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What Is Renaissance Architecture?


Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza, Italy

Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza, Italy

Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan, Digital Imaging Project

Between 1400 to 1600 AD, a return to classical ideas ushered an "age of "awakening" in Italy and northern Europe. This period is known as the Renaissance, which means born anew in French.

Before the dawn of the Renaissance, Europe was dominated by asymmetrical and ornate Gothic architecture. During the Renaissance, however, architects were inspired by the highly symmetrical and carefully proportioned buildings of Classical Greece and Rome.

Features of Renaissance Buildings:

Phases of the Renaissance:

Artists in Northern Italy were exploring new ideas for centuries before the period we call the Renaissance. However, the 1400s and 1500s brought an explosion of talent and innovation. During the early 1400s, the painter and architect Filippo Brunelleschi designed the great Duomo (cathedral) dome. Brunelleschi also rediscovered the principles of linear perspective.

During the 1500s, the great Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and designed the dome for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Learn more:

  • Michelangelo, Drawing, and the Invention of Architecture by Cammy Brothers, Yale University Press, 2008 Compare Prices

A Classical approach to architecture spread through Europe, thanks to books by two important Renaissance architects:

As Renaissance approaches to building spread to France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Russia, and England, each country incorporated its own building traditions and created its own version of Classicism. By the 1600s, ornate Baroque architecture emerged and became the dominant style in Europe.

Long after the Renaissance period ended, however, architects were inspired by Renaissance ideas. At the turn of the twentieth century, American architects like Richard Morris Hunt designed grand Renaissance Revival style homes that resembled palaces and villas from Renaissance Italy.

Renaissance Buildings:

Great Renaissance Architects:

Learn More About the Renaissance:

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