the color of the city - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  The Color of the City  

Aside from the facade of Palazzo Pitti characterized by the search for a Roman type of monumentality, Brunelleschi's solution for the urban landscape as seen in the facade of the Innocenti used the same two-color scheme of contrast between pietra serena and plaster that he was so fond of in the ideal purity of his interiors and which was to meet with success in the century to come. As for Alberti, he loved to display an elect intellectual retrieval of the classic Romanesque two-color schemes both in his exteriors (S. Maria Novella) and his interiors (S. Pancrazio).

But side by side with the puristic or idealizing tendencies interpreted and proposed by Brunelleschi and Alberti, there were various other elements that played a part in composing the color panorama of fifteenth-century Florence, which was much more articulated and varied than might be hypothesized by oversimplifying in terms of the white plaster and serene greys of the macigno. Florence at the time was actually very colorful (once more a continuation of its Gothic period). While the facades of the great palaces offered the calculated color variations of the stone facing and the wealth of design of classical ornamentation, the plastered facades of the ordinary houses were frequently painted in bright colors, now after centuries of transformation and changes in taste to be seen only in the paintings of the time. The colors shown include various hues of yellow, blue, green, pink and even red. The spread of the facade with sgraffito decoration also played a role in making the urban landscape much more colorful than is generally thought. The fifteenth-century sense of color left its mark in other fields as well: monuments were colored (the Bruni and Marsuppini tombs in S. Croce) and, apart from pictorial cycles such as those by Paolo Uccello (Chiostro Verde in S. Maria Novella), interiors, whether real (the chapel in Palazzo Medici so full of color from the floor to the ceiling) or imagined (Andrea del Castagno's Last Supper, Cenacolo di S. Apollonia), are signs of a tendency to use color that was to flower in the seventeenth century with the art of inlays in pietre dure (L. Berti).

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