10 of the Most Important Renaissance Buildings in Italy

Léonie Chao-Fong

4 mins

22 Jan 2020

Originating in Florence in the early 15th century, Renaissance architecture reflected the “rebirth” of Classical culture. The style spread throughout Europe, replacing the medieval Gothic style.

As in the Classical world, Renaissance architecture was characterised by the harmony between human and mathematical proportions.

Key architectural elements of Renaissance buildings included columns, pilasters, pediments, entablatures, arches, and domes.

The three key Renaissance architects were Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, and Andrea Palladio.

Here are 10 key examples of Italian Renaissance architecture.

1. St Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (Credit: Didier Moïse / CC).

Designed by Alberti, Raphael, Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini, St Peter’s Basilica was perhaps the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture.

Its artistry, architectural grandeur and sheer mass cemented the status of Rome as the home of Christianity.

Its iconic dome, designed by Michelangelo, is the tallest in the world.

Inside, St Peters holds some of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance sculpture, including Michelangelo’s Pieta (1500) and the baldachin by Bernini over the main altar.

Dome of Saint Peter's Basilica

Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica (Credit: LivioAndronico / CC).

2. Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral (Credit: Felix König / CC).

Structurally, Florence Cathedral belongs to the Gothic style. Its dome, however, was a forerunner of Renaissance architecture.

The idea and plan for the entire building had been conceived in 1293, before the Renaissance period, however the technology to complete the dome did not yet exist.

It was not until Fillipo Brunelleschi that the Cathedral was finally given a dome, more than a century later.

Brunelleschi, Filippo

Filippo Brunelleschi (Credit: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek).

Brunelleschi came up with a daring approach to vault the dome space without any scaffolding by using a double shell with a space in between.

With over 4 million bricks, a diameter 45.52m and height of 90m, it was the largest dome in the world until 1881.

3. Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella (Credit: Georges Jansoone / CC).

Santa Maria Novella was the first great basilica in Florence and one of the most well-known examples of early Renaissance architecture in Italy.

Its elegant and harmonious marble facade was created by Leon Battista Alberti, who combined the ideals of humanist architecture, proportion and classically inspired detailing.

The church holds frescoes by masters of the early Renaissance, including Masaccio’s ‘The Holy Trinity’.

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4. Tempietto del Bramante

Tempietto del Bramante

Tempietto del Bramante (Credit: Peter1936F / CC).

The tiny, round temple by Donato Bramante sits inside the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, on the spot where St Peter was crucified.

A small commemorative tomb, the Tempietto (“small temple”) is considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance Italian architecture and thought to be the prototype of St Peter’s Basilica.

5. Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Pitti (Credit: Stefan Bauer / CC).

The Pitti Palace was first built for the Pitti family and designed by Brunelleschi and built by his pupil Luca Fancelli.

In 1549, it was bought by the Medici family and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It was later used as a power base by Napoleon in the late 18th century and briefly served as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy.

6. Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

The Quartieri Monumentali in the Palazzo Vecchio (Credit: Guillaume Piolle / CC).

The Palazzo Vecchio was the main symbol of civil power for the city of Florence – the cradle of the Italian Renaissance.

The Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were commissioned to create the murals the ‘Battle of Anghiari’ and ‘Battle of Cascina’.

The so-called Quartieri Monumentali hold artworks by Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari and Donatello.

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7. Basilica of San Lorenzo

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in the Basilica di San Lorenzo (Credit: Richardfabi / CC).

Brunelleschi was commissioned to design a replacement of the earlier Romanesque church. However the building was not completed until after his death, and not entirely according to his designs.

It is nonetheless still seen as one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture, featuring architecture and art by Michelangelo and the final works by Donatello.

The basilica is the burial places of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III.

8. Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti (Credit: Warburg / CC).

Ospedale degli Innocenti (“Hospital of the Innocents”) was designed by Brunelleschi and originally intended as a children’s orphanage.

Brunelleschi arranged the refectory, cloisters, dormitories, infirmary, nurses, rooms and porticoes to create a harmonious and rational balance.

9. Biblioteca Marciana

Libreria Marciana Venezia

Libreria Marciana Venezia (Credit: Zairon / CC).

Located in Venice’s St Mark’s Square, the Biblioteca Marciana is a masterpiece of Jacopo Sansovino and a key example of Venetian Renaissance architecture.

One of the earliest surviving public libraries, the biblioteca still holds one of the most impressive collections of classical texts in the world.

10. Basilica of Sant’Andrea, Mantua

Basilica di Sant'Andrea

Basilica di Sant’Andrea (Credit: Sebi1).

One of the most important works of 15th century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy, the Basilica of Sant’Andrea is considered one of Alberti’s most complete works.

Modelled on the Roman triumphal arch, the basilica’s facade is defined by a large central arch flanked by Corinthian pilasters.

Featured image: Florence Cathedral (Credit: Florian Hirzinger / CC).