Renaissance Architecture

Western civilization was changed forever by the Renaissance that was rooted in the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Latin texts in the 12th century and the development of humanism in the 14th. Scholars disagree in their dating of the period, with many saying that it lasted from the 14th through the 17th centuries, but no historian would disagree that this period was formative in the development of Western religion, science, art, music, literature, and architecture.

Renaissance architecture would have a special influence on all that followed the period. After the discovery of De architectura, the only surviving treatise by Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect, a new way of thinking about architectural techniques and principles was embraced. The beauty of the buildings that were designed encouraged churches, rulers, and other civic leaders to spend vast sums of money in constructing edifices that are esteemed as monuments the world over.

The most important architectural principle that was embraced in the early Renaissance period was symmetry. Renaissance architects generally sought to achieve geometric balance and harmony in their works. In other words, they sought to integrate the various parts of their structures and avoid mixtures of designs that did not fit well together.

Under this general principle, Renaissance architects developed several unique elements that continue to set Renaissance architecture apart today. Architects of the period were fond of domes that could be seen from any point in a given city where the dome was constructed. This differed from medieval architecture that built domes that were to be visible mainly from within the buildings they topped. Pilasters, or decorative columns that adorned walls without providing any real support were also a favorite of Renaissance architects, as were traditional Roman columns that did support the building. The rounded arch that was used in ancient Roman architecture was likewise incorporated into Renaissance design.

During the later Renaissance, the movement that is now known as Mannerism began to influence architecture. Mannerists still looked to the ancient Greek and Roman world as inspiration for their work, but they played with proportion and design elements, producing buildings that violate the principles of symmetry and balance seen in the early Renaissance and yet were beautiful in their own right. Michelangelo is known for his Mannerist approach to architecture.

The two most famous Renaissance architects are Filippo Brunelleschi (1377—1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472). Brunelleschi is known for his development of linear perspective in painting and drawing and the design of his dome for the cathedral in Florence with its conical structure. Alberti contributed the planning of cities, which is not surprising because of his interest in political theory and civic engagement. Had there been an effective way to conduct a (people search) in their day, Alberti and Brunelleschi would have been some of the most searched persons in all of Europe, so important were they to the culture of their day.

The aforementioned dome on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the many examples of Renaissance architecture that still stands today. Saint Peter’s Basilica, the home of the Roman pontiff, exemplifies the approach of Mannerism. Unfortunately, the prominence of Saint Peter’s as the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church makes it a prime target for vandalism. Background checks for those who want to work for Saint Peter’s help weed out those who might do harm to the facility.

Today, Renaissance architecture continues to influence builders everywhere. The columns and other features employed in the period are still seen today in homes that imitate the style of Renaissance villas and in the US federal government buildings in Washington, D.C. As with Saint Peter’s, many vandals would love to deface the federal buildings, so a background check is performed on all potential employees at these buildings. Still, the importance and influence of the Renaissance style is seen in that these monuments remain open to the public and are regularly photographed for all to see.


Architecture in Renaissance Italy

Real/Virtual Page on Renaissance Architecture

Italian Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance Architecture and Culture

Mannerist Architecture and the Baroque Period

A Description of Mannerism and Mannerists


Life of Filippo Brunelleschi

Brief Life of Leon Battista Alberti and Selections from His Work

Life and Work of Michelangelo Buonarroti


Great Buildings Online Renaissance Architecture Samples

Saint Peter's Basilica

Original Plan for Santa Maria del Fiore

Villa Medici

Palace and Park of Fontainebleau


Art History on the WWW