religious architecture in florence after brunelleschi - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  Religious Architecture in Florence after Brunelleschi  

With the exception of Brunelleschi's works, no religious building in fifteenth-century Florence could be compared to the great undertakings of the preceding centuries. However the new tenor of life in the religious communities where individual cells were allowed for the first time led to an important typological innovation. The traditional two-story dormitories were replaced by rows of cells which opened onto the loggias of the internal courtyard, determining the evolution of cloisters in a double tier with arcading. The earliest examples of this characteristically Renaissance type of monastery were in Florence.

Brunelleschi's architectural revolution led to "a certain conservative resistence" and his rival Ghiberti is often cited as an example although he converted in the doors of Paradise, with his perspectives of classicizing buildings marked by a new humanistic spatiality. Michelozzo, who studied with Ghilberti and later worked with Donatello, made a name for himself as an able and concrete interpreter of Brunelleschi's difficult concepts in terms that were more acceptable to the local Florentine culture of the time. Brunelleschi's calculated linear designs are reduced to a synthetic simplicity: the surfaces of Brunelleschi's walls treated as unsubstantial screens once again acquire a sober and yet substantial solidity. In any case some of the most interesting aspects of Michelozzo's work derive from a genuine adhesion to some of Brunelleschi's specific types. The square module flanked on one of the sides by a smaller square with lateral service premises (Old Sacristy, Pazzi Chapel) is adopted by Michelozzo in the small church of Trebbio, in the chapels of the Noviziato in S. Croce and in Palazzo Medici in Via Larga (now Via Cavour), in the sacristy in S. Marco, in the convent church of S. Maria Maddalena in Val di Mugnone, and the use of the barrel vault over the connecting spaces in the internal sequences of complex structures reappears in S. Croce and in S. Marco.

Throughout the fifteenth century one of the Medici objectives was that of organizing the northern area of the town to their advantage. In the two preceding centuries this spacious zone between the last two circles of walls had developed into a network of regular and parallel streets. It was decided to turn Via Larga into the fundamental thoroughfare and about halfwav down the street, at the intersection with the crossing corresponding to S. Lorenzo, the grandiose Medici palace was built as an alternative to the public center of the Palazzo dei Priori, symmetrically placed with respect to the cathedral square. S. Lorenzo became a crucial center of Medici strategy; the church was completely rebuilt (Brunelleschi) and the convent remodeled and enlarged (Michelozzo). The convent of S. Marco, on Piazza S. Marco at the end of Via Larga, went beyond its strictly religious aims and became a cultural center of primary importance in the ambit of the 'Medici organization'.

Pursuing a new type of policy in which the prestige associated with noble cultural deeds tended to consolidate political power, Cosimo, the 'universal man', founded the first modern libraries in the West in his palace and in S. Marco. Another library was built in the complex of SS. Annunziata around 1450 by Michelozzo. His work in S. Marco, which mirrors his professional and cultural capacity of relating to the new Medici patrons, is without doubt one of his masterpieces, in the general conception of an organism seen as a sure play of exactly defined but freely articulated masses; in the new aedicule type of church altar set against a continuous whitewashed wall; in the luminosity of the cells covered with barrel vaults, and the library, all Brunelleschian themes personally interpreted which harmonize so well with Fra Angelico's painting. But it was above all Paolo Uccello and Domenico Veneziano who were to realize a sense of space constructed with light and line in harmony with Brunelleschi's poetical idiom in Florentine painting of the time.

Michelozzo also put his hand (1459 and ff.) to the Loggia of the Spedale di S. Paolo, in Piazza S. Maria Novella, reproposing Brunelleschi's model of the loggia of the Innocenti both in terms of architectural qualification and of town planning implications. The style of Michelozzo is also reflected in the geometry and regularity of the pietra forte facade of S. Felice in Piazza, on Via Romana.

In comparison to Michelozzo's pragmatic concreteness, the presence in Florence of Leon Battista Alberti is of quite different signifiance. Alberti was the first to set himself the theoretical problem, in a modern sense, of on the one hand drfining the artistic experience in the general context of universal humanism, and on the other, the laws of artistic and architectural creation. Alberti's Florentine works can so also be seen as the development of wath was implied in Brunelleschi's oeuvre, a quest for an urban orderthrough an in-dept stydy of rational typological solutions in the light of a classical method: the great dome (SS. Annunziata), the palace facade (Palazzo Rucellai), the chapel in a church organism (S. Pancrazio), the open loggia in an urban context (Loggia Rucellai). Designed in 1440, executed between 1458 and 1470, the facade of S. Maria Novella is a clear example of the practical results of Alberti's theories of an awareness of the value of history and consequently of the monument in the urban context. Indeed Alberti does not refuse the elements of the unfinished medieval facade but he uses them as part of his design and makes them harmonize coherently with contemporary culture, bestowing new dimensions and a new meaning on the great medieval piazza. In this sense Alberti's facade is an example for the centuries to come of the reconfiguration of an urban context.

An original reinterpretation of Brunelleschi's church model is to he found, at the end of the century, in the architectural solution of the convent church of Santa Maria Maddalena delle Convertite (known as dei Pazzi after 1699) on Borgo Pinti, in which Giuliano da Sangallo proposes an interesting new type with a nave only. Round arches on pilasters set into the continuous wall of the nave lead into rib vaulted chapels.
Michelangelo's architecture has as its point of departure a profound intellectual interpretation of Brunelleschi's models, as in the New Sacristy or the Biblioteca Laurenziana in San Lorenzo.

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