Italian Renaissance: Art and Architecture

Italian Renaissance is well known for its cultural and societal achievements which took place between 14th to 16th centuries and initiated from Tuscany, thereby affecting the Greek and Roman culture. However the mid 15th century is considered to be as a true and prominent renaissance era. Innovators of the Italian Renaissance initiated great artistic works from Florence in the field of art, architecture, painting, literature, and sculpture.

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There is no doubt that critic’s reveal error in the architecture of ‘Leon Battista Alberti’, but it is because of Alberti that Italian Renaissance is considered as a ‘golden age’. (Payne, 2003) He is responsible for designing churches and secular buildings in the renaissance era. As he wrote a treatise on architecture, the modern renaissance mentions his name as a hero for his artistic production is worth mentioning.

Architecture was influenced by Christian theologies and Roman engineer ‘Vitruvius’. However the inventor of civil architecture of the Renaissance art is ‘Florentine Filippo Brunelleschi’. It is through his creativity that achievements like ‘Quattrocento’1 were made possible. “Whilst the Gothic style was still flourishing in Northern Italy, Florentine architecture had passed with Filippo from the slender curves of Gothic to the regularity of the square, to the domination of the horizontal line and round arch”. (Venturi, 1926, p. 147) With Filippo comes up the concept of construction that simplified sculpture and painting in the Renaissance era.

The Florentine palace, a massive construction built round a quadrangle surrounded by many entrances, is the typical creation of the Renaissance art. The exterior of this type of building still maintains characteristics of mediaeval castles in which there is a greater stretch of wall than of openings. The internal decoration of the palace is entirely inspired by classical art. The construction of square churches surmounted by cupolas undergoes a transformation of the same kind. The groups of shafts are substituted by pilasters and columns or by flat horizontal ceilings decorated with square panels. On the outside we find columns, spandrels, and niches, that is to say, all the details of Roman architecture (Venturi, 1926, p. 147).


Renaissance sculpture era is followed by Donatello, Giorgio Vasari, Nicola Pisano, his son Giovanni Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Nicola worked as a renaissance sculptor and architect. Among his major works are those studies from ancient monuments that are based upon story telling like ‘Roman Sarcophagus’ in Pisa, ‘Madonna’. Mostly are based on the story of Phaedra and other drama characters based on pulpits2. Loaded with brooches, buckles, necklaces, with their weapons ornamented with garnets, crystals and precious stones, the barbarian invaders of Italy introduced no new artistic influence in the Renaissance era. However, on the contrary, the garish effect of their goldsmiths’ work agreed very well with all the phases of Christian art, moving further away from the representation of the human figure (Valentiner, 1950, p. 56).  Italy, by religion and tradition not adverse to representative arts, merely achieved an artistic iconoclasm, that is to say, an increasing subordination of the human figure to geometric floral decoration. Because art has been confused with form, and especially with the form of the human figure, Renaissance era has been criticised the centuries before Dante, Giotto and Giovanni Pisano. But since the Middle Ages are said to be ‘barbaric’, the renaissance age is floral equipped with geometric decoration and highly cultured. (Venturi, 1926, p. 38) Most of the sculptures were made of bronze and marble.

Donatello is appreciated for the impact he gave to the North Italian artistic statues after spending ten years in Padua. Gattamelata ‘Honeyed Cat’ is among one of his famous works of solemn calmness and dramatic representation. The earliest works by Donatello, are two marble statues different in character. They are placed above the ‘Porta della Mandorla’ on the Cathedral of Florence. “As the location of the two marble statues on the exterior of the Cathedral is quite clearly described in the documents, it was perfectly justifiable to identify them with the two figures standing on pillars to the right and left of the pinnacle over the Porta della Mandorla, which is named from the aureole surrounding the Madonna in the famous relief by Nanni di Banco in the tympanum of the pinnacle” (Valentiner, 1950, p. 44).


Renaissance art cannot be completed without ‘Leonardo Da Vinci” – The Renaissance Man. (Renaissance Man, 2007) Among his most popular work is the painting of ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Last Supper’. Mona Lisa has acquired tremendous attention up till now with a secret smile on her face, while ‘The Last Supper’ is a mural repainted twice in the eighteenth century. The reason for repainting was to decipher what painting upholds. Other artists include ‘Giorgione’ the exponent at Venice who defended that free imaginative ideal that distinguishes the Cinquecento3 from the Quattrocento. This was the moment when the free thought of the Renaissance changed to the religious energy of the counter-reformation that profoundly stirred Italian life. At Florence Latin mythological literature had presented painters with a way of escape from the religious tradition, and provided them with freer subjects. Giorgione while liberating himself from mythology wrote pictorial visions and that even without any concrete subject.

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His view not limited by the human figure embraced the whole landscape; more, landscape for the first time in the history of art becomes the principal subject of the picture. His work comprised mostly of figures description that belong to the landscape, not the landscape to the figures. Giorgione resolved moral problems of literature with torment, scorn, sorrow and anger. Unlike ‘Michelangelo’ he abandoned himself romantically to dreams, plaints, music and enjoyment.

Italian Literature

Early Renaissance literature was followed by scholars like Plato and Aristotle and others who translated the Greek and Latin classics. (Benvenuti, 15 Nov 2007) Under the influence of writers like Dante, Petrarch and Boccacio, Renaissance literature, its new tendencies and its passionate worship of all the glorious memories were bequeathed by Italian antiquity (Hale, 1954, p. 32).

Gromort (1922) defines the Renaissance literature in the following words: “Without being able to share in the same way the enthusiasm of the aristocracy for antique art and literature, the common Tuscan so ingenious and nimble-minded, so fond also of all that is good and beautiful under the bright sun, was not without understanding by some secret intuition that his Roman ancestors, and after them the Christians of the Middle Ages, were after all only the heirs of Greek Paganism”. (Gromort, 1922, p. 5) Renaissance churches often show on their decorative panels scenes from Pagan mythology and that the Renaissance era was truly the century of the resurrection of the gods.

Work Cited

  1. Benvenuti, 2007. Web.
  2. Gromort Georges. Waters F. George – translator (1922) Italian Renaissance Architecture: A Short Historical and Descriptive Account: Vincent: Paris.
  3. Hale J. R., (1954) England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art: Faber and Faber: London.
  4. Payne Alina, (2003) “Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance” In: The Art Bulletin. Volume: 85. Issue: 2. p: 387
  5. Valentiner W. R., (1950) Studies of Italian Renaissance Sculpture: Phaidon Press: London.
  6. Venturi Adolfo. Hutton Edward – translator (1926) A Short History of Italian Art: Macmillan: New York.


  1. Historical and cultural significant events of the 15th century Italy are termed as ‘Quattrocento’.
  2. A ‘pulpit’ is a platform in a church above the ground which is used by the priest to deliver speeches.
  3. Cinquecento is the term used to describe 16th century Italian Renaissance.
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