the period of Classical Greece and Roman dominated the Europe ages ago. The pioneer society of the Renaissance has named that time period between these two mountains as the “medieval”, the dark period of Europe.

Most famous family of Renaissance period Medici Family
Medici Family – Bronzino Atelier

Renaissance was strong in Italy so much so that this age is also known as Italian Renaissance. Italy was also the center of Renaissance in the manner of financial. There were many wealthy and noble families, merchants, aristocrats and guilds there. These families were paying Renaissance artists lots of money to represent their wealth and power through art. The most famous family providing a huge financial support to Renaissance architecture and art is the Medici family. As a result, this financial freedom has made artists more brave and has eased the spreading of the movement.

Facts About Renaissance Architecture Style

Perhaps the most important source of architects studying the ancient period architecture is the the Roman architect and author Vitruvius. The reason why Vitruvius get respect from Renaissance people is that he wrote the piece “Ten Books on Architecture”. This book includes extremely important knowledges about the ancient architecture of Rome.

From the book, Architects have examined knowledges of the ancient age such as style, order, ratios, proportions and adornments. The main purpose of Renaissance architecture style was finding a way out from the dark age with the help of the lightest era of the history, classical period. Moreover, it was to analyze the classicism with the questioning logic of a pure mind and resume on developing the civilization.

Renaissance Architecture Characteristics

  • Central plan setup
  • The sacredness attributed to the circle shape
  • Symetry
  • Domes with double shells
  • Hemispherical domes
  • Desire to achieve geometric perfection and integrity in design
  • Reinterpreting ancient architectural forms

Early Renaissance Architecture Period

Renaissance architects were interested with the order and geometry of ancient Greek architecture. They have admired to philosophers and mathematicians like Pisagor. That interest to mathematics, geometry and positive sciences has reflected to the architecture.

Main characteristics of Renaissance architecture style are being technical, disciplined, rational and logical. Moreover, it featured human values on the contrary of Gothic architecture style.

The Florance Cathedral of Filippo Brunelleschi

Florance Cathedral, important domes of Renaissance architecture style
Cathedral of Florance

Brunelleschi (1377-1446) is the first great architect of Renaissance. He used to live in Rome for a long time in order to examine the old Greek and Roman buildings and documents. When he returned to Italy, he designed the huge dome of the Florence Cathedral. Then, this engineering marvel construction has been the most fascinating of Renaissance Architecture domes in the history.

The town asked the architect to build a magnificent dome with a diameter of 42 meters on an octagonal body. Recognizing that it was impossible to construct this dome with known techniques, Brunelleschi invented a new system. Instead of building a dome supported by wooden buttresses, he designed a structure with stone ribs that visible from the outside.

There were one more ribs hidden in the right and left of these main rib structure. These ribs were rising from the bottom to the top of the dome and they jointed with the interconnections. Because the center where the dome sits is very wide, the architect sharpened and raised the dome. In this way, he has prevented the horizontal loads from demolishing the walls.

Consequently, he brought the largest and most magnificent dome in history to the silhouette of Florence and to the architecture. This add-on dome has made the building one of the most unique Renaissance architecture churches.

As an additional knowledge, Brunelleschi’s other two important classical-style buildings are the Pazzi Chapel and Santo Spirito in Florence.

Works of Leon Battista Alberti

Alberti (1404-1472), who is not a technical architect like Brunelleschi, was an architecture theoretician and one of the famous philosophers in his period. He took the opportunity of being in Rome just like Brunelleschi, too. By this way, he examined ancient works closely. Alberti, who met many artists in Rome, also took courses about physics and natural sciences.

After Alberti readed the “Ten Books on Architecture” of Vitruvius, he has become passionate about architecture. He has thought about house plans and has been interested in urban planning. He has defended the opinion that creating a circular(also hexagonal and square) center area in the structures. Moreover, he has fed from the proportional systems that he read from Vitruvius.

Alberti, published a book made of 10 books in one piece “De re aedificatoria” in 1452 by emuling Vitruvius. He talks about structures, orders and his opinions about architecture in this work. He also added some important informations narrated by Vitruvius in his book in a more understandable way. Alberti, gave a place to the opinion of decorum and civitas, too. (Decorum is meaning that building a structure through someone’s aims and Civitas is meaning that a city based civilization.)

Besides of these theoretical works, Alberti designed quite important Renaissance architecture buildings. His most two famous Renaissance architecture works are Tempio Malatestiano and The Church of St. Andrea.

These designs and works of Brunelleschi and Alberti who are the greatest architects during the early Renaissance architecture period have been source of inspirations for next architects.

High Renaissance Architecture Period

The ends of the 15th century is the period when Renaissance has matured and the art has reached the peak in the Europe. That period when great architects such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael produced works is the high period of Renaissance architecture style.

During the late Renaissance architecture era, in which period Italy suffered territorial losses, Florence was captured by a radical Christian. As a result of this case, the government suspended the most of artistic events. Moreover, the center of Renaissance and creative arts moved into Rome from Florence.

This period, Da Vinci, known as the inheritor of Alberti, drew anatomical sketches in the light of knowledges that Vitruvius narrated. “The Vitruvian Man” drawing also belongs to Leonardo Da Vinci. This drawing represents the central stance of a man in the world. In the sketch, the Vitruvian Man, who had opened his arms and legs, created an ideal circle with his navel exactly in the middle.

The Vitruvian Man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
The Vitruvian Man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

The circle is a symbol of sacred and absolute harmony for Renaissance period of architecture. Leonardo has designed circular domes by using this ideal circle as the keystone of plans in the churches he drew. But none of Leonardo’s drawings were applied.

Architectural historians think that the high Renaissance Architecture period ended with the death of Raphael in 1520. The Renaissance, one of the greatest artistic movements in history, is undoubtedly too big event to fit in just 2 centuries. Its effects has reflected to the illumination period and the industrial age. As a conclusion, Renaissance had formed one of the foundations of the alteration movement that will last for centuries.

Famous Renaissance Architects

  • Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377-1446

Italian Flippo Brunelleschi, the first great architect of the Early Renaissance, is known for his innovative design for the Dome of Florence Cathedral. The beginning of Renaissance architecture style is thought to be dated by Brunelleschi’s structures. He had worked as a sculptor and goldsmith, and went to Rome with Donatello to study ancient monuments. Instead of copying classical architecture, he reinterpreted it with a rational analysis and displayed an innovative attitude.

Important architectural works of Brunelleschi: Dome of Florence Cathedral, Pazzi Chapel, Santo Spirito Church, Pitti Palace, San Lorenzo Church, Hospital of the Innocents (Ospedale degli Innocenti).

  • Leon Battista Alberti, 1404-1472

Leon Battista Alberti, one of the two great architects of the early Renaissance, together with Brunelleschi, beame famous with Tempio Malatestiano and S. Andrea Church. Like other Renaissance architects, he was interested in different fields of art. Additionally to being an architect, Alberti is a poet, painter and philosopher. After studying Law at the University of Bologna, he earned a doctorate in canon law.

Architectural works of Alberti: Tempio Malatestiano, the Church of S. Sebastiano, the Church of S. Andrea, the Rucellai Palace, Santa Maria Novella.

  • Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

Although Leonardo is one of the greatest painters in history, he left an impact on many fields, including architecture. Da Vinci, who had many designs from buildings, weapons, bridges to various tools throughout his life, unfortunately has no implemented structure.

  • Raphael, 1483-1520

Raphael’s most important building that left an impression, whose many works that he started were finished by others, is the Pandolfini Palace in Florence.

  • Donato Bramente

Born in Urbino, Italy, Bramante’s most important structures are the Church of the Holy Mary of Grace and the Tempietto Mausoleum.

Examples of Renaissance Architecture Style

1. Cathedral of Florance

Although the entire design of the cathedral does not belong to the Renaissance period, the double shelled dome designed by Brunelleschi is one of the most important designs in the early Renaissance architecture history. The new structural technique he developed to design the gigantic dome became a source of inspiration for other Renaissance architects. The design and construction of this most famous dome of the Renaissance had lasted between 1420 and 1436.

2. Pazzi Chapel

Brunelleschi’s Renaissance masterpiece, the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, was only completed after the architect’s death. The greenish colored sandstone called Pietra Serena was used extensively in the building. Architects frequently preferred this Pietra Serena stone in the Italian Renaissance architecture.

Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi for Renaissance architecture
Pazzi Chapel

The Pazzi Chapel is in many ways reminiscent of the Pantheon Temple, one of the most important works of classical architecture. We can see the oculus on the ceiling and many elements of classical architecture in the centrally planned building which has an entrance with 6 columns. The dome of the building covers the rectangular interior. When we look at the ceiling of this rectangular area, we’ll see a dome that provides a fascinating light inside and a vault on each side.

In short, Brunelleschi designed one of the most unique structures in history, although it is very small in scale compared to many Renaissance structures.

3. Basilica di Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito Church by Brunelleschi, which is another early Renaissance work, is located in Florence, the capital of the Renaissance. The architect began designing this structure in 1428 on the site of the previously demolished church at the same site. After he died, his assistants continued the work and the construction of the dome.

There are some similarities between the Pazzi Chapel and Santo Spirito Church, designed by the same architect. The Pietra Serena stones covering the interior can also be seen here. But unlike Pazzi, Santo Spirito is a cruciform basilica.

Brunelleschi designed the form, width, height and openings of the building with a very rational geometric formula. It is possible to feel the integrity of these geometric proportions in the interior of the building. The interiors designed with this rational mathematical method have created an almost perfect structure with the harmony of gray tones of plaster, green tones of sandstone and smooth geometric forms.

4. Tempio Malatestiano

Alberti converted the Gothic-designed Malatestiano Temple Chapel into a Renaissance structure. The building is known as the Unfinished Church of Rimini (Italy). The Malatesto family asked Alberti to make an eclectic reconstruction in the 1450s for the building, which was originally a 13th-century Gothic church. Alberti designed a huge dome for the structure, but this was not applied. The upper part of the front of the building, which has a triangular pediment at the entrance and arcades on its sides, is also unfinished.

5. The Church of S. Andrea

Although this unique building by Alberti in Mantua was started in 1470, it was finished in 1790. There are 4 huge Corinthian pilasters, an eaves with frieze and a triangular pediment on the front facade. In the center of this facade, an entrance arch that covers almost half of the facade stands out. This arch has Corinthian pilasters that extend towards the floor and are relatively smaller than the 4 side pilasters. This central arch extends the entrance space inwards and turns into a vault.

When we enter through the main entrance, we are greeted by the space with the largest barrel vault built since Ancient Roman architecture (Dr. Horton). There are 3 chapels on both sides. These spaces are also covered with barrel vaults.

6. Tempietto Mausoleum

The mausoleum, designed by Donato Bramente by the order of King Ferdinand, was built at the place where St. Peter was thought to be a martyr. Tempietto, which is a very small building, is among the most precious structures of Renaissance architecture style due to its architectural features. The special importance that the symmetrical character of the Renaissance attributed to the circular form is the main element shaping this building.

Bramente, who designed the temple in a circular plan, surrounded it with 16 Doric columns. The extremely small interior is covered with a hemispherical dome. Bramente’s aim was to design the building as a mausoleum to be viewed from the outside.

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