Breaking with the tradition of the medieval art, the art of the 15th and 16th century, even at the time of its development, was named Renaissance. Giorgio Vasari, Italian painter, architect, writer and historian, was the first one to use the Italian word rinascita-a-rebirth, to mark the movement of his time as a revival and restoration of the classic, ancient art. In time, relying on the term, the French word renaissance, became the official name of this European art style. This is how the Renaissance period became the first period in the history of art to have given the name to itself.
Palace Medici-Riccardi, Florence
The emergence, development and expansion of the Renaissance are inextricably linked to Italy, the cradle of the ancient Roman art, so the first changes and deviations from the late-gothic and Byzantine models, appeared in the work of architects, painters, sculptors and writers of the early Renaissance. The socio-political situation of the period, the weakening influence of the Catholic Church, the development and strengthening of the Italian city-states and the prominent, wealthy families, have all created fertile ground for the rapid development of the arts. Returning to ancient models, in all areas of style and creativity, we recognize not as mere copying and use of ancient elements, but as a desire to achieve and exceed the ideals and principles of the classical era.
Renaissance architecture is based on respect and implementation of the three principles taken from the ancient art: symmetry, proportion and harmony.
For the builders of the time, each building consisted of two parts: the object (box) and decorations (leather). The box itself had to have a simple shape and clear proportions, while the decoration was the element which was given more importance. The main elements of the Renaissance architecture are a dome and a semicircular arc, and the main decorative elements are ancient columns of Corinthian and Composite order. Using ancient orders as decorative elements on facades, as well as their arrangement from simple Tuscan (Doric) on the ground, to the most decorative Composite, is the idea taken from the Roman Coliseum. Significant examples of the Italian Renaissance architecture are the Florentine palaces: the Medici Riccardi palace, the Rucellai palace and the Farnese palace. The facades of these buildings, done according to the strict principles of the time, are decorated with stone, properly arranged windows, pilasters and cornices. Different treatment of stone slabs and the layout of the facade hides a symbolic meaning. The rough stone on the ground is a symbol of the strong, solid, stable foundations, while the finely processed, polished stone on the upper floors, (which were designed as living quarters) is a symbol of refinement, sophistication and refinement of the household members and their lifestyles. Because of its beauty and harmony, these palaces and their facades became clear ideals for builders of the next epoch.
Inner courtyard of the Medici-Riccardi Palace, Florence
Another one of the Renaissance buildings which, while nurturing ancient architectural principles, even today, represents a strong connection between the classical era, the Renaissance and the modern age, is the Villa Almerico Capra. It is located just outside Vicenza and its author is Andrea Palladio. For the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, it was the Renaissance era, due to its security and tranquility, in which we saw new rise of villas like this one, luxury residences of wealthier people in the countryside. The Vila has a square plan, four identical facades and entrances, in the form of portico with a staircase, antique columns and sculptures, and a central circular hall with its dome, after which it was named La Rotonda. Its location, four-sided orientation in relation to the four corners of the world, multiple symmetry and proportions, after Palladio’s strict mathematical principles, led to the formation of a harmonious, elegant, custom made building in true Renaissance style.
In the art of the 18th and 19th century, Palladio’s design principles and respect for the ancient models, spread beyond Italy to England and the United States. Under the auspices of the Palladian movement numerous private residential buildings, as well as administrative buildings, were made.