Study Aid 6: The Early Renaissance in Italy

"Renaissance" is a French word meaning re-birth that has been applied to the revival of classical architecture (and other arts and sciences) that began ("accelerated" is perhaps a better word here) in Italy in the 1400s. It is important to remember that the inheritance of the classical world was never completely abandoned in Gothic art and certain artists of the late Middle Ages drew strongly on classical principles. The Renaissance also witnessed the birth of the "cult" of the creative genius. Consequently, we know a great deal more about the careers of individual architects from this point on. The center of the "early" Renaissance (circa 1420-1500) in Italy was Florence, a city blessed with a strong economy, enlightened patrons and great artists.

Filippo Brunelleschi is recognized as the first architectural genius of the Renaissance. A goldsmith by training, he not only used classical architectural themes and motifs (e.g. Foundlings Hospital, aka Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, 1419-1424; San Lorenzo, Florence, 1421-1425, 1442-1446 (initial patrons: Giovanni and Cosimo de' Medici); the Pazzi Chapel, Florence, c. 1430-), but solved the "problem" of creating the great dome over the Florence Cathedral (a.k.a. the "Duomo" or Santa Maria della Fiore, 1419-36). His fertile mind also produced the first system of optical perspective since antiquity.

Leon Battista Alberti was the next great architect of the early Renaissance. A scholar with many talents, his buildings demonstrated his desire to recapture the forms and sculptural qualities of ancient Roman architecture (e.g. San Francesco "Tempio Malatestiano," for Sigismondo Malatesta, Rimini, c. 1450; Sant' Andrea, Mantua, circa 1470-, patron: Ludovico II Gonzaga). Alberti also wrote the first architecural treatise since Vitruvius--De re aedificatoria (completed in 1452, but first published in 1485).

Although religious buildings were the subject of most great early Renaissance architectural efforts, a number of other architects also designed urban palaces for wealthy families, e.g. Palazzo Rucellai, Florence, 1455-1470, Alberti (?) architect; Palazzo Medici-Ricardi, Florence, 1444-1459, Michelozzo architect, Cosimo de' Medici, patron; Palzzo Strozzi, Florence, c. 1489-, Giuliano da Sangallo and/ or Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano.

San Lorenzo

Date: 1421-1425
Location:Florence, Italy
Architect: Brunelleschi
Patron: Giovanni and Cosimo de' Medici


Aerial View


Interior View of Nave


View Across Nave Showing Side Chapels

Unfinished Facade

Florence Cathderal (Duomo)

Date: 1297-1420
Location:Florence, Italy
Architect: Di Cambio & Talenti & Brunelleschi



Date: 1419-1436
Location:Florence, Italy
Architect: Brunelleschi

Section of Dome Showing Construction Methods

Axonomtric Cut-Away Showing Structural Elements

Brunelleschi's Sketches for the Construction
of the Dome
Including a Herring Bone Pattern of Brick

Aerial View

Dome from the East

Interior of Dome with Later Frescoes
by Vasari & Zuccari

Space Between Interior & Exterior Domes

Brunelleschi's Model for the Dome

Sant' Andrea

Date: 1470-
Location: Mantua, Italy
Architect: Alberti
Patron: Ludovico II Gonzaga


Drawing of Facade Including Alberti's Possible Unexecuted Design for the Upper Level

Proportion Diagrams

Interior View of Nave

Aerial View of Sant' Andrea (Dome and Transept Added Later)

Front Elevation

Front Elevation

Detail of Porch

Palazzo Medici-Ricardi

Date: 1444-1459 AD
Location: Florence, Italy
Architect: Michelozzo
Patron: Cosimo de' Medici


Original Elevation

Detail of Upper Stories

Detail of Exterior Elevation

Exterior View

View of Central Courtyard

Detail of Rusticated Stonework on Ground Floor