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High and Late Renaissance in Italy

Origins --- Belief System --- Political Situation --- Renaissance Architecture

High Renaissance architects --- Michelangelo--- Palladio---School of Fontainbleau-- Inigo Jones

High Renaissance in Rome --- Saint Peters --- Palazzo Farnese--- Il Gesu--- Santa Trinita

Renaissance in Northern Italy-----Laurentian Library--- San Georgio Maggiore --- Villa Rotunda

Palladian Motif ---

Renaissance in France and England --- Louvre---- Fontainbleau---- Chateau Chambord--- Chateau Chenonceau---- Chateau de Blois---- Wilton House_-- Whitehall

Renaissance in the North --- Cologne---- ------- ---

Renaissance in Spain --- Salamanca --- Leon----


The Early Renaissance in Italy was the beginning of a completely new era in art and architecture. The social transformation that lead to this profoundly different style, however, was taking place throughout Europe. The Gothic period was built on a feudalist society that depended on heroic chivalry and the Christian church. The Renaissance was founded on the rise of the commercial middle classes whose interests were altogether material.

It was the middle class whose interest in business enterprise and trade spearheaded the exploration of new trade routes, particularly over water. The rise of the banking industry extended the option of power and influence to all levels of society. Those with enough gumption to arrange a loan for business purposes and enough intelligence to see the enterprise through to a successful end were given unprecedented access to possibilities heretofore unheard of. The cult of power through riches replaced the idea of posthumous glory through devotion to the church.

Belief System

As in the Early Renaissance, the society was largely Christian. Observation of religious practices was still a matter of utmost importance, but devotion to pilgrimage and expectations for the afterlife paled in comparison to the possibilities of a better life on earth through commerce. The power and wealth of the church was being challenged by a variety of sources, not least of which was Martin Luther in 1520.

Intellectuals of the time linked themselves with both the ancient Gods and Goddesses and the Christian God. They were aware of the Great Mysteries of the ancient times, one of which was the connection between physical beauty, mathematics and the divine. The cult of beauty, which was started in Italy and spread through Europe, was dedicated to the production of things of extraordinary beauty based on measurable proportions.

Ancient Persians had investigated sacred beauty in patterns. Pythagoras taught the importance of prime numbers, and how these were used in mathematical magic, using geometry and optics, to attract the spirits in the stars. Pythagoras taught the importance of prime numbers, and how these were used in mathematical magic, using geometry and optics, to attract the spirits in the stars. Francesco Giorgi of Venice (1466-1540) and other Renaissance philosophers toyed with ideas of numbers being in accordance with unalterable laws of cosmic geometry. The Freemasons investigated the power of both geometry and letters. Renaissance artists and architects worked with these ideas and incorporated them into their designs.

Geometry provided both a base grid to create beauty with calculable proportions and a link to a higher purpose as the geometry was symbolical; the triangle symbolizes the divine, the circle stands for the heavens (the seven planets and the zodiac), the square stands for the four elements. These shapes provided the basis for Renaissance designs across Europe.

Political Situation

By the time of the High Renaissance, England, France and Spain had become strong nation states. Italy and Germany were not united as nations, but had strong city states and relatively stable economies. Across Europe, whether governed by nobility or strong city states, all centers were experiencing an age of prosperity. They gave proportionately less money to the church and extended their prestige through building, art, and lavish patronage in music, literature, science and exploration.

Gunpowder changed the nature of warfare and made walled cities redundant. Printing by moveable type made the classical texts available throughout the known world. These inventions plus the ever expanding knowledge of the world through naval prowess continued to feed the Renaissance mind.

The transition through Gothic into Renaissance was long and drawn out, not like the transition from Romanesque to Gothic which took only about 50 years. In 1445, a mason working on the Gothic Milan Cathedral could have traveled a mere 150 miles to Florence where both the Florence Dome and the Foundling Hospital were in progress.

Renaissance forms and ideas spread as much through the artists as through the politicians and nobility. A split with a patron or a clash of ideas within a city often lead to the migration of artists and architects to other centers.

High and Late Renaissance Architecture

The short period of time during the first two decades of the 16th century, 1500 - 1520, is known as the High Renaissance. Rome became the center of the High Renaissance largely due to the patronage of the popes. Alberti and Vitruvius had both supplied rules for classical forms in architecture, and High Renaissance builders were conscientiously applying them. By 1520 Leonardo had gone to France, Raphael was dead, and the builders were getting tired of playing by the rules.

By the time of the Laurentian Library, Italy had been designing in the Renaissance style for 100 years. The rest of Europe, however, was still playing out variations on the Gothic. Slowly Renaissance structures, patterns and detailing filtered into France and beyond. Often the detailing and symmetry were applied to buildings that were still essentially Gothic in design. The reasons for leaving Italy were manifold.

As in Spain in 1492, the liberal attitude towards artists and thinkers was disappearing in Italy. Giordano Bruno, the first scientist to write that the world was flat, met death through being publicly burned at the stake. Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, was incarcerated for his beleifs. No one knows exactly how and when he died. The church was asserting its power through eh Roman inquisition. Leonardo was one of the first to seak refuge in France. The sack of Rome (1527) and general political unrest among the city states of Italy, in addition to the difficulty of working with some of the patrons there, was also a reason to leave.

High Renaissance architects

Michelangelo 1396 - 1472

Michelangelo started his career in Florence with the David, then he followed the patronage of the era to Rome, painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, among other things, then returned to Florence to create the Laurentian Library. With his sculptor's eye for three-dimensional space, he started to stretch the limits of space and scale. He ignored the accepted conventions of proportion, pushed the boundaries of size and shape, introduced the Giant Order - columns that extended up two floors of a building - and allowed architects freedom from convention through exaggerated forms and the use of the oval. He was the first to break the rules.

Palladio 1508 - 1572

Palladio was the purest Classisit of all the Renaissance masters. He opposed the direction that the Mannerists were heading and tried to bring architecture back to its pure Calssical form. His treatises on architecture have the same enduring character as those of Alberti and Vitruvius. His most famous residence, the Villa Rotunda, has been copied throughout the world.



School of Fontainbleau 16th century

Italian artists, versed in the Renaissance philosophy and craftsmanship, were being persuaded to leave Italy and relocate in the Chateau of Fontainbleau due to the patronage of Francis I and later his son Henry II. Artists such as Rosso Fiorentino and , Francesco Primaticcio set up the school where quasi-Renaissance/Mannerist ideas were taught. The school produced generations of artists and artisans versed in that style. It was so prevalent that a style of interior decoration and many styles of silver, gold, and ceramic work maintain that name.

In effect, the Fontainbleau School was working counter to the ideas of the Renaissance but using the vocabulary and detailing.

Inigo Jones 1573 - 1652

Inigo Jones was the Surveyor -general of the King's works and introduced a refined form of Italian Classicism into English architecture. He was responsible for the introduction of the Palladian Style which was the recognised official style in England for the following two centuries. His Banqueting Hall at Whitehall and Wilton House in Witshire illustrate a destinctly English form of Classical Palladianism.

High Renaissance in Rome

After brilliant beginnings in Florence, the Renaissance moved to Rome, the artists and architects following the papal patronage of Rome, newly restored after a few centuries in France. Bramante's Tempietto was the first Roman jewel of the High Renaissance.

Worldly power and prestige were the corner stones of the Renaissance style. These are symbolized in St. Peter's, a structure that bears the stamp of almost all of the great Renaissance artists. The foundation stone was laid in 1506, but the building was not completed until 120 years later. The original plan was by Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci. Within the building you can trace the development of the High Renaissance style through

Mannerism into Baroque.


Michelangelo lead the way into the Mannerism, a style at the end of the Renaissance that is characterized by the distortion of elements such as scale and perspective. The Classical forms were exaggerated, embellished and affected. Michelangelo, Giacomo di Vignola and a few others followed this mannerist style until it exploded into the Baroque. A group of other High and Late Renaissance architects reacted to this movement and returned to the pure Renaissance designs. Peruzzi and Palladio are in the forefront of this movement. They are known as Classicists.


St. Peters

The current St. Peters replaces a basilica built in 330 AD on The Circus of Nero, the spot where St. Peter's martyrdom took place.

The foundation stone was laid in 1506, but the building wasn't completed until 1626. The builders include almost all of the big names of the High and Late Renaissance. Bramante started the design when he was 60 years old. Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook contains sketches of it. Raphael was put in charge of the construction upon Bramante's death, but his contribution was minimal. Michelangelo was instrumental in the dome and the façade, while della Porta, Fontana, Maderna and Vignola helped to apply the finishing touches.

St. Peters

St. Peters - Rome

Giuliano Da Sangallo (1445-1516) changed Bramante's original design for the dome, but this was, in turn, changed by the 72 year old Michelangelo. It was finally constructed under the supervision of Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana on Michelangelo's design. Florence and Brunelleschi's Duomo were the inspiration. It has two shells, the inside one is brick, and the exterior dome is shaped like orange peel sections held together by ribs and three iron chains. The dome is supported on a peristyle.


St. Peters

East Façade

The portico on the east façade was modified by Michelangelo who added the giant order of columns, by-passing the current conception of proportions. He is responsible for the unity of the design.

The gigantic size of the structure is astonishing. The façade is 51 m (167ft.) high with 6.1 m (20 ft) statues on the top. Those tiny little white things clustered around the base of the columns are people.

St. Peters

St. Peters

Bramante did many experiments with concrete to supply the necessary structural integrity for he support of the dome. Giuliano Da Sangallo was responsible for the nave vault and pendentives. The massive columns and arches, larger by far than any others of the time, are constructed from Roman concrete.

The plan is a Greek cross superimposed on a square. Each arm finishes in an apse with a small subordinate dome.

St. Peters

Palazzo Farnese

1515-1550, Sangallo

The Palazzo Farnese is the grandest palazzo in Rome dating from this time. The façade is an imposing astylar composition. Three stories of almost equal height, constructed of brick faced with stucco. The stone detailing is travertine, taken from the Colosseum. The first floor has alternating triangular and segmental pediments. The upper story was added by Michelangelo. The windows have columns on brackets topped by triangular pediments.


Santa Trinità dei Monte

Begun in 1494, the church was finally consecrated in 1585. It is found at the top of the Spanish Steps and links the Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza del Popolo. The church was originally started by the French King Louis XII, and was designed to have Gothic pointed arches.

The façade was completed many years later by Carlo Maderno and is in a conservative late Renaissance style with pediments, round-headed arches and classical symmetry.

Santa Maria Dei Monte

Santa Trinita Dei Monte


Notice that the pediments are all intact and triangular. There are many perfect circles and semi-circles. The windows on the first floor are perfectly centered as are the rondels within the lunettes.

Santa Maria Dei Monte Balustrade Rondel Lunette Dome Lantern

Renaissance Courtyard

Palazzos are generally forbidding from the outside, created with rusticated stone and an imposing cornice. Once inside, however, the courtyards are respledant with sculpture and ornate decoration creating a wonderful environment for the very rich.

The dinner table had not yet been invented, so any space was considered appropriate for dining. The servants would simply assemble a table and bring chairs, linens, glasses and china where ever the owner decided to host his repas. The knife and fork were a recent introduction, and were sometimes, but not always, used as well.



The Renaissance in Northern Italy

The artists and architects of the Renaissance travelled to where ever they could find work. Michelangelo, whose great love was sculpture, spent four years painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome, then returned to the tomb of Pope Julius II. He turned to architecture late in life and much of his best work is done in Florence.

The third center of Renaissance architecture in Italy was Venice due to the commanding presence of Andrea Palladio whose buildings can be found throughout the city of Venice and across the Veneto. His most important work is in Vicenza, some 60 kilometers (45 miles) from Venice. His two churches are in Venice, but his secular architecture is in Vicenza. This is significant because it was the secular architecture, particularly the residences, that had such a profound influence on later generations.


Laurentian Library

1524 - Michelangelo

The anteroom of the library, seen here, illustrates the vocabulary of the Renaissance stretched to its limit. The room has an almost sculpted vibrancy. Huge engaged columns extend high up the wall, supporting nothing but indicating the second story.


Laurentian Library

Laurentian Library


There is a triple stair approaching the door to the library with details.

Laurentian Library Stairs

San Georgio Maggiore - Venice - Italy (1580)


This is a church on a cruciform plan with apsidal trancepts. The front is composed of giant order arches, orignally conceived by Michelangelo . Acropodiums.


San Giorgio Maggiore Acropodium Pediment Dentils Entablature Niche Base Ionic

Olympic Theatre

Palladios Stage in Vicenza Pediment Dentils Relief Trompe L'oiele Crest Relief Dentils


Villa Rotunda 1550

Palladio's idea of classicism was precise and exact. He applied the rules of classical architecture as set out by Alberti, but unlike many others, Palladio controlled the classical elements, not they him. The results, as seen in his most famous building, the Villa Rotunda or Villa Capra - is composed of a circular room capped with a dome and set within a square. On all four sides are identical temple fronted porticos.

Villa Rotunda Pediment Rotunda Pediment Entablature Dome Acropodium Portico


Pallazo della Ragione Vicenza

Palladio's most notable legacy is the Palladian motif, used in doors and windows. The motif consists of a single arched opening in the center flaned by two flat topped openings on either side. The original design for this is found in Vicenza on the Basilica - also the Palazzo della Regione.

The original archway uses the Doric style, complete with small discrete echinuses, triglyphs and metopes. There is an agraffe over the cemtral archway.

Villa Rotunda


The Renaissance in France and England

The Great Mortality, as it was called, was responsible for many things, good and bad. French, which was the accepted language in England was replaced by English as there were no teachers left who spoke French. The aristocracy spoke French for many years thereafter. The forests which had been all but decimated over the past few hundred years were allowed to rebuild themselves. Most of the great forests of Europe date from no earlier than the 14th century. By 1720, the plague left 80,000 dead in one year in Marseilles, and was then replaced by smallpox. Because buildings, and in particular housing, were being made less and less with thatch the rats that carried the plague microbe had no where to live and the microbe left.

Architecturally, builders were working through their local versions of Gothic. People north of the Alps had never seen the ruins in Rome and Greece, and did not know any Classical rules, much less ways in which to break them. Renaissance details were filtering through into the north through artists who migrated north for the patronage of French and English kings, and through pattern books that were being sold to builders and designers. Often the patterns were simply applied, generally incongruously, onto buildings with no attempt to integrate them into a centralized plan. The steep pitches on roofs and the asymmetrical plans of the north were embellished by pediments, colonettes and garlands.



The Louvre was the palace in Paris designed for Francis I. He was the most important French patron of the Renaissance movement, being responsible for Château Chambord, Blois, Fountainebleau ( and the School of Fountainbleau) before his largest work, the Louvre.

This was inspired by his wife Catherine de Medici who had built the little chateau in the Tuillerie Gardens, in a field along the Seine close to the original palace. It was then decided to build a grand residence along the seine that would connect the palace with the chateau.

This palace is important for later generations. It was the place that Christopher Wren and Charles II of England retired to when Charles the first was killed.

Chateau Chambord


Court de La Fontaine

Another of Francis I and Catherine de Medici's great acheivements is Fonatinbleau which is important in and of itself as a fine piece of work, but is also important because it became the center for the very famous School of Fontainbleau.

When Catherine de Medici left Florence (at the age of 14) to marry Francis I, she was already well aquainted with the artists in Florence. many of these were persuaded to leave Italy and work in France.


Chateau Chambord

Chateau Chambord

Francis I

The plan of Chambord is quite Renaissance at first glance. It seems symmetrical. In fact the square within the square is off center as are the towers. It looks symmetrical from the front, but in fact a large part of the façade is merely a screen. The layout of the castle, on further inspection, is the same as an English medieval castle.


Chateau Chambord

Château Chambord

On an Italian Renaissance Palazzo the window are designed horizontally. Each level is a coherent unit. On French Châteaux the windows are more likely to form vertical stripes as in this detail. The bands separating the windows are vertical. The windows have large mullions and small muntin bars but no pediments or window surrounds.

Chateaux Chambord

Château Chambord Stair detail

This double staircase allows the person ascending to be completely unaware of another person descending, an example of Renaissance intrigue. Leonardo da Vinci was only one of many Italian Renaissance artists living and working in France.He died in 1519, the year this château was started. His sketchbook has a design for such a stair in it.

Francis I was the King in France at this time and his patronage was second only to that of the papal court.

Art Moderne Lobby

Chateau Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau was built by Catherine de Medici who was married to Henry II of France. The building spans the river Cher. The French kings and queens lived in the Loire Valley.

Notre dame

Chateau Chenonceau

The gallery on the main floor spans across the five archways. At the end of this gallery is a fireplace and doorways that are Renaissance in design. The Florentine pediment is broken at the top, but the arch is semi-circular, the rondels all contain the images, and the cornice and dentils along the top are in Renaissance proportions. This, however, is not structural. This is surface decoration.

Notre Dame

Chateau Chenonceau

The stairwells of Chateua Chenonceau are made with ribs, bosses, corbels and all the other trappings of Gothic design. The detailing, here seen in the mermaid playing a lute onthe corbel on the right and the decoration on the inside of the arch on the left is Renaissance.

Notre Dame

Chateaude Blois


Notre Dame

Wilton House
Inigo Jones




Art Moderne Lobby

Wilton House
Inigo Jones




Art Moderne Lobby

Inigo Jones




Art Moderne Lobby


The Renaissance in Spain

Themain style of the Renaissance in spain was the Plateresque.





The University of Salamanca is one of the best examples of the Plateresque style.

Salamanca University

University of


Notice that it is a curious mixture of Gothic and Renaissance motifs.

Chateau Chambord

San Estaban


This capital from San Estaban shows the integration of Gothic imagery with a Renaissance style.

Chateau Chambord


San Marcos Monastery


Chateau Chambord

San Marcos Monastery




Chateau Chambord


San Marcos Monastery


Chateau Chambord


The Renaissance in Northern Europe

By 1600 builders in Germany, Holand and Belgium were being influenced by the Renaissance seen in the French chateaux and by the School of Fontainbleaux.


City Hall


The base of the City Hall was Gothic. The two story loggia was added later.



Chateau Chambord


High and Late Renaissance Extra Reading and Films


Bolton, Jerry, The Renaissance Bazaar, Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002

Borsi, Franco, Leon Battista Alberti, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, 1975, translated by Rudolf G. Carpanini 1977

Giedion, Sigfried, Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.1971

Pacioli, Froa Luca di, De divina Proportione, Milano : Silvana, c1982.

Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, translated by Morris Hicky Morgan, Dover Publications, New York, 1960.


Shakespeare, As You Like It

Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliett

Gwenyth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love

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