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Renaissance Details





Filippo Brunelleschi


Brunelleschi is known for his winning design in a competition for a proposal for the dome of the Florence Cathedral. His design was the largest dome since the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. The dome in Florence represents a clear rebirth of classical architecture. The Pantheon dates from about 118 AD, and both the dome in Florence and the dome of the Pantheon have a diameter of about 144 feet (44 meters).

Brunelleschi is credited with the invention of linear perspective as a method of expressing three dimensional space onto a two dimensional surface. Linear perspective became a scientific way to describe the physical world with a high degree of accuracy.

The trinity, by Masaccio around 1427 illustrates the use of linear perspective. The horizon line divides the painting in two, and the vanishing point is central to the image. The size of the piece is nearly 22 feet by 11 feet.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci around 1497, also illustrates clearly the invention of perspective as a way to create a deep geometrically controlled space. The size of the painting is nearly 15 by 29 feet.

Brunelleschi’s invention was expanded upon by many artists that followed him, including Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).

Durers ‘draftsmans net’ is based on a similar design by Leonardo da Vinci, and was meant to aid in the drawing of perspective scenes. The draftsmans net consisted of a fixed eyepoint, a gridded net of threads in a frame, and a drawing surface with a similar grid.

The invention of perspective eventually led to perspective tricks or illusions. The Vault of the Nave of St. Ignazio in Rome (1691) is meant to be viewed from one place on the floor. From that spot the ceiling seems to be much higher than it really is.

Architecture also expressed in some instances, an illusion as space. The arcade of the inner courtyard of Palazzo Spada in Rome (1652) expressed a forced perspective fooling the viewer to believe a lengthened or shortened view.



Lorenzo Ghiberti


Ghiberti used the newly invented system of perspective in his design for the east doors of the Baptistery in Florence with great success. He was the winner of a competition in 1401 for a pair of doors (may have been the first public competition of its kind). Ghiberti’s scheme was a series of scenes and figures. Depth was revealed through a combination of perspective representation and real sculptural depth, leading to an enhanced perception of space.

After the success of the competition panels, Ghiberti was asked to complete a second pair of doors for the portal facing the Cathedral of Florence – the portal was known as the Porta del Paradiso.

These doors were completed in 1452 and were composed of fewer and larger scenes than the competition doors.


Leon Battista Alberti


Alberti was responsible for a number of scientific treatises on painting, sculpture, and architecture that related to his interests in classical Roman architecture, and specifically to his knowledge of the writing of Vitruvius, a Roman architect of the first century BC.

Alberti wrote the ‘Ten Books of Architecture’ which he modeled after Vitruvius’ writing – De Architectura. Alberti suggested that all architecture should be based on the square and the circle, the two most perfect of geometric shapes. The clarity and order which Alberti wrote about was seen in the construction of the buildings which he designed.

In his design for the facade of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Alberti repeated the forms of the circle and square as ordering devices.

The entire facade fits into a perfect square. The measurement from the top of the building to the ground level is the same as the dimension of the width of the facade. The upper portion of the facade fits into another perfect square that is one quarter of the size of the larger square. Harmony is achieved in the building through the proportions and ratios of parts of the facade to one another.



Leonardo da Vinci


Some artists of the period studied to understand and record the natural world through experimentation, observation and documentation. Leonardo da Vinci is probably the best known artist-scientist of the renaissance. Study methods included drawing from live studio models, examination of human and animal anatomy, and experiments with the effect of natural light on objects, among others. Art during the renaissance, became a form of scientific inquiry. In his many sketchbooks Leonardo da Vinci also studied wind and water and made many studies of mechanical devises, and even plans for cities.

In his plan for Imola of about 1503, he designed a large circle divided into eight pie shaped sections labeled with the names of the eight winds.

Leonardo believed that proportional principles governed both nature and art, as did Vitruvius. Leonardos understanding of a universal order centered around and led to studies of the human proportions as a relationship to the ideal geometric shapes – the circle and the square. His drawing of the Vitruvian Man dating from about 1487 is an expression of the ideal human proportions.


Michelangelo Buonarroti


Michelangelo was a poet, painter, engineer, architect, and as he considered primarily a sculptor. He gained notoriety in Florence after sculpting the free standing larger than life (13.5 feet) statue of the biblical David from a huge block of marble (1501). When compared with David by Donatello (1430) , Michelangelos David was dominant and defiant. His hands and head are out of proportion with the rest of the body, and the body is muscular and tense. Michelangelos David was placed in front of the city hall of Florence probably as a symbol of Florentine power.

Another important commission of Michelangelo was for the painting of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. He spent four years to complete the work that illustrated the creation and fall of humankind.


Andrea Palladio


Andrea Palladio is primarily known as an architect. He wrote and had published the ‘Four Books of Architecture’ in Venice in 1570. In his writing he emphasized that symmetry and stability were the controlling elements in successful architectural design. Many of his designs for country houses and other buildings express his ideology.

The Villa Rotunda is a thirty-two room country house with perfect symmetry around a central room covered by a dome. All four elevations are the same, each with a portico and a flight of steps. As a model of domestic architecture for the wealthy, the Villa Rotunda provided inspiration to many generations of designers throughout England and America.

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