Italian Renaissance Art

Italian Art: Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture


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Italian Renaissance Architecture
(For further info see:
http://www.uml.edu/Dept/History/ArtHistory/
See links for Museum and Imaging of Art Works)

Background

Throughout the Gothic period in the middle ages, when architecture in France and England was dominated by architecture executed on the grandest scale in Western history, with immense and airy cathedrals representing one of the highest points of European architectural genius, Italian architecture was an uninspired and relatively small affair. Although there was Gothic architecture in Italy, the sweep, genius and grandeur seemed to have passed those city-states by. The Renaissance, however, saw the development of a new architecture from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries that was the first "modern" architecture. When we look at Renaissance buildings, they look familiar, almost as if they were built one hundred years ago. The architectural language invented by the Italian Renaissance architects became the dominant architectural language of the modern world, displaced only by the advent of modernist architecture in the twentieth century.

The architects of the Renaissance derived their architecture in part from a revived interest in Roman and Greek ruins, from the recovery of classical texts on architecture, particularly the Roman writer Vitruvius's ten books on architecture. They also, however, invented new forms and new visual language that was not derived from the classical period. In the process, the architects, humanists, and painters of the Renaissance (for architecture was considered a universal art in the Renaissance) invented a new idea of public space in which civic pride and organization would be organized on a city-wide scale.

In the Renaissance, architecture was seen as the supreme art. Theorists on architecture believed that architectural design arose out of human experience, like all arts, but that it also represented the highest artistic achievement a human being could attain. Architecture, though, was not considered a specialist profession, as it is now. Architectural design was carried out by professional architects, painters, sculptors (such as Michelangelo), humanists, masons, and just plain amateurs with alot of time and money.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466)

The invention of the uniquely Italian style in Renaissance architecture is typically given to Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466), who is also credited with inventing the principles of linear perspective in drawing and painting. In 1419, he was commissioned to build the dome over the cathedral in Florence, which had been started in 1296. In 1419, the building was still unfinished for no-one could quite figure out how to build the dome. Brunelleschi solved the problem by inventing a new type of dome. Rather than a hemisphere, Brunelleschi's dome is conical and high. It has eight sides and Brunelleschi built white ribs on the outside of the dome to call attention to these eight sides.

It was the first dome ever built since the classical period to exist largely for the outside of the building rather than the inside. In medieval architecture, domes were designed to be visible from within the structure. Brunelleschi's dome, however, could be seen from all over Florence&emdash;in fact, it still dominates the skyline today. There are several innovations here: the design with its eight sides draws attention to its mathematical proportions and symmetry; in fact,Brunelleschi's dome is perhaps the best example of the Renaissance architectural principle of symmetria, which the classical architect Vitruvius claimed was the highest virtue of architecture. By being as much an exterior architecture as an interior one, the dome is about the public space in Florence and serves as a visual gravitational center to the civic life of the city.

The fifteenth century saw a dramatic rise in architectural projects not only in the wealthiest cities such as Florence, but all over Italy. The Vitruvian principles of symmetry and order were applied in almost every building project. In addition, Brunelleschi's invention of perspective, a drawing technique, changed the way Italian architects constructed buildings. The Renaissance architecture of the fifteenth century is dominated by flat surfaces and strong lines which emphasize the principles of architecture.

New types of buildings were going up. In addition to typical medieval buildings such as churches, chapels, and hospitals, Renaissance designers created two new types of buildings: the villa and the palazzo. The villa was country house that the wealthy and powerful citizens, such as the Medici, lived in. Originally fortified farms, Renaissance architects developed the villa into spacious pleasure homes. Related to the villa was the palazzo, or town house. These were the houses that the wealthy and powerful lived in when they visited the city. In the thirteenth century, these palazzi were narrow and unimperssive affairs with the first floor rented out as shops. The fifteenth century saw the rise of large, square and proportionate palazzi in which all floors were dedicated to living areas. Again, the architects were interested also in the exteriors of these palazzi; they were both private and public buildings&emdash;in their public aspect, that is, in their exterior, they expressed the wealth and power of their owners.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Besides Brunelleschi, the most important architect of the period was Leon Battista Alberti, who was also a significant political theorist and civic humanist. He's best known for his books on architecture; in these books, he draws up a theory of city planning and public space. His ideal city is filled with isolated, monumental buildings all perfectly balancing one another.While Brunelleschi is credited with inventing the architectural language of the Renaissance, Alberti is generally considered to have perfected it in terms of symmetry and disposition.

From its beginnings, the humanist education program stressed practical over philosophical careers. The purpose of the humanistic education was to prepare people to lead others and to participate in public life for the common good; this was a foundational aspect of Ciceronianism. Out of educational humanism,then, developed a distinct strain of humanism we call civic humanism. The civic humanists agreed on the importance of eloquence, but they stressed political science and political action over everything else while the educational humanists centered their attention primarily on grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

The most prominent of the civic humanists were Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), who is more famous in the modern age for his treatise on architecture. Both these men argued that the best form of government was a republic built on the Florentine model. Every citizen should be responsible for one another and should define themselves primarily in relation to the duties to their family and their city-state. Like Valla, they argued that selfishness to a certain degree was the foundation of all human achievement: the quest for glory and nobility led to political greatness and stability while the quest for material gain led to human mastery of nature and the earth.

Mannerism in "Visual Arts in the Renaissance"

The art rested on several principles derived ultimately from Vitruvius's books on architecture. The most important of these was symmetria, or symmetry, which demanded that the parts be geometrically balanced. There is in the earliest Renaissance architecture a mania for order and symmetry. In addition, the various parts of the architectural whole must be congruous or harmonious with one another&emdash;in architectural theory this was called dispositio, or disposition. As architecture developed, however, designers began to rebel against the strictures of Vitruvian theory. In the 1530's,particularly in the work of Michelangelo, architects began to go crazy with dysymmetry and wildly incongruous mixtures of architectural elements. This rebellious style of architecture is called mannerist architecture after a similar phenomenon in Renaissance painting.

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