development of florentine palace architecture - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  Development of Florentine Palace Architecture  

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had witnessed the supremacy of the great building enterprises for religious structures (cathedral, great churches and convents for the religious orders) and civil architecture (palaces for the magistrature, the guilds). In the fifteenth century, Florentine monumental architecture was concerned with a few large-scale reconstructions of religious complexes and the building of unusually large palaces for the major families of the merchant 'bourgeoisie'. In the maps and panoramas of the period the great private palaces are just as important as the more representative religious and public buildings. The Medici, the Rucellai, the Pitti, the Tornabuoni, the Pazzi, the Boni and later the Strozzi, the Scala or the Gondi and others, thought of their residences as monuments, which in their exceptional size and the quality of the project, in which the return to classical elements played a part, were declarations of the role and power of the family. The palace was now something created for a single family rather than a family clan (consorteria) and the city block, which in medieval times was the result of a process of aggregation, tended to be replaced by this single unit, the palazzo, often radically lacerating the medieval urban fabric.

The Busini-Bardi palace (in Via de' Benci, built around 1415 and attributed by Manetti to Brunelleschi) has a square courtyard surrounded on four sides by a continuous portico with monolithic columns in pietra serena (the first time in a private palace) and round-headed arches, an innovation (apart from the precedent example in the courtyard of the palace of Niccolò da Uzzano in Via de' Bardi, dating to the early fifteenth century, not yet quite as regular in its configuration) where it became a regularizing element and played an essential role in the daily life of the building and no longer acted simply as an accessory area as it had in the fourteenth-century palaces. The first great Florentine palaces date to around the middle of the century. Palazzo Medici seems to have been begun in 1445, Palazzo Rucellai in 1446, Palazzo Pitti in 1458. The first to be finished may have been Palazzo Rucellai (1451). In the Medici palace, Michelozzo accepted the new perspective vision only as a means of controlling the mass of the building, while the general layout, based on the assumption that an oblique view was fundamental, is still part of medieval tradition, which became a thing of the past in Palazzo Pitti with its new concept of size and a mass that was ideally visible from all sides. Actually Palazzo Medici rationalizes the characteristics of the medieval palace, stressing new elements that were however not as revolutionary as they presumably were in Brunelleschi's model, which Cosimo refused, and from wich it is highly likely that Michelozzo derived various features. Before the late seventeenth-century additions done for the Riccardi family, in its width the facade on Via Larga was equivalent to three portals (one corresponding to the corner loggia) and ten windows. The progressive diminution in height of each story as well as correspondingly less accentuated rustication is balanced by the presence of the robust, strongly projecting, crowning cornice. The rustication of the immense blocks on the ground floor is as monumental as in ancient Roman architecture, while fourteenth-century ashlar work gave the impression of having been cut by sharp tools and used almost in the roughly trimmed state in which the blocks came from the quarry. On the upper floors the carefully worked out courses of stone masonry replace the rubblework of the medieval palace, inspired if anything by the terse surfaces of Orsanmichele. The windows set in a 'modern' arched surround lend new elegance to the traditional motive of the two-light opening. Classical inspiration lies behind the decorative details, such as the stringcourse between the stories which employs classical molding profiles (cyma recta, dentils and cavetto) for the first time in Florence. In the courtyard, elements of Brunelleschi's idiom turn into a quest for decorative elegance and rather than corresponding to the construction of a completely unified order seem to be variations on a theme developed on three superimposed sequences: portico, facade, loggia.

What distinguishes Palazzo Rucellai from Palazzo Medici, as well as Palazzo Pitti, is the use of a system of superimposed classic orders and the rustication seen as a continuous design that results from a modular pattern of horizontal and vertical lines. Apart from the distinct qualitative differences, the internal structure that governs the design is comparable to Palazzo Pitti. In both cases the facade is the result of a module which by repetition can achieve the general design. In Palazzo Pitti solid and void are equal and the entire pattern is produced by the windows, eliminating all vertical linear elements. In Palazzo Rucellai the basic module is more complex, contemplating the presence of the divisory elements (pilasters) which determine the size of the infilling (two vertically superposed squares), taken up in their width by the window, divided in two by the architrave. The facade thus is the material expression of the lines of the regulating layout. An important precedent for the design of a facade articulated by classical orders as in Palazzo Rucellai is Palazzo Gerini, in Via Ginori, redecorated (circa 1450) with arches and sgraffito in a sham framework of classic membering above the stringcourse between the ground floor and the first floor. But in general the superposition of the orders was not popular in Florence. Palazzo Pazzi, in Via del Proconsolo, of Brunelleschian descent, presents an outspoken typological innovation: a ground floor still in rusticated pietra forte and the upper floors plastered with a delicate decoration in bands around the windows. Palazzo Tornabuoni (circa 1450, thoroughly restructured in the nineteenth century), is attributed by Vasari to Michelozzo and defined "almost completely similar to the palace he had made for Cosimo, except that the facade is not rusticated nor does it have cornices above, but is ordinary". The palace without rustication, simply plastered, was to spread between the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Echoes of Brunelleschi's arches on columns are evident in the courtyard of Palazzo Tornbabuoni. Connections with the model of Palazzo Medici are evident in the Strozzino and Strozzi palaces and hinted at in the Pazzi palace in Via del Proconsolo. Of all the Florentine palaces, Palazzo Strozzi is the largest and has the most regular and geometric plan.

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