1350-1500: Architecture in Renaissance Italy & Early Ottoman Architecture

Architecture in Renaissance Italy

The idea of “Renaissance”, at the same time, the movement to revive ancient Greco-Roman culture, grew naturally in 14th and 15th century Florence, Italy. Leaders of the Italian merchant republics educated their young as humanists, so that humanism spread to the arts and architecture by emulating the all’antica, ancient details from Greco-Roman culture. In Florence, beside the artists and architects copied antiquity, they were also impatient to discover the underlying principles of design to apply their models. There, architects discovered harmonious proportions which are linked the classical orders. Together with influences of humanism, new built palaces and churches changed the character of Italian cities and gave them a more uniform scale and geometric basis. Meantime, painters guided the perspective vision, a scientific mode of seeing that put all the parts in relation to whole. The emergence of perspective vision accompanied the development of the principal public space of Italian city.

During the 14th century, the wealthiest merchant families spent their collective resources for the construction of great civic projects, including the public palace (now called Palazzo Vecchio), the new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), the public grain marker of Or San Michele (later turned into a church), the city walls, and the bridges.

Most public works in late 14th century Florence, used rounded arches, symmetrical places bays, and harmonious proportions. Plus, the Florentines added a new way of seeing, treating buildings as freestanding objects in proportional scale.

Florence’s greatest civic project, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, constructed in 1296. It has a simple Gothic style with its quadripartite ribbed vaults spanning the nave and two side aisles. A few years later, its length of the nave was extended and its area was outlined for a huge octagonal dome over the crossing. The dome intended to surpass the domes of the rival cities of Pisa and Siena. In 1376, the commune wanted the dimensions of the cupola to be as wide as the Pantheon in Rome and nearly twice its height. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi took charge of the project. He built the new dome without falsework (temporary framework structures used to support a building during its construction), and by contriving a structure that supported itself during the process of construction. Filippo Brunelleschi conserved the dome’s pointed arches and ribs from the Gothic program of a few generations earlier, he added several all’antica motifs to exterior. There were rounded tribunes placed between the octagonal apses. Each of these had five shell-capped niches were flanked by pairs of Corinthian half columns and they were demonstrating Brunelleschi’s familiarity with ancient monuments. So, the cupola were containing innovation from Gothic structure while also displaying new elements of the revival of ancient Roman style.

In addition to the civic projects including the public palace and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, wealthy Florentines commissioned magnificent stone-clad private palaces in order to bring a new sense of material cohesion and scale to the city. By 1500, Florence appeared the most orderly city in Europe, with well-paved and drained streets, monumental civic buildings, and a fabric of stately cubic palaces.

Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt his family palace in the 1440s and redefined the Florentina palazzo type for many generations. Medici’s architect, Michelozzo made clear references to Palazzo Vecchio in the overall cubic shape which is doubled in the 17th century by the Riccardi family. He covered the upper two floor in progressively smoother with drafted masonry in order to create the illusion of greater height. He, also, made another perceptual refinement: he pulled the southeast corner of the palace a few degrees forward (making the outer walls of its square plan slightly oblique) in order to make the corner more prominence when seen from the steps of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo).

For the next two centuries, most palaces followed the plan organization (a series of interconnecting rooms which are set around a square arcaded court) of Palazzo Medici. The palace had a stone bench, a rusticated base, regularly placed biforium (a twin arcaded window with a column separating its two identical parts) windows, a classical cornice, and an arcaded courtyard. Since the Medici Palace represented the attitude of magnificence, it inspired the construction of more than sixty palaces in Florence, as well as countless imitations in other cities. One of these palaces was built by Filippo Strozzi, the second richest man in Florence. He began the city’s largest palace in 1489. He commissioned the personal architect of Medici, Giuliano da Sangallo, to preapre the initial model with a classical cornice and rustication similar to those of Palazza Medici. Meantime, Giovanni Rucellai, the third wealthiest man in the city, and one of the most documented patrons of the Florentine palace boom, began construction on his family palace in 1453. It built with the advice of humanist scholar Leon Battista Alberti and supervised by the sculptor-architect Bernardo Rossellino. The facade of Rucellai’s palace included pilasters to create a more classical look.

Early Ottoman Architecture

Architecture played an important role for the Ottoman Turks in realizing their new Roman Empire for Islam, demonstrating the regime’s authority and love of order. The Ottomans maintained a military to oversee the construction and maintenance of public works like the ancient Romans, and the Ottoman army built the impressive projects of infrastructure as well. They sponsored a rich urban life so that they built markets, baths, and great religious complexes. In early Ottoman architecture, Imaret compounds, that usually included a mosque, a tomb, a bath (hammam), a religious school (madrasa), sometimes a hospital, and a soup kitchen, were established. While organizing public buildings such as the imarets, they used cascading domes and spiky minarets of mosques. The Ottomans created a strong sense of internal order by placing a shallow dome over their important buildings. Plus, Ottoman urbanism displayed a preference for local symmetry where only the parts of a larger whole remained in equilibrium.

Ottoman architects imitated the vaulted masonry of Armenian churches, borrowed the beehive domes of Seljuk tombs, and Persian arcades. Since Bursa was the capital of the Ottomans, the city had magnificent mosques. The Orhan Gazi Mosque followed the basic reverse-T plan of early Ottoman royal mosques. The reverse-T mosque type reappeared in many other royal foundations in Bursa including the Green Mosque. Unlike the eccentric details on the Organ Gazi Mosque, in the Green Mosque, all of the elements were matched proportionally and repeated serially. Another one, the Ulu Mosque differed in type from the reverse-T royal mosques. It followed the hypostyle model which was found throughout Southwest Asia. As an overview, the square part with a rounded dome became the standard unit of Ottoman architecture, and it repeated in their palaces, hospitals, baths, schools, mosques, even in the impressive commercial structures of Bursa.

Reference: World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History by Richar Ingersoll.


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