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.
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.
Michelangelo's design re-oriented the Capitoline Hill, which traditionally faced the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. Rather than emphasize this past, Michelangelo oriented the plaza so that it faced the Vatican, emphasizing the position of Rome as the center of Christianity. By doing this, Michelangelo literally turned away from the Classical traditions of the Renaissance. Literally, he turned the plaza to take emphasis off of the Classical past.
The center of the plaza is a circular design, a basic geometric shape commonly used by Renaissance artists. However, the interior of the circle is filled with an interlaced, twelve-point star, a much more playful geometric pattern. At the center is a large bronze statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, which is used to center the entire plaza.
As the Italian Renaissance reached its height, two architectural styles emerged that represented the transition into new artistic ideals.
The High Renaissance was the climax of Renaissance ideals, lasting from roughly the 1490s to 1520s. This style emphasized perfect, geometrical balance and symmetry, and relied on Classical elements, meaning the styles of ancient Greece and Rome. High Renaissance architecture reflected ideal, mathematical ratios and proportions; featured the use of columns, domes, and arches; and supported a sense of intellectual calm and personal harmony. The greatest achievement of this style is Donato Bramante's Tempietto, a circular, symmetrical tomb that reflects ideal proportions for a male figure.
The High Renaissance was replaced by the Mannerist style, which lasted from the 1520s to the 1580s. Mannerist architecture used many High Renaissance elements, including the use of geometry, but did so with a sense of playful freedom and imbalance. The best example of this is the Piazza del Campidoglio, a public plaza on the Capitoline Hill, designed by Michelangelo. This plaza features geometric shapes and elements, but arranged more playfully. Michelangelo also changed the orientation of the plaza, turning it away from the ancient Roman forum and towards the Vatican, representing a shift away from Classical traditions.
Architecture is the art in which we live and at the end of the Renaissance, it represented the transitions of attitudes, beliefs, and culture as Italy moved into a new era.
After you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
- List the characteristics of Italian High Renaissance architecture
- Discuss the two architectural styles of the High Renaissance
- Explain how architecture can reflect cultural attitudes and beliefs
- Describe two examples of each High Renaissance architectural style