Renaissance Architecture Essay, Research Paper
What were the achievements of Renaissance architecture?
The era known to us as the Renaissance began approximately around the beginning of the fifteenth century, in Florence. The philosophy behind the whole movement is one of rebirth or the re-establishing of ancient classical culture.
Following the collapse of the Roman civilization much of Europe fell into decline, losing a great deal of information concerning that period. Therefore knowledge concerning the architecture of that age could only be acquired via the classical ruins that litter the Italian landscape; and through the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius.
Thus one of the greatest (and most fundamental) achievements of the renaissance is the rediscovery of the basic elements of classical architectural design, especially those concerning construction. The results of this achievement can be seen in the construction of buildings such as Florence Cathedral. Begun in 1294, the Florentine people almost exceeded the limit of their abilities in their enthusiasm to build an impressively large Cathedral, and consequently could find no method to cover it. This problem was left unresolved for over a century before an architect by the name of Brunelleschi was able to find a solution.
Filipo Brunelleschi was born in 1377 and is considered to be the greatest architect of the early renaissance and is credited with the development of Renaissance style with buildings such as the Foundling Hospital. In 1420 he was appointed along with fellow architect Ghiberti to construct a dome over Florence Cathedral. The main difficulty in this was that the opening was almost 140 feet in diameter and 180 feet off the ground, which made it impossible to build a framework strong enough to support a dome. In truth no tree would have been long enough to provide timbre to bridge the gap, or if there had it would have broken under its self-weight even before taking the weight of any stone. The solution that Brunelleschi put forward was to build the dome in a series of horizontal courses using a certain herringbone pattern, which would bond together, each course carrying its own weight and supporting the next. There was also the question of the weight of the dome. The drum on to which the dome was to be built was already in place; therefore building the dome out of concrete (in the manner of the Pantheon in Rome) was out of the question, as the weight would crush the existing dome. As a result the dome was built with ribs and the lightest possible infill and an outer and inner shell. Such a solution could have only been reached through the intense study of classical ruins. For thousands of years no one had understood the structure of the ancient Roman domes or vaults, this fact serves to heighten Brunelleschis s achievement, as he would have had to consider issues that no one else would have thought of contemplating.
Another element of classical antiquity that was re introduced was the order . The orders consisted of five styles the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and composite, which varied in popularity over the years. Copying the examples of ancient Rome, Renaissance architects overlaid the orders using a different one for each story of a building. Similarly the general appearance of different storeys in a building took on different facades. An example of this can be seen in Michelozzo s Palazzo Medici in Florence. There are different degrees of rustication of the stonework within the levels of the building. The ground floor is heavily rusticated in the manner of a fortress; the first floor is characterized by drafted stonework with incised lines, and the second floor features ashlar stonework. This distinguishing of levels, whether it is through columns or brickwork reflects the classical approach of creating logical relationships within a building.
Another achievement of the Renaissance was the development of perspective and the reestablishment of the classical importance of proportion. Throughout the renaissance the proportions of a building determined its beauty. The great scholar and architect Leon Battista Alberti is quoted as saying,
I shall define beauty to be harmony of all parts, in whatsoever subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered but for the worse .
Renaissance (or ancient classical) buildings are based on a modular system of proportions, whereby the module is half the diameter of the column base. The whole building will then be designed around that measurement, as the module determines not only the size of the column but the spacing between them. Likewise in the rest of the building every detail will be related to every other detail.
This fascination with proportion can be seen in Alberti s Florentine church of Sta Maria Novella. The building is divided so that the height of the building is equal to its width forming a square. This is cut through horizontally exactly through the middle. The main doors separate the lower story, which forms two squares, each of which is a quarter of the area of the large square. The upper storey, which is crowned by a classical pediment, is also exactly the same size as the lower squares.
Another example is Bramante s Tempietto in Rome. Born in Urbino in (approx) 1444, he was a painter in his early years and is thought to have been a pupil of both Pierro della Francesca and Mantegna. Certainly the harmony of the paintings of Piero, and the interest in classical civilization of Mantegna is evident in his work. The Tempietto was to be a matyria to St Peter and was intended to be part of a courtyard of concentric circles, but was never completed. The building itself is made up of two cylinders, the peristyle and the cella. (The peristyle being low and wide, and the cella tall and narrow.) The width of the epistyle is equal to the height of the cella (excluding the dome). The dome is hemispherical both internally and externally and thus proportionate to the height of the cella. The introduction of the importance of proportion was a great achievement of the Renaissance, but admittedly one that takes a little time to understand and appreciate. As to the finely tuned eye of the Renaissance architects, an opening five inches too wide could be seen as an eyesore, and is evidently a skill, which is very sensitive.
The idea of ideal proportions was also being applied to the anatomy most famously in Leonardo da Vinci s Vitruvian man. Similarly whole buildings were proportioned to the human body, particularly because in ancient times the column was thought of as being in the image of a human body.
Overall it is possible to conclude that the achievements of Renaissance architecture were the revival of both structural and stylistic properties of Ancient architecture.
However this does not mean that the architects of the Renaissance were satisfied with merely copying the classical style. The Renaissance was a period of great achievement scientifically, artistically and philosophically and this resulted in supreme confidence and ambition, which meant that architects were constantly struggling for perfection and the ideal form, and would not be content with just copying. There is also a separate factor, which provides the main difference between the Renaissance and the ancient civilizations. The difference was the embracing of the Christian faith throughout Europe during the Renaissance. This can be seen through importance placed on the concept of
proportion. An example of which can be seen in Alberti s church of S. Sebastian in Mantua. The plan is in the shape of a Greek cross, which is a perfect form and therefore symbolizes the perfection of God. In return the Renaissance architecture also influenced the Christian faith through the introduction of centrally planned churches, banishing the false assumption that religious buildings must be cruciform in plan. Christianity affected the way of thinking of the Renaissance. The French scholar Emile Male summarized it perfectly when he wrote,
Thus, the traveler who made his way from the Colosseum to St Peter s by way of Constantine s Basilica and the Pantheon, who visited the Sistine Chapel and the best of Raphael s Stanze, has seen in a day, the finest things in Rome. He will have learnt at the same time, what the Renaissance was; it was Antiquity ennobled by the Christian faith.
This encapsulates the mentality of the Renaissance whilst the very man who so inspired the Renaissance can sum up its architectural achievements.
Architecture consists of Order and of Arrangement and of Proportion and Symmetry and D cor and Distribution -Vitruvius (De Architectura I)
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