After the fall of the Byzantine empire, many scholars fled to Italy and brought with them manuscripts and new schools of thought. In contrast to the stagnation of the middle ages, a new emphasis on craft and learning was sparked by trade and travel. Each country had its own form of renaissance, so for the sake of timelines, I broke down Italy and England’s advancements into three movements.
Rebirth (Early Renaissance)
There were many architects in Italy who wanted to return to using Roman elements with clearly defined forms like the round arch and the dome. This classical revival began in Florence, Italy with Filippo Brunelleschi. His major work was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – without any architectural training (more on that here. He essentially took the principals of linear perspective and proportions to form building techniques that are not completely known to this day.
In England, wealthy landowners began to invest in their own form of renaissance. Under the rule of the Tudor monarchs, there was a redistribution of wealth from churches to more civic buildings during which brick went from being a rare material to being used pretty much anywhere, even in commoner homes. Tudor-style homes were usually timber-framed with narrow doors and windows, flagstone or dirt floors, and thatched roofs – like The Red Lion in Avebury (which may or may not be haunted).
As the rules were being formulated for this new yet familiar architectural style, some differentiation from the classical elements came about. Architects used logic and proportions to determine how interior spaces would be laid out. Most buildings were square in plan with symmetrical proportions. The Renaissance took hold of Italy more so than any other European country. Because of this, there was more exploration of forms pertaining to classical orders, and those experimental designs are highlighted in the form of many of Rome’s churches.
Meanwhile, everyone in England was getting the itch to incorporate new and more affordable design elements into their own homes. England went through a “great rebuilding” during the Elizabethan era in which many houses were torn down only to be rebuilt. It became popular for shop owners to build an additional story over their shop to live in. It may seems as though England had branched out to form its own renaissance, but there were little details included in even the most common house that prove the classical revival was still an influence, such as round arches and columns alongside doors and fireplaces. The wealthier class was trying to use as much glass in their buildings as possible, along with ornate fireplace surrounds and decorative chimneys. In fact, there is an old English rhyme that goes “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall,” that I think just about sums it up.
Jacobean architecture is essentially a continuation of the Elizabethan era with more emphasis on classical elements. In contrast to Italy, where classical elements were used according to the classical tradition, England used them as an addition to their own vernacular. This was also around the time when England founded some of its first colonies in America. The architecture in these settlements is similar to the style of the Jacobean vernacular of the commoner class in England at this time. This virtual tour of Plymouth shows how those houses might have looked.
As the Renaissance progressed, works like The Four Books of Architecture by Andrea Palladio became a handbook for architects who wished to apply the classical orders to their own designs. As these design elements spread from Italy, each European country took inspiration from them and formed their own version of classical renaissance that ultimately led to the formation of the Baroque style, which was much more widespread outside of Italy.