Renaissance Architecture as the Pinnacle of Genius

Published 03 Mar 2017

Although there are many great art movements such as Baroque, Pop Art, Gothic, Avant-Guard, none are more striking in architecture as that of the Renaissance era. With the Renaissance convalescence to beauty, the color combination and the presence of the classical nude incorporated into a lot of the décor, it is with the Renaissance art era that art history was witness to the best possible architecture. The following essay will seek to prove this point using the geniuses of the Renaissance period and using their works as examples of this thesis.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel depicting God giving Adam the spark of life is one in which the core of religion is epitomized in art. There is the revelation of power in the gathering the ephemeral being and the mundane human, and in the color palate being manipulated in the painting the subtle tones and the attention to chiaroscuro is what gives the painting a very Renaissance feel. The viewer’s attention is draw towards the body; albeit muscular, it is not showing signs of body fat, it is art perfected in this moment prior to life, and in the area of opposites, this is what Michelangelo wanted to capture; the perfect body juxtaposed with very human emotions; the God body paired with humanity as is expertly crafted in Sistine Chaple.

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The use of shadows is also present in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Spark of Life depiction of God and Adam. The texture of this painting seems to be rather stiff in comparison to the fluidity of oil used by da Vinci. Neither artist however used toned down colors, each own a vibrancy of the high Renaissance in this formal use of color combinations. The focal point for Michelangelo in this painting however is very obviously the faces of Adam and God, both expectant as can be seen in how he used his highlighting points and where the ‘rough’ texture of the painting seems to soften a bit.

The Renaissance was an era of individuals. The art movement occurred in the 1400s at which time the world was succumbing to great travesties. The one hundred years war was happening, the bubonic plague had killed at least 50% of the population among such countries as France, Germany and England, but Italy was spared. Due to Italy’s political system, which is a series of city republic states with not king, no true peasant class, and so there is room for social mobility, and capitalism has made the culture a commercial society. Merchants, such as the Medicis, ran this commercial society and all of these circumstances put together gives way for the Renaissance. In order for artists to have observed the world around them, leisure time must have been pursued and because Italy did not so entirely succumb to the great plague, the entire culture was left to flourish. They flourished in everything, mostly art.

This era of individuals allowed for self-made millionaires who would commission artists to create whatever they wanted. One of the main contributors to the Renaissance was the Church. The ability of a Renaissance artist to create and invent hinged on the indulgence of the commissioner. Thus, many great religious art works were also the focal point of the artist., and so, by observing the world around them Renaissance artists created a plethora of religious structures. Michelangelo constructed The Campidoglio by using the space given to him and initiating solid voids, matched with horizontals and verticals. This civic center of Rome serves the scheme of space.

Michelangelo also constructed St. Peters dome. This was at the time, the biggest dome in the world and still is. Bramante started this architectural design but Michelangelo finished it. In order for the massive amount of weight from the dome to be held the artist invented double columns on the drum and double ribs unifying the theme. Not only was the construction practical and inventive but the design still paid homage to the Church. The top of the dome has a cross for Christianity which sits atop a globe which represents the world.

By seeing the world around them and inventing necessary objects with which to engage in that world or to improve life, Renaissance artists proved that invention was key in discovering the world. Thus, the Renaissance did not only give the world great art, but the artistic genius and fortitude to create great monuments and inventions. By simple observation, artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo could give the world new forms of sculpture, architecture, and design implementations involving grand scale construction such as Leonardo’s bridge or even the largest dome in the world. Observation is the key to artistic genius, and it is through observation that art and invention collide.

The Renaissance took its cue from the elegant forms of architecture and beauty from the Greeks and Romans. The idea of symmetry and shapes and elegance are staple features in Renaissance architecture. Thus, a viewer can see a lot of Rome represented in the Renaissance architecture such as columns, pediments, arches and domes. It was through Vitruvius’s writings on architecture that inspired many Renaissance artists to embrace the Roman ideal of beauty, harmony, and symmetry (Architecture in Renaissance Italy paragraph one). This is Vitruvius’s idea of symmetry as is presented in Renaissance architecture and conceptualized by Vitruvius in the human body, The measurement pertaining to the body being designated by headlengths is emphasized by Vitruvius in this manner, “For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same…The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown” (72).

Some of the famous architects of the Renaissance era included Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Battista Alberti and Palladio. Each had their own style and power to not only engineer great feats of architectural beauty but to also bring forth their vision of classical Roman design with symmetry as the focal point. Though Vitruvius speaks of symmetry his nature of the term also gives leeway, “Therefore, since nature has designed the human body so that its members are duly proportioned to the frame as a whole, it appears that the ancients had good reason for their rule, that in perfect buildings the different members must be in exact symmetrical relations to the whole general scheme” (73). This is especially seen in Brunelleschi’s brilliant masterpiece the dome of the Florence Cathedral. Among Brunelleschi’s other major accomplishments and contributions to architecture is he renewal of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns in their proper places. Another recognized accomplishment of Brunelleschi is his system of proportions; although his architecture seems simple to the layman, his intricacies lie within his use of appropriate measurement inducing harmony in his overall structure such as the Ospedale degli Innocenti.

This modular cube building is pristine in its measurements between columns, and the height and space are especially proportioned (Architecture in Renaissance Italy paragraph two).
Another great architect of the Renaissance who ads in paling the rest art history’s architecture is Alberti. Aberti studied in Rome and had a great deal of exposure to Vitruvius’s philosophy. Alberti exercised his research and knowledge with the façade of the Tempio Malatestiano as well as the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which as viewed as works of art can easily be compared to Roman temples, in the façade and the structure and the adherence to the importance Romans had on balance. Alberti used columns not purely for decorative purposes as is seen in Baroque art and previous art period’s art work, but as necessary components to his architectural design. The columns were used as load bearing columns. Thus the columns become part of the architecture’s stability. (Architecture in Renaissance Italy paragraph three).

This paper has proven that Renaissance architecture is of greater caliber than other architectural periods due to its reflection on Roman symmetry and perfection. The beauty of Renaissance architecture rests with its focus on balance and how this balance is found in the tiniest of details in the architectural design. This symmetry is seen in the columns, the height, and the viewers perspective of each of these items allows for a complete view of this reflection of beauty in terms of building engineering.

Although art history has been privy to many great artistic movements, nowhere is seen the verve, the tenacity, the elegance matched with pure brilliance than in Renaissance architecture. It is with this scheme of beauty found in symmetry that the true thesis of this essay is founded and proven: Beauty as a form of architecture in measurement, and the simplest of architectural inclusion of a column, a space, a dome’s weight and obviously of Vitruvius’s own matching of all of art to the symmetry of the human body; the purest form of art.

Work Cited

  • Architecture in Renaissance Italy. 2007. Online. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  • Janson, H.W. & Anthony F. Janson. (1997). History of Art. Fifth Edition Revised. Prentice Hall, Inc., and Harry Abrams, Inc., Publishers. New York.
  • Renaissance Man. (Online).
  • Leonardo da Vinci. (Online).
  • Vitruvius, Pollio. De Architectura. Trans. Morris Hicky Morgan. Dover Publications, New York. 1960.
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