(R. P. S.)
The Renaissance Style: Introduction
The causes which led to the evolution of the Renaissance style in Italy in the 15th century were many and diverse. The principal impulse was that derived from the revival of classical literature. Already in the 14th century the coming movement was showing itself in the works of the painters and sculptors, especially the latter, owing to the influence of the classic sculpture which abounded throughout Italy. Thus in the tomb of St Dominic (1221) at Bologna, the pulpits of Pisa (1260) and Siena (1268), and in the fountain of Perugia (1277-1280) by Niccola Pisano and his son Giovanni, all the figures would seem to have been inspired in their character by those found in Roman sarcophagi. A classic treatment is noticeable in the doorway of the Baptistery of Florence by Andrea Pisano (1330), probably influenced by Giotto, in whose paintings are found the representation of imaginary buildings in which Gothic and Classic details are mixed up together. The time for its full development, however, did not come till the following century, when, with the papal throne again firmly established under Martin V., the amelioration of the city of Rome was commenced, and discoveries were made which awakened an archaeological interest fostered by the Medici at Florence, who not only became enthusiastic collectors of ancient works of art, but promoted the study of the antique figure. In addition to the acquisition of marbles and bronzes, ancient manuscripts of classic writers were sought for and supplied by Greek exiles who seemed to have foreseen the breaking up of the eastern empire; everything, therefore, at the beginning of the 15th century fostered the spread of the new movement. Accordingly, when a great architect like Brunelleschi, who for fifteen years had been making a special study of the ancient monuments in Rome and who possessed in addition great scientific knowledge, brought forward his proposals for the completion of the cathedral built by Arnolfo di Lapo, and showed how the existing substructure could be covered over with a dome like the Pantheon at Rome, his designs were accepted by the town council of Florence, and in 1420 he was entrusted with the work. Subsequently he carried out other works, in which pure classic architectural forms are the chief characteristics. There were, however, other causes which not only promoted the encouragement of the revival, but extended it to other countries, though at a later period; the most important of these was the invention of printing (1453), which in a sense revolutionized art, not so much in its enabling classical literature to be more extensively studied and known, as in its taking away to a certain extent from the painter and sculptor and indirectly the architect one of their principal missions, so far as ecclesiastical architecture is concerned. Henceforth these who had hitherto taught their lessons in sculpture, painting, stained glass and fresco, could, through the printed book, bring them more immediately before and directly to mankind. Victor Hugo’s pithy saying, “ceci tuera cela; le livre tuera l’église,” expressed not only the fall of architecture from the position it occupied as the principal teacher, but to a certain extent the change in the channel by which religious teachers and the writers of the day, the poets and philosophers, could best make their works known.
With the invention of printing came the partial cessation of fresco painting, stained glass and sculpture, which subsequently came to be regarded more as decorative adjuncts than as having educational functions. But this transfer from the Church to the Book, the extinction of the one by the other, led to another important change. Henceforth the architect or master-mason, as he was then known, could no longer count on the co-operation of the various craftsmen, men often of greater culture than himself; and the individuality of the man, which has sometimes been put forward as a gain to humanity, was a loss so far as architecture is concerned, since it was scarcely possible that the imagination and conceptions of a single individual, however brilliant they might be, could ever reach to the high level of the joint product of many minds, or that there could be the same natural expression in what had hitherto been the traditional work of centuries.
In France the introduction of the Revival resulted at first in a transitional period during which classic details gradually crept in, displacing the Gothic. In Italy this does not seem to have been the case to the same extent. It is true that in Florence and Venice, where an independent style existed, the new buildings in their general principles of design were, copied from the old, but with no mixture of details as in France; in Brunelleschi’s church, Santo Spirito at Florence, the capitals and details are all pure Italian, as pure as if they had been carried out in the 3rd or 4th century, the fact being that already before the 15th century the craftsman’s work was approaching the new movement, and this was facilitated by the numerous remains still existing of Roman architecture. In the four or five years Brunelleschi spent in Rome, he had the opportunity of studying a far larger number of Roman buildings than are preserved at the present day, so that the purity of style in the work which he carried out in Florence was due to his previous training; the same is found in Alberti’s work, and with these two great men leading the way it is not surprising that throughout the earlier Renaissance period in Italy we find a classic perfection of detail which it took half a century to develop in other countries.
It is difficult to say what might have been its ultimate development if another discovery had not been made about 1452, that of the manuscript of Vitruvius, a Roman architect who lived in the time of the emperor Augustus; his work on architecture gives an admirable description of the building materials employed in his day (c. 25 B.C.), and among other subjects, a series of rules regulating the employment of the various orders and their correct proportions. These rules were based on the descriptions which Vitruvius had studied of Greek temples, but as he was not acquainted with the examples quoted, never having been in Greece or even in south Italy at Paestum, his knowledge was confined to the architectural monuments then existing in Rome. Vitruvius’s manuscript, entitled De re aedificatoria, was illustrated by drawings, none of which have however been preserved; when therefore in subsequent years translations of the architectural portion of the manuscript were printed and published by various Italian architects, among whom Vignola and Palladio were the more important, they were accompanied by woodcuts representing their interpretation of the lost illustrations, and thus copybooks of the orders were