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Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance Architecture in Florence

The Pitti Palace, Florence
Pitti Palace, Florence
Had Brunelleschi’s design for the Pitti Palace been carried out there might have been good reason for regarding it as his greatest work, and a landmark of the Renaissance Architecture. But only the central part up to the windows of the second storey was constructed in his time, and his models for the rest of it were not found when Ammanati came to extend it about the year 1568. What it has of Cyclopean largeness and dignity is, however, due to Brunelleschi, whose design has not been altogether lost.

Perfect example of the palazzi architecture, it was begun in 1435, eleven years before Brunelleschi’s death, for Luca Pitti, chief magistrate of the Republic, and, excepting works like the Golden House of Nero, and the Vatican, came to be perhaps the largest residence ever reared in Italy. This rapacious citizen, who, according to Machiavelli, gathered to himself a great fortune by knavery and maladministration of justice, built the palace as his little town house, literally out of the spoils of the people of Florence, whom he induced to make presents towards its completion and decoration, erecting at the same time as a suburban dwelling another great building about a mile away. The length of the whole front to the Piazza is 475 feet, the height 114 feet, and the window bays are twenty-four feet from centre to centre, although it is difficult to conceive this from a photograph, or indeed looking at the building itself.

The cortile, interior court typical to the Italian Renaissance architecture, was the work of Bartolomeo Ammanati, finished about 1568, at which time the windows in the round arched openings of the front were inserted, perhaps in imitation of Michelangelo’s work at the Palazzo Riccardi. Probably the ambitious design of the front was never finished. Indeed, Machiavelli records that it was stopped in 1466. A further storey had been intended, which of course would have been crowned by the great cornice, so typical of the Florentine palazzi.

The Antinori Palace, Florence
Antinori Palace, Florence
The Palazzo Antinori is another fine example of Renaissance architecture. Of still greater simplicity, it would almost conceal by its reticence the class and period to which it belongs. But it would be impossible anywhere save in or near Florence, for it indicates a revival of the ancient Etrurian manner rather than the Roman. And yet only in the importance given to the jointing of the stones is there any great departure from the Gothic palazzo. In this there was a renaissance of the Etruscan manner of building, though it is tolerably certain that the Florentines would not have attempted imitation of the methods of their ancestors, did not Tuscany at this time, just as twenty centuries previously, yield great blocks of stone which were readily quarried. It is this fact more than the commonly supposed necessity of defense that accounts for the severe and substantial character of the Florentine Renaissance Architecture. The few moldings on the Palazzo Antinori partake more of a Romanesque than a purely classical manner, but might also have been imitated from Etruscan buildings. This masterpiece of honest simplicity is ascribed alternately to Baccio d’ Agnolo and Giuliano da San Gallo.

The Medici-Riccardi Palace, Florence
Medici-Riccardi Palace, Florence

For it was not long before there gathered round Brunelleschi an able group of architects imbued with his spirit, as well as a number who were mere imitators of his manner, as in the case of all great men. Of the former class must have been Michelozzo Michelozzi (1396 (?)—1472), the architect of the Medici Palace. Cosimo de’ Medici, for whom it was built, had at the time become the greatest citizen of Florence, possessing more riches than any king in Europe. He was constantly engaged in works of charity, and patronage of art or literature, so that the impulse he gave to the Renaissance architecture can hardly be overestimated. In connection with his proposed dwelling in the Piazza San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi had prepared a grand design, which Cosimo, with greater sense than his rival of the Pitti, considered too sumptuous, and such as to excite the jealousy of his fellow-citizens. "Envy is a plant one should never water," he is reported to have said, being addicted to pithy and striking phrases, and Brunelleschi in a moment of irritation smashed the model he had carefully prepared. Michelozzo’s less costly design was thereafter carried out, the striking, massive, and strong work now known as the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Attention should be directed to the far-reaching projection of the chief cornice which is such a magnificent feature of the Florentine palazzi; also to the bold and irregular protrusion of the rusticated blocks on the ground floor stage, the modified relief of the first floor, and the plain surface of the top storey. The building was erected about 1430, and was the first of its kind, while it remains typical for the domestic Renaissance architecture.

The Strozzi Palace, Florence
Strozzi Palace, Florence

Another fine example of Renaissance Architecture is the Palazzo Strozzi, by Maiano and Cronaca. Generally it is looked upon as the most complete example of Florentine palazzi, and is chiefly derived from the Riccardi. It was begun by Benedetto da Maiano, about 1489, for Filippo Strozzi, another rival of the Medici family in later times, and was not entirely completed till 1553; so that it belongs to a much later period of the revival, while it does not show more than the slightest tendency to the adoption of ancient Roman traditions or the contemporary Roman practice. We see that the Renaissance architecture drew its first great master from a Florentine goldsmith’s shop, and as we have reason to believe that many of the great architects of the Quattrocento were trained in these botteghe, it may be well to consider what kind of work and experience was to be had within them. Some of these botteghe appear to have served the purpose alike of painters’ studios, gold and silversmiths’ shops, and sculptors’ and decorators’ workrooms. Sometimes, this extent of practice would be more restricted, as for example in the case of the bottega conducted by the Robbia family for the manufacture of glazed terracotta, but in nearly all other cases they were remarkable for the variety of work undertaken. These early Florentine masters knew but the "one art;" and however one artist might excel in a particular department, their whole education and mental bias was opposed to modern ideas of division of labor, and of a unique sphere for the individual in that sense.



Renaissance Architecture in Rome

The Farnese Palace, Rome
The Farnese Palace, Rome
One of the examples which best illustrates the peculiarities of the Central Period of the Roman Renaissance architecture is the great palace built for the Cardinal Alessandro Farnese who became Pope Paul III. The façade presents a precipice of wall nearly 100 feet high, its splendid monotony broken only by the insignificant central doorway and the adornment by shields of the space over the first floor window. Sangallo the Younger was the first architect of this edifice, while Michelangelo completed it by the addition of the top storey and the magnificent cornice. The window columns standing on brackets, and the arch let up into the frieze below the pediments, are features distinctly Michelangelesque. The small view on this page is of the garden front, the unity and majesty of which is marred to a great degree by the loggia forming the central feature, which was added in 1580 by an imitator of Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta. In the original parts of the building the orders are only used as a window decoration, and a partial return made to the earliest Florentine practice.  Reference to the Palazzo Riccardi will serve to remind one of the models they had in the Florentine Renaissance Architecture, and at the same time direct attention to the details of the windows which Michelangelo had inserted in the work of Michelozzo. On this account he had a special interest in that building, and it was probably his recollection of it which made him disapprove of Antonio’s proposal for an order on the top storey of the Farnese, and which led him to design for it a cornice not less virile than that of the Riccardi.

The Renaissance architecture of Florence had much influence upon Michelangelo, who, both in this matter and in the greater problem of the dome of St. Peter's, found stimulus in the study of the school of Brunelleschi.

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