Renaissance | 5 Characteristics with Examples

Classical Greek and Roman architecture are truly timeless. They served as inspiration for many styles that followed, the Romanesque and the Gothic styles to name a few. In the 15th century, the classical styles were revived to create a new style that would bridge the middle ages and the modern era. This was the Renaissance style.

Renaissance translates to rebirth. It first began in Florence, Italy, and later spread to parts of Germany, France, and England. This style transcended architecture and influenced art and literature as well. Beyond the revival of the old classical forms, it was a new style that also involved geometric precision, the concept of perspective, and proportion. This style lasted for two centuries and produced some of the most beautiful architectural marvels that are still cherished today.

Characteristics of Renaissance buildings

  1. Geometric
  2. Square Plans
  3. Planar Classicism
  4. Details
  5. Rustication

1. Geometric 

Beauty and precision were achieved in Renaissance buildings using precise geometric proportions and symmetry. The designers focused more on visual aspects and aesthetics.

Palazzo Massimo Alle Colonne, Rome

Geometry of Palazzo Massimo Alle Colonne, Rome
Geometry of Palazzo Massimo Alle Colonne, Rome

The facade of Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne in Rome, Italy has a bilaterally symmetric facade. The placement of columns, openings and even the ornamentation is symmetric.

2. Square Plans

The plans in this era were mostly symmetric and the proportions were based on a module. 

Villa Capra, Vicenza

Square Plans of Villa Capra, Vicenza
Square Plans of Villa Capra, Vicenza

The plan of Villa Capra in Vicenza by Palladio is square and symmetrical. Most of the elements and ornamentation are also rectangular.

3. Planar classicism 

The walls of the buildings were embellished with classical motifs. They only had minor physical depth making them intrude minimally. This served as a flat canvas for classical veneer. The walls were also divided into neat sections,using elements like columns, pilasters or string courses.

Santa Maria Novella church, Italy

Planar Classicism as seen in Santa Maria Novella church, Italy
Planar Classicism as seen in Santa Maria Novella church, Italy

Vertical sections using pilasters as seen in Santa Maria Novella church, Italy is a good example.

4. Details

Inspired by the Roman style, moldings, courses, and cornices were carved with great precision. The designers of this era placed great importance on minute and precise details.

Certosa di Pavia in Lombardy

Details of Certosa di Pavia in Lombardy
Details of Certosa di Pavia in Lombardy

The intricately designed facade of Certosa di Pavia in Lombardy, Italy. It is one of the largest monasteries in Italy. 

5. Rustication

The masonry walls were textured rather than smooth. The textures are seen in the form of grooves in the joints of blocks, dressing of blocks or deliberate rustication.

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

Rustication seen on the facade of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy. It is an example of a civic building built in renaissance style. 

Elements of Renaissance buildings

1. Columns

The iconic, doric, corinthian, composite, tuscan orders were directly inspired by the ancient roman architecture.

2. Arches

Semi-circular or segmental arches were popular during this period

Semi circular arches in the colonnades of  Palazzo del Te in Mantua, Italy. 

3. Vaults

Barrel vaults without ribs were featured on many buildings

Barrel vault with coffers in the interior of Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, Italy.

4. Domes

Large hemispherical structural domes were used, which made the building distinguishable from a distance.

The great dome of the Florence Cathedral, Italy, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. It is at a soaring height of 114.5 m

5. Ceilings

The ceilings were fitted to the roof and were either flat or coffered. They were frequently painted or decorated.  

Coffered ceilings in the interior of Palazzo Te in Mantua, Italy. 

6. Doors

The doors had square lintels. They were either set within an arch or surmounted by a pediment. 

Doors set into arches in the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan, Italy 

7. Walls

The external walls were made of ashlar masonry with rusticated quoins in the corners. Lime wash was used as plastering. 

Ashlar masonry on the facade of Sant’Agostino in Rome. It houses artworks of Caravaggio, Raphael and Guercino. 

Wars, religious movements and change in trade routes leading to economic downfall are some of the reasons due to which the Renaissance period ended in the early 17th century, giving way to the Age of Enlightenment.

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