Comparing High Renaissance and Mannerist Architecture

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  • 0:08 Architecture
  • 0:58 High Renaissance Architecture
  • 2:31 Mannerist Architecture
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore both High Renaissance and Mannerist architectural styles and discover the relationship between them. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Architecture has been called the art in which we live. Temples, government buildings, businesses, homes… architecture is pretty important to our lives. Being such an integral part of our lives, architects have stressed that certain styles of architecture can help create a sense of calm, purpose, or order in our daily existences. Imagine being in a Gothic castle, covered in spires and gargoyles, versus a modern minimalist home built of flat concrete. Different feelings, right?

Architecture is all around us, and so, the rules of architectural styles are taken pretty seriously. During the later parts of the Italian Renaissance, two competing architectural styles emerged that each sought to define the lives and attitudes of the Italian people.

High Renaissance Architecture

The High Renaissance is the height of the Renaissance in Italy, which occurred from roughly the 1490s to the 1520s. Architecture of the High Renaissance was seen as the finest example of Renaissance principles, including the use of symmetry, geometry, and mathematically-derived ideal proportions to create a sense of intellectual calm and harmony. High Renaissance architects strove to create a perfect, balanced space that would encourage personal balance and harmony. Remember that architecture is meant to support certain behaviors or lifestyles.

A lot of High Renaissance forms were derived from Classical architecture, meaning the styles of ancient Greece and Rome. This meant a heavy use of columns, arches, and domes to create smooth, balanced architecture.

The greatest achievement of High Renaissance architecture is generally recognized as the Tempietto, a small commemorative tomb in the Roman church San Pietro in Montorio. Designed in 1502 by the famed Renaissance architect Donato Bramate, this small tomb blends architectural styles of Roman temples, early Christian circular tombs, and Renaissance symmetry. The Tempietto is almost perfectly symmetrical, displaying an overwhelming sense of order, balance, and logic. It uses Doric columns, an early Greek style, and a dome roof to reflect the ideal proportions used by the ancient Romans for both a strong temple and the male figure, reflecting the dedication of this tomb to St. Peter.

Mannerist Architecture

As the High Renaissance began to wind down, another style emerged, representing a transition of artistic ideals. Mannerism is the reaction to High Renaissance perfection, encouraging the mixture of idealized and intentionally imbalanced compositions.

In other words, while the Renaissance was focused on perfect symmetry, order, and balance, Mannerists added elements that were imperfect, more playful, and less logical. In architecture, this meant exploring new relationships between structures and people. Mannerist architects embraced more imaginative, geometrical patterns that occasionally embraced chaos over harmony. Mannerism, as an artistic style, thrived from the 1520s into the 1580s.

The most famous example of Mannerist architecture is the Piazza del Campidoglio, a public plaza on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. It was designed by the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, a reminder that Mannerism was a transition from the High Renaissance and often relied on shared artists.

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