The Colosseum is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering known to mankind; making it a major tourist attraction in Rome, Italy, with over a million tourists visiting the structure annually. Hence, it is no surprise that the distinguished Leon Battista Alberti – Italian humanist, architect and principal initiator of Renaissance art theory – drew inspiration from this outstanding structure to create the Palazzo Rucellai.
|Façade of Palazzo Rucellai designed by Leon Battista Alberti - 1446.
Palazzo Rucellai is an opulent 15th-century townhouse located on the Via della Vigna Nuova in Firenze (Florence), Italy. It was originally designed by Leon Battista Alberti for the Rucellai family, a wealthy Tuscan mercantile family.3 The façade has been the main “attention-grabber” for this structure, radiating the full spirit of 15th-century humanism.4 It uses balance and proportion to create an evident symmetry to its façade. The elegant design of this palace marked a turning point in the architecture of aristocratic residences, setting them apart from the former, more fortress-like structures.
Structural elements of ancient Rome are resonated throughout the façade in its arches, pilasters, and entablatures – themes which are echoed in the larger blocks on the ground floor, which heighten the impression of strength and solidity.1 Comparable to that of the Colosseum, Alberti uses three classical orders throughout three tiers, to indicate upward advancement. Divided by horizontal entablatures that run across the façade, the first tier acts as the root of the building, giving it a sense of strength. This character is achieved by using cross-hatched, or rusticated stones that run across the very bottom of the building. This is also achieved through the use of square-shaped windows and thresholds, as well as the use of post and lintel construction in the place of arches that align above it. The second tier emits a softer feeling due to the use of smaller stones, which is emphasized by the rounded arches of the windows, a familiar Roman feature. The third and last tier also uses smaller stones to give the feeling of lightness, as well as continuing the use of rounded arches to frame the windows, identical to that of the second tier; the difference between the second and third tier is the decrease in height. Each tier decreases in height from the bottom to the top.2
|Elevation of Palazzo Rucellai.
The overall horizontality of this façade is called “trabeated” architecture, which Alberti thought was most fitting for the homes of nobility.2 Each tier is tied together through the use of pilasters running vertically across the façade. Although, each pilaster is of a different order: first tier – Tuscan order, second tier – Ionic order, third tier – Corinthian order.
|Perspective of Palazzo Rucellai showing
use of materials, symmetry, proportion, etc.
Based on the use of its pilasters and entablatures in proportional relationship to each other, Alberti’s impressive façade was one of the first to proclaim the new ideas of Renaissance architecture.4 Renaissance architecture places importance on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the consistency of parts as they are demonstrated in the architecture of classical antiquity and ancient Roman architecture.
The interior of the palace consists of a central courtyard. This is mainly due to the fact that the palace was created from a district of eight smaller buildings combined to form a single architectural complex, surrounding a courtyard.1 The grand Loggia Rucellai also exists diagonally across Palazzo Rucellai, mirroring the style of the palace’s façade. The loggia, a classical construction of three large rounded arches, is known for the architrave, which possesses the decorative motive of the Rucellai coat of arms: a sail blowing in the wind.
|Loggia Rucellai depicting Rucellai coat of arms above each arch.
Palazzo Rucellai is no longer the home of merchant nobles, but instead holds the school Institute of Fine and Liberal Arts within. Nevertheless, the palace is amongst many tourists’ checklist when visiting and examining the city of Firenze in Italy. It is an excellent example of Florentine Renaissance palazzi per reviewers on TripAdvisor, and ultimately just pleasing to the eye (credits due to its symmetry).5 The Palazzo became a precedent for future buildings such as the Palazzo della Cancelleria (later the Papal Chancery, in Rome)3 making it an influential landmark to Italian architecture.
1 "The History of Palazzo Rucellai." ISI Florence - Study Abroad in Florence, Italy. ISI Florence - Study Abroad in Florence, Italy, n.d. Web.
2 Zappella, Christine. "Alberti, Palazzo Rucellai." Khan Academy. Khan Academy, n.d. Web.
3 "Palazzo Rucellai." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Ed. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Aug. 2009. Web.
4 Murray, Peter. "3: Alberti." The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance. London: Thames & Hudson, 1969. 51-61. Print.
5 RonL40. "Beautiful Building in Florentine Style." Rev. of Palazzo Rucellai. n.d.: n. pag. Trip Advisor. 29 June 2015. Web.