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Of Florence
In the Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy, there is a cathedral church
whose octagonal dome, built without the aid of scaffolding, was considered the
greatest engineering feat of the early Renaissance. Dedicated to Santa Maria del
Fiore, Our Lady of the Flower, it is also known as the Duomo, after the Italian
word for cathedral. Created by many great Early Modern artists, this piece of
architecture is a perfect example the Renaissance style. We can come to a better
understanding of why this is so by exploring what the characteristics of the
Renaissance “style”. To understand the properties of the Florence Cathedral
that fit the Early Modern style, I will begin with a description and its
history. The cathedral’s architectural style, although greatly influenced by
French Gothic elements remained distinctively Florentine, especially the
geometric patterns of red, green, and white marble on the building’s exterior.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1294 on the site of a Christian church
founded in the 6th or 7th century and continued until 1436. Several celebrated
Italian architects were involved in the project, including Giotto, Arnolfo di
Cambio, Andrea Orcagna, and, most notably, Filippo Brunelleschi, who was
responsible for designing and building the dome. The cathedral’s exterior is
ornamented with sculpture and mosaics by Italian artists Donatello, Nanni di
Banco, and Domenico Ghirlandaio, among others. The building’s stained-glass
windows are the work of the Italian architect and artist Lorenzo Ghiberti, and
the interior is decorated with sculpture and fresco paintings by several
Renaissance masters. Construction of the campanile (bell tower), situated to the
right of the entrance to the Duomo, was begun by Giotto and completed according
to his plans in 1359, after his death. Nearly 278 ft high, the campanile is
embellished with red, green, and white marble panels of relief sculpture by
Italian artists Andrea Pisano and Luca della Robbia, and niches with sculpted
figures by Donatello and other masters. Facing the cathedral and campanile is a
smaller, octagonal structure, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, noted for its
gilt-bronze doors, elaborately worked in high relief by Andrea Pisano and
Lorenzo Ghiberti. With that background information about the cathedral, one
question comes to mind: what is it that makes the Renaissance style distinct?
Renaissance Art is painting, sculpture, and architecture produced in Europe in
the historical period that has been called the Early Modern period. Though the
piece I selected is a piece of architecture it has all the aforementioned forms
of art, and the elements of the Renaissance style encompasses all these forms.

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The three main components of Renaissance style are the following: a revival of
the classical style originally developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, an
intensified concern with non-religious life, and an interest in humanism and
emphasis on the importance of the individual. The Renaissance period in art
history corresponds to the beginning of the great Western age of discovery and
exploration, when a general desire developed to examine all aspects of nature
and the world. This greatly influenced the art that was produced during this
period. During the Renaissance, artists were no longer regarded as mere
artisans, as they had been in the medieval past, but for the first time emerged
as independent personalities, comparable to poets and writers. When he was
discussing architecture in his book Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari writes,
“…some idea of form and some approximation of the good ancient rules were
rediscovered by the better architects, who have left examples of their style
throughout Italy in the oldest as distinct from the antique churches” (Vasari,
39). They sought new solutions to formal and visual problems, and many of them
were also devoted to scientific experimentation. In this context, mathematical
or linear perspective was developed, a system in which all objects in a painting
or in low-relief sculpture are related both proportionally and rationally. As a
result, the painted surface was regarded as a window on the natural world, and
it became the task of painters to portray this world in their art. Consequently,
painters began to devote themselves more rigorously to the rendition of
landscape?the careful depiction of trees, flowers, plants, distant mountains,
and cloud-filled skies. Artists studied the effect of light out-of-doors and how
the eye perceives all the diverse elements in nature. They developed aerial
perspective, in which objects become increasingly less distinct and less sharply
colored as they recede from the eye of the viewer. Although the portrait also
developed as a specific genre in the mid-15th century Renaissance painters
achieved the greatest notoriety with the history, or narrative, picture, in
which figures located within a landscape or an architectural environment act out
a specific story, taken either from classical mythology or Judeo-Christian
tradition. Within such a context, the painter was able to show men, women, and
children in a full range of postures and poses, as well as the subjects’ diverse
emotional reactions and states. The Renaissance of the arts coincided with the
development of humanism, in which scholars studied and translated philosophical
texts. The use of classical Latin was revived and often favored at this time.

The Renaissance was also a period of avid exploration; sea captains began to be
more daring in seeking new routes to Asia, which resulted in the discovery and
eventual colonization of North and South America. Painters, sculptors, and
architects exhibited a similar sense of adventure and the desire for greater
knowledge and new solutions; Leonardo da Vinci, like Christopher Columbus,
discovered whole new worlds. With a new emphasis on the science, people like
Philippo Brunelleschi were accomplishing great feats of artistic and
architectural design. The new Renaissance “style” that emerged during this
period called upon the classical roots of ancient Greece and Rome but new
scientific understanding and a stronger emphasis on the individual also
influenced the works created during this period.

Jr., Eugene F.; Anthony Grafton. The Foundations of Early Modern Europe,
1460-1559. W. W. Norton ; Company. New York, NY, 1993. Helton, Tinsley.

World Book Encyclopedia, v16. “Renaissance”, pp. 222-224. World Book?Childcraft
International Inc. Chicago, IL, 1979. Vasari, Gorgio. Lives of the Artists.

Penguin Books Ltd. London, England, 1987


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