The French word Renaissance means rebirth. In respect to its origins, the term signifies the “cultural rebirth of Antiquity”. In a further sense, therefore, the Renaissance means the rebirth of Classical Antiquity in its influence on science, literature, society, the lives of the noble class and the development of individual freedom in contrast to the feudalism of the Middle Ages.
The Renaissance spread through Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, and began in Italy in the late Middle Ages, in Germany as late as the 16th century.
In principle, in the architecture of the Renaissance one can distinguish between two tendencies. The first is concerned with a full revival of the formal language of Antiquity (antique Renaissance).
In Italy this objective was achieved through the High Renaissance architecture of Donato Bramante around 1500, and established itself in the whole of Italy. Italian Renaissance buildings were conceived as clearly-composed and harmonically balanced objects.
In the floor plans, the architects favoured simple and ideal geometrical forms such as the square or circle. Architectural elements such as columns, pilasters, capitals, pediments, etc, were derived from (Greek) Antiquity. In addition, a number of developments emerged which departed from Antique models, such as the Tuscan column.
The individual building elements were harmonised among themselves and with the building as a whole. The architectural treatise of the Roman architect Vitruvius was studied in order to obtain a basis for ideal proportions.
The second tendency borrowed forms from Antiquity, but varied them using new elements in a similar manner to Medieval architecture without complying to a strict set of architectural laws (analogue Renaissance).
In respect to architectural theory, the former tendency can be found in architectural treaties and the latter in pattern books. Generally, the more a culture was rooted in the Middle Ages, the more tenaciously the analogue form of the Renaissance was adhered to – most of all the middle and north European regions. In France the classical correctness of the High Renaissance took hold around 1550. On the Iberian Peninsula both tendencies developed side by side, and continued into the Baroque period. In Germanic Europe and Poland, both tendencies were mixed at times, though the analogical form of the Renaissance remained dominant until the end.
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