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Italian Renaissance Architecture

St. Peter's of Rome. The dome, completed in 1590, was designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti, architect, painter and poet. Bramante's Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, 1502
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 14th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe. The term renaissance is in essence a modern one that came into currency in the nineteenth century, in the work of historians such as Jacob Burckhardt. Although the origins of a movement that was confined largely to the literate culture of intellectual endeavor and patronage can be traced to the earlier part of the 14th century, many aspects of Italian culture and society remained largely Medieval; the Renaissance did not come into full swing until the end of the century. The word renaissance (Rinascimento in Italian) means “rebirth”, and the era is best known for the renewed interest in the culture of classical antiquity after the period that Renaissance humanists labelled the Dark Ages. These changes, while significant, were concentrated in the elite, and for the vast majority of the population life was little changed from the Middle Ages.

The European Renaissance began in Tuscany, and centered in the cities of Florence and Siena. It later had a great impact in Venice, where the remains of ancient Greek culture were brought together, providing humanist scholars with new texts. The Renaissance later had a significant effect on Rome, which was ornamented with some structures in the new all'antico mode, then was largely rebuilt by sixteenth-century popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the late 15th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into the turmoil of the Italian Wars. However, the ideas and ideals of the Renaissance spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the Northern Renaissance, and the English Renaissance.

The Italian Renaissance is best known for its cultural achievements. Italian Renaissance literature includes such figures as Petrarch, Castiglione, and Machiavelli. Italian Renaissance painting exercised a dominant influence on Western painting for centuries afterwards, with artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, and the same is true for architecture, with works such as Florence Cathedral and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: see Renaissance architecture. At the same time, some present-day historians also see the era as one of economic regression and of little progress in science, which made its great leaps forward among Protestant culture in the seventeenth century.
In Florence, the Renaissance style was introduced with a revolutionary but incomplete monument in Rimini by Leone Battista Alberti. Some of the earliest buildings showing Renaissance characteristics are Filippo Brunelleschi's church of San Lorenzo and the Pazzi Chapel. The interior of Santo Spirito expresses a new sense of light, clarity and spaciousness, which is typical of the early Italian Renaissance. Its architecture reflects the philosophy of Humanism, the enlightenment and clarity of mind as opposed to the darkness and spirituality of the Middle Ages. The revival of classical antiquity can best be illustrated by the Palazzo Rucellai. Here the pilasters follow the superposition of classical orders, with Doric capitals on the ground floor, Ionic capitals on the piano nobile and Corinthian capitals on the uppermost floor.

Pazzi Chapel and San Lorenzo

In Mantua, Leone Battista Alberti ushered in the new antique style, though his culminating work, Sant'Andrea, was not begun until 1472, after the architect's death.

The High Renaissance, as we call the style today, was introduced to Rome with Donato Bramante's Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio (1502) and his original centrally-planned St. Peter's Basilica (1506), which was the most notable architectural commission of the era, influenced by almost all notable Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo and Giacomo della Porta. The beginning of the late Renaissance in 1550 was marked by the development of a new column order by Andrea Palladio. Colossal columns that were two or more stories tall decorated the facades.
The Renaissance period in art history occurred at about the same time a "rebirth" of artistic expression was becoming popular in the West. This was the first time in history that artists were not just considered to be "craftspeople" but were recognized as individual and unique talents. Artists were redefining their views towards nature and the human form, and were experimenting will all sorts of new mediums.

As strange as it may sound, mathematical advances had a notable impact on Renaissance art. Artists of the Middle Ages did not worry about things like "would this object fall of the table in real life?". But as the Renaissance emerged, artists were far more concerned with portraying objects and the human form in realistic proportions and perspectives. The logical, methodical system of mathematics coincided with the logical, methodical representations in Renaissance art. These first steps towards a new sense of artistic reality were taken early in the 15th century.

The renaissance officially began in 15th century Florence and marked numerous innovations in art with regards to perspective, composition and subject matter. There was a strong emphasis on depicting nature in the form of landscapes, as well as a strong movement towards portraying religious figures in a different light.

The 16th century Renaissance, which is also referred to as "The High Renaissance" began to shift to Rome and the court of Pope Julius II. He hired many leading Italian artists and architects to complete his projects, including the most notable artist of the High Renaissance, Michelangelo.

Michelangelo exemplified the art of sculpting the human form, capturing expressions and emotions like no other artist. He was a dominant force and exerted enormous influence in the art culture of Florence and Rome in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The acknowledgement of his supreme artistic talent has become legendary in his lifetime, as well as our own.

Michelangelo preferred a chisel to a paintbrush, and he didn't like to be told what to do. Only the power of the Pope, forced him to paint the Sistine Chapel, now one of the world's most renowned frescos. His true love, however was sculpting and in 1505 Michelangelo was called to Rome to make a tomb for Pope Julius II. It was during this sojourn that Michelangelo made some of his finest sculptures, including the "Moses" portion of the tomb. He spent months in the quarries trying to obtain the Carrara marble he needed to finish the project. "The Tomb of Pope Julius II", after being modified and altered many times, was finally completed in 1545. It was extremely reduced in size and not placed in the center of St. Pietro Basilica, as Michelangelo had visualized it, but in the modest church of St. Pietro in Vincoli, where it still stands today. Of the 40 statues commissioned from Michelangelo, only the powerful statue of “Moses” was actually inserted, flanked in each side with the statues of Lia and Rachel. The four unfinished slaves that were planned for the tomb revealed Michelangelo's sculptural process: the figure would be outlined on the front of the marble block and then Michelangelo would work steadily inwards from one side, in his own words 'liberating the figure imprisoned in the marble'

Michelangelo's most noted sculpture, the "Statue of David" was initiated in 1501 and completed in 1504. This giant marble figure stands fourteen and 3" tall. Michelangelo's decision to sculpt David was supposed to reflect the power and determination of Republican Florence. The character of David and what he symbolizes, was perfectly in tune with Michelangelo's patriotic feelings. At the time, Florence was going through a difficult period, and its citizens had to be alert and mobilized to confront the constant threats besieged upon them. He used David as a model of heroic courage, in the hope that the Florentines would understand his message that this young Biblical hero had demonstrated. David had shown that ingenuity is more valuable than sheer physical power, so Michelangelo portrayed David partly as a grown man, partly as an adolescent youth. Unlike predecessors who depicted David with the grizzly head of the giant under his foot, Michelangelo posed David at the moment he faced the giant because he believed that this was David's greatest moment of courage. The meaning behind Michelangelo's version of David becomes even clearer when taking into account the historical circumstances of its creation. Michelangelo was devoted to the Republic, and wanted all citizens to become aware of their responsibilities and commit themselves to accomplishing their goals, just as David had.

Italian artists like Michelangelo were the “trend setters” in architecture, sculpture, painting and philosophy during the Renaissance period. The most treasured thing that the Italian Renaissance brought society, other than breathtaking works of art, was the creation of a new ideology in the form of individualism. Knowledge of the artists and their unique styles became a sign of nobility. So for those who wanted to be, or at least appear to be, part of the educated elite, careful attention had to be paid to each artist’s distinctive characteristics. The Italian Renaissance, in both Florence and Rome implemented a mass raising of consciousness in regards to almost every art form as well as individual self-exploration. Humanitarianism was quickly becoming the “in” thing, as was the focus on realistic portrayal. While every culture in every generation has had a significant influence on their present and future societal state, the Renaissance was by far one of the most influential and prominent periods in all of history. It spawned such a variety of innovative works, thoughts and reactions that its effects still have influence on society today, and most likely will continue to influence the creations of future generations as well.