Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany (Central Italy), 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 humanist sixteenth-century popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the mid-16th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into the turmoil of the Italian Wars. However, the ideas and ideals of the Renaissance endured and even spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the Northern Renaissance, and the English Renaissance.

Classical motifs appear extensively as embellishments and include the classical figure, cherub, swag, rinceau, rosette, scroll, cartouche, and geometric patterns.

Classical Figure

Cherub and Swag


Cartouche- oval medallion


Public Buildings- The most important building types are churches and public structures.  Most Renaissance building stand in self- contained isolation with little relationship to their surroundings.

Floor plans- The typical church plan is a Latin cross. Plans feature carefully atticulated square modules. In the second half of the 16th century, architects begin replacing side aisles with small chapels. Public buildings may feature rectangular plans defined by symmetrical columns and architectural openings.

Church Floor Plan   Public Building Floor Plans

Materials- Building use local stone or brick for private and public buildings. They do not experiment with concrete and do not introduce any new construction techniques. The most common construction system for churches is arcuated, using arches.

Church Facades- Most churches facades resemble the gable ends of ancient temples with triangular pediments supported by arches and pilasters and engaged columns dividing the composition into regular bays. These bays reflect the interior nave and side aisles. Towers are not typical.

Other Building Facades- Classical imagery, details, and organization are characteristic of other buildings. A distinctive new architectural form is the Florentine arch which is composed of a rounded arch accented with molding and a center keystone and ending at capitals supported by columns or pilasters.

Windows and Doors are arched or rectangular. Rounded Roman arches appear more frequently during the Early Renaissance. Sometimes closed niches holding classical figures replace openings.

Roofs are gabled and/or domed. They use terra- cotta roof tiles.

Private Buildings- Typical building types include palazzi and villas. Palazzi; urban palaces, front on streets in towns like Vicenza, Verona, and Florence and on streets or canals in Venice. Architects designs villas, country homes, individually in rural locales to suit fuction, site, region, and patron.

Floor Plans- Palace plans are rectangular with square and rectangular rooms that focus inward to a central cortile, courtyard. Symmetry, although desirable, depends on the site. Interior walls are parallel or at right angles to the facade, and demensions may be proportionally derived.

 Palazzi Floor Plan

 Villa Floor Plan

Materials- Dwellings are of local brick or stone. Venetians used marble. he most common construction  system for houses is post and lintel incorporating local stone.

Facades- The typical facade is three stories high, separated by string courses, and capped by a large cornice. Early Renaissance palaces feature heavy rustication that lightens and becomes smoother on each story. Venetian palaces have balconies and no rustication. Villa Facades incorporate temple fronts.

Windows- In Early Renaissance, bifora windows, which open in two parts, have round arches. High Renaissance windows  are pedimented or framed with aedicula adding three- dimensionality

Roofs are generally flat or low- pitched, and often hidden behind cornices


Public Buildings

Materials- Stone and marble are common in most church interiors.

Floors- Stone or tile floors are typical. Some structures have modules in floor decoration.

Walls develop with classical ordering to include a dado, shaft, and entablature. Moldings, arches, and pediments accent doors and windows imitating the exterior design. Walls may be plain or embellished with painted trompe l’ oeil decoration.

Ceilings- Most interiors feature groin or barrel- vaulted ceiling. Nave ceilings are high to accommodate windows; some have flat and coffered ceilings with vaulted side aisles. Ceiling may be plain or compartmentalized ceiling painting or a trompe l’oeil decoration.

Private Building

Architectural Details- Pilasters and other classical details articulate some rooms, while others are painted. Fireplaces are a focal point for decoration. Decoration inculdes cornices, moldings, and coats of arms.

Color comes from construction materials, fresco decoration, textiles, and painting. Typical pigment colors include scarlet, cobalt blue, gold, deep green, and cream.

Lighting- Interiors are dark both day and night. At night, candles and firelight give little illumination. Candleholders, floor stands, and wall sconces are typically of wood, iron, and brass, and bronze. They used candlesticks, candelabra, torchiera were used to light the interiors. Chandeliers and oil lamps are rare.

Floors- Tiles and bricks commonly cover floors, with herringbone being the most favored pattern. Some tiles have inlaid or relief patterns in contrasting colors. The best rooms feature marble and terrazzo flooring. Wood in boards or patterns cover upper floors.

Walls treatments progress from plain stone or plaster . Wood paneling is either plain, inlaid, or painted. Plastered walls have at least a white or colored wash. Frescos in repeating pattererns, imitations of textiles or marble, trompe l’oeil architecture, color or actual textile hangings cover the walls in important rooms.

Windows and Doors- Window curtains are very rare; shutters block light and give privacy. Doors are inlaid, painted, or surrounded by aedicula. Portieres; curtains hanging across doorway, are plain or embroidered cloth or woven tapestries at very grand doorways.

Ceilings- Ground floor ceilings are usually vaulted. Those on upper floors are either beamed with supporting corbels, compartmented, or coffered. Painting, gilding, or carving decorate both.

Furnishings and Decorative Arts

Furniture – The most common pieces of furniture include the sedia, folding chairs of x- form including the Dante and Savonarola, trestle table, cassone, and cassapance.

Materials- Walnut is the main wood, but oak, cedar, and cypress are also typical. Some stools are made of iron.


Sedia ( replica)

Dante- Sometimes a seat of honor


Trestle Table




Textiles, more expensive than furniture, include brocades, velvets, taffetas, damasks, and brocatelles.

Decortive arts

Mirror Frame



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