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  Renaissance Architecture

The Renaissance, a name meaning "rebirth or re-creation" symbolized the rebirth of ancient classical culture, originated in Florence in the early 15th century and thence spread throughout most of the Italian peninsula; by the end of the 16th century the new style pervaded almost all of Europe, gradually replacing the Gothic style of the late Middle Ages. It encouraged a revival of naturalism, seen in Italian 15th-century painting and sculpture, and of classical forms ornament in architecture, such as the column and round arch, the tunnel vault, and the dome.

Knowledge of the classical style in architecture was derived during the Renaissance from two sources: the ruins of ancient buildings, particularly in Italy but also in France and Spain, and the treatise De architectura by the Roman architect Vitruvius. For classical antiquity and, therefore, for the Renaissance, the element of architectural design was the order, which was a system of traditional architectural units. During the Renaissance five orders were used, the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite, with various ones prevalent in different periods. For example, the ornate decorative quality of the Corinthian order was embraced during early Renaissance, while the masculine simplicity and strength of the Doric was preferred during the Italian High Renaissance. ancient Roman practice (e.g., the Colosseum or the Theatre of Marcellus), Renaissance architects often superimposed the order--that is, used a different order for each of the several stories of a building--commencing with the heavier, stronger Tuscan or Doric order below and then rising through the lighter, more decorative Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite.

For the Renaissance, proportion was the most important predetermining factor of beauty. The great Italian humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti defined beauty in architecture as

"A Harmony of all the 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."

On the authority of Vitruvius, the Renaissance architects found a harmony between the proportions of the human body and those of their architecture. There was even a relationship between proportions and the Renaissance pictorial device of perspective; the Italian painter Piero della Francesca said that perspective represented objects seen from afar "in proportion according to their respective distance." In fact, it was an Italian Renaissance architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, who was the first to formulate perspective. The concern of these architects for proportion caused that clear, measured expression and definition of architectural space and mass that differentiates the Renaissance style from the Gothic and encourages in the spectator an immediate and full comprehension of the building.

The Renaissance was the great moment in the history of architecture for the expression of architectural theory. Inspired by the rediscovery or reevaluation of the treatise by Vitruvius, many architects recorded their theories of architecture; some were preserved in manuscript (e.g., those of the 15th-century Italian architects Francesco di Giorgio and Antonio Filarete), but most were published. Alberti's treatise De re aedificatoria (Ten Books on Architecture), modeled on Vitruvius, was written in the middle of the 15th century and published in 1485. But it was during the last three-quarters of the 16th century that architectural theory flourished. The Italians Sebastiano Serlio, Giacomo da Vignola, and Andrea Palladio published famous books on architecture at that time. Elsewhere, works were published by the Frenchmen Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, Philibert Delorme, and Jean Bullant; the Fleming Vredeman de Vries; the German Wendel Dietterlin; and John Shute in England.

Early Renaissance in Italy (1401-95) The Renaissance began in Italy, where there was always a residue of classical feeling in architecture. A Gothic building such as the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence continued to use the large round arch instead of the usual Gothic pointed arch and preserved the simplicity and monumentality of classical architecture. The Renaissance have been expected to appear first in Rome, where there was greatest quantity of ancient Roman ruins; but during the 14th and early 15th centuries, when the Italians were impelled to renew classicism, the political situation in Rome was very unfavorable artistic endeavor. Florence, however, under the leadership of the Medici family, was economically prosperous and politically stable.

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