Renaissance Architecture and Its Influence

15th and 16th Century Rebirth

Palladio-designed villa with pediment, columns, and dome in a country setting with a bird sculpture in the foreground
The Late Renaissance Villa La Rotunda by Andrea Palladio. Photo by ALESSANDRO VANNINI / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

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. The Renaissance in European history was a new way for writers, artists, and architects to look at the world.

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:

The influence of Renaissance architecture is still felt today in the more contemporary home. Consider that the common Palladian window originated in Italy during the Renaissance. Other characteristic features of the time include:

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. Florence, Italy is often considered the center of Early Italian Renaissance. During the early 1400s, the painter and architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed the great Duomo (cathedral) dome in Florence, so innovative in design and construction that even today it's called Brunelleschi's Dome. 

Brunelleschi also rediscovered the principles of linear perspective, which the more refined Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) examined further and documented. Alberti, as a writer, architect, philosopher, and poet, became known as the true Renaissance Man of many skills and interests. His design of the Palazzo Rucellai c.

1450 is "truly divorced from the medieval style, and could finally be considered quintessentially Renaissance:" Alberti's books on painting and architecture are considered classics to this day.

  • On the Art of Building in Ten Books MIT Press
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  • Leon Battista Alberti: On Painting: A New Translation and Critical Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2011
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  • The architecture of Leon Batista Alberti
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During the 1500s, the great Renaissance master, the radical 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
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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.

Examples of Renaissance Buildings:

Great Renaissance Architects:

  • Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)
  • Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472)
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
  • Giacomo da Vignola (1507-1573)

Learn More About the Renaissance:

Source: Alberti, Palazzo Rucellai by Christine Zappella, Khan Academy [accessed November 28, 2016]