The Renaissance saw a move from the medieval master mason to architect, often not trained in building but having the breadth, education and versatility of the 'Renaissance man'.
Brunelleschi shows us how this move from medieval to Renaissance architecture took place, as he simultaneously completed the crowning dome of Florence’s Gothic cathedral. Drawing on his study of ancient Rome, he produced the simple proportions of his remarkable new building designs.
Alberti’s writings on art and architecture demonstrate how this new Renaissance thinking worked. Bramante’s dramatic design of 1506 for the new St Peter’s, commissioned by Pope Julius II, was not to be fully realised, but Christopher Wren used his ideas, beautifully drawn in Serlio’s books on architecture, in his design of St Paul’s in London. The remarkable piazza setting of the Doge’s Palace and Basilica in Venice owe much to the buildings produced by Jacopo Sansovino, who started his career in Venice by rescuing the failing domes on the Basilica of San Marco, and went on to become the dominant architect of the city in the mid 1500s. Had Michelangelo never picked up a chisel or a paint brush, he would still rank as one of the greatest Renaissance architects, working in Florence and Rome and driving forward his own design for St Peter’s into his seventies. In Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture his beautiful woodcut drawings combine with beguiling text aimed at noble commissioners of his palazzo and villa designs.
It is easy to see why English figures from Inigo Jones to Lord Burlington toured Italy to see these buildings first hand, and why the Palladian style took such a hold in eighteenth century England.