Meet the Architects

In the Middle Ages, architects were regarded as practical master masons, stone workers or wood workers. During the Renaissance they were given the Greek designation “architect”, they were no longer anonymous, a few were even educated in geometry and Latin, they made very detailed plans and models for their patrons, with whom they sometimes developed close relationships, biographies were written about them and some wrote learned treatises. Thus, the status of the profession was raised substantially.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)

Florentine architect, sculptor, engineer and goldsmith. Pipped by Ghiberti in the competition for the bronze doors of Florence Baptistery and went on to become an architect (every problem is an opportunity!) Developed linear perspective. A practical hands-on approach to architecture.

“Wherefore, with the study and the diligence of the great Filippo Brunelleschi, architecture first recovered the measures and proportions of the ancients, both in the round columns and in the square pilasters, and in the cornerstones both rough and smooth; and then one Order was distinguished from another, and it was shown what differences there were between them. It was ordained that all works should proceed by rule, should be pursued with better ordering, and should be distributed with due measure. Design grew in strength and depth; good grace was given to buildings; the excellence of that art made itself known; and the beauty and variety of capitals and cornices were recovered in such a manner, that the ground plans of his churches and of his other edifices are seen to have been very well conceived, and the buildings themselves ornate, magnificent, and beautifully proportioned, as it may be seen in the stupendous mass of the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and in the beauty and grace of its lantern; in the ornate, varied, and graceful Church of Santo Spirito, and in the no less beautiful edifice of San Lorenzo; in the most bizarre invention of the octagonal Temple of the Angeli; in the most fanciful Church and Convent of the Abbey of Fiesole, and in the magnificent and vast beginning of the Pitti Palace …” Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists, Preface to Part II, 1568.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Unlike Brunelleschi, Alberti was never a hands-on architect in the professional sense of giving the masons precise instructions, making models down to the smallest details and being on site. Rather, he was more of an architectural adviser, producing plans and designs that were executed with another architect in charge of the site. Alberti was a man of letters. He came from an ancient Florentine patrician family and was well educated in canon law, science and maths, philosophy, a humanist – the only artist of the period to receive a university education and grounding in the classics.

He also showed a greater knowledge and understanding of antiquity than his earlier counterpart Brunelleschi, writing Descriptio Urbis Romae, a graphic reconstruction of the plans of ancient Rome based on polar coordinates, 1431-34. Alberti was an art theorist, writing several treatises: On Painting, (De Pictura in Latin 1435; Della pittura in the vernacular 1436); On Sculpture, De statua (1460s); De re aedificatoria, On the art of Building (completed 1452, published 1485, the 1st printed book on architecture). He was also Papal secretary and was on familiar terms with most of the courts of Italy (working in Mantua and Rimini) and eminent families of Florence.

“This man, born in Florence of the most noble family of the Alberti … devoted himself not only to studying geography and the proportions of antiquities, but also to writing, to which he was much inclined, much more than to working. He was excellent in arithmetic and geometry, and he wrote ten books on architecture in the Latin tongue, which were published by him in 1481, and may now be read in a translation in the Florentine tongue … He wrote three books on painting, now translated into the Tuscan tongue … he composed a treatise on traction and on the rules for measuring heights, as well as the books on the “Vita Civile,”… Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists, Part II, 1568.

Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (Michelozzo Michelozzi, 1396-1472)

Sculptor and architect; collaborated with several artists setting up business partnerships, especially with Donatello (both were favourites of the Medici).

“Michelozzo was so intimate with Cosimo de’ Medici that the latter, recognizing his genius, caused him to make the model for the house and palace at the corner of the Via Larga … for he thought that the one made by Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, as it has been said, was too sumptuous and magnificent, and more likely to stir up envy among his fellow citizens than to confer grandeur or adornment on the city, or bring comfort to himself. Wherefore, being pleased with the model that Michelozzo had made, he had the building brought to completion under his direction … and Michelozzo deserves all the greater praise in that this was the first palace which was built in that city on modern lines … On the ground-floor there are two courtyards with magnificent loggie …

…  Cosimo de’ Medici and his brother Lorenzo obtained … from Pope Eugenius the Church and Convent of San Marco, which was previously the seat of Silvestrine Monks … And Cosimo and Lorenzo, being very devoted to religion and to divine service and worship, ordained that the said Convent of San Marco should be rebuilt entirely anew after the design and model of Michelozzo, and should be made very vast and magnificent, with all the conveniences that the said friars could possibly desire … Afterwards the library was made, eighty braccia in length and eighteen in breadth, and vaulted both above and below, with sixty-four shelves of cypress wood filled with most beautiful books. After this the dormitory was finished, being brought to a square shape; and finally the cloister was completed, together with all the truly commodious apartments of that convent, which is believed to be the best designed, the most beautiful, and the most commodious that there is in Italy, thanks to the talent and industry of Michelozzo, who delivered it completely finished in the year 1452. It is said that Cosimo spent 36,000 ducats on this fabric, and that while it was building he gave the monks 366 ducats every year for their maintenance …

and at a distance of two miles from Florence, also, he built the palatial Villa of Careggi, which was very rich and magnificent …”  Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists, Part II, 1568.

Giuliano da Sangallo (c. 1445 – 1516)

Sculptor, architect and military engineer, favoured architect of Lorenzo il Magnifico de’ Medici.

Da Sangallo family of architects, sculptors and engineers:

Giuliano’s brother:

Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (1453-1534) designer of fortifications and the Madonna of San Biagio, Montepulciano, 1518-consecrated 1529, a centrally planned church.

Giuliano’s sons:

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484-1546) initial design with Peruzzi for Villa Farnese in Caprarola after 1504; became capomaestro for St. Peter’s Rome 1513-c.1536, made a design (see MEET THE ARCHITECTS header image) and a wooden model for St Peter’s, which Michelangelo rejected. Most important surviving work is the Palazzo Farnese, Rome (now the seat of the French Embassy) begun 1517 and continued by Michelangelo in 1546. Engineering skills seen in the Pozzo di San Patrizio, Orvieto, 1527-1537. We hope to visit all these sites.

Francesco da Sangallo (1494–1576) sculptor.

Bramante, Donato (c. 1444-1514)

Architect, worked in Milan for the Sforza family alongside Leonardo da Vinci. Moved to Rome aged 54 years, nicknamed ‘Ruinante’ because of his large-scale reshaping of Rome under Pope Julius II. High Renaissance style with a thorough knowledge of antiquity and on a scale to rival the buildings of the ancients.

“OF VERY GREAT ADVANTAGE to architecture, in truth, was the new method of Filippo Brunelleschi, who imitated and restored to the light, after many ages, the noble works of the most learned and marvellous ancients. But no less useful to our age was Bramante, in following the footsteps of Filippo, and making the path of his profession of architecture secure for all who came after him, by means of his courage, boldness, intellect, and science in that art, wherein he had the mastery not of theory only, but of supreme skill and practice. Nor could nature have created a more vigorous intellect, or one to exercise his art and carry it into execution with greater invention and proportion, or with a more thorough knowledge, than Bramante. But no less essential than all this was the election to the Pontificate, at that time, of Julius II, a Pope of great spirit, full of desire to leave memorials behind him. And it was fortunate both for us and for Bramante that he found such a Prince (a thing which rarely happens to men of great genius), at whose expense he might be able to display the worth of his intellect, and that mastery over difficulties which he showed in architecture. His ability was so universal in the buildings that he erected, that the outlines of the cornices, the shafts of the columns, the graceful capitals, the bases, the consoles and corners, the vaults, the staircases, the projections, and every detail of every Order of architecture, contrived from the counsel or model of this craftsman, never failed to astonish all who saw them. Wherefore it appears to me that the everlasting gratitude which is due to the ancients from the intellects that study their works, is also due from them to the labors of Bramante; for if the Greeks were the inventors of architecture, and the Romans their imitators, Bramante not only imitated what he saw, with new invention, and taught it to us, but also added very great beauty and elaboration to the art, which we see embellished by him at the present day …

From his design, also, are many flights of steps in the Belvedere, varied according to their situations, whether high or low, in the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders a very beautiful work, executed with extraordinary grace. And he had made a model for the whole, which is said to have been a marvellous thing, as may still be imagined from the beginning of the work, unfinished as it is. Moreover, he made a spiral staircase upon mounting columns, in such a way that one can ascend it on horseback; wherein the Doric passes into the Ionic, and the Ionic into the Corinthian, rising from one into the other; a work executed with supreme grace, and with truly excellent art, which does him no less honour than any other thing by his hand that is therein. This invention was copied by Bramante from S. Niccolo at Pisa, as was said in the Lives of Giovanni and Niccola of Pisa.” Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists, Part III, 1568.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Florentine sculptor, painter, architect and poet; worked mainly in Florence and Rome.

“It happened in the year I546 that Antonio da San Gallo died; whereupon, there being now no one to direct the building of S. Pietro, many suggestions were made by the superintendents to the Pope [Paul III] as to who should have it. Finally his Holiness, inspired, I believe, by God, resolved to send for Michelangelo. But he, when asked to take Antonio’s place, refused it, saying, in order to avoid such a burden, that architecture was not his proper art; and in the end, entreaties not availing, the Pope commanded that he should accept it, whereupon, to his great displeasure and against his wish, he was forced to undertake that enterprise. And one day among others that he went to S. Pietro to see the wooden model that San Gallo had made, and to examine the building, he found there the whole San Gallo faction, who, crowding before Michelangelo, said to him in the best terms at their command that they rejoiced that the charge of the building was to be his, and that the model was a field where there would never be any want of pasture. “You speak the truth,” answered Michelangelo, meaning to infer, as he declared to a friend, that it was good for sheep and oxen, who knew nothing of art. And afterwards he used to say publicly that San Gallo had made it wanting in lights, that it had on the exterior too many ranges of columns one above another, and that, with its innumerable projections, pinnacles, and subdivisions of members, it was more akin to the German manner than to the good method of the ancients or to the gladsome and beautiful modern manner; and, in addition to this, that it was possible to save fifty years of time and more than three hundred thousand crowns of money in finishing the building, and to execute it with more majesty, grandeur, and facility, greater beauty and convenience, and better ordered design. This he afterwards proved by a model that he made, in order to bring it to the form in which the work is now seen constructed; and thus he demonstrated that what he said was nothing but the truth … Finally the model that had been made by Michelangelo was approved by the Pope; which model diminished S. Pietro in size, but gave it greater grandeur, to the satisfaction of all those who have judgment, although some who profess to be good judges, which in fact they are not, do not approve of it. He found that the four principal piers built by Bramante, and left by Antonio da San Gallo, which had to support the weight of the tribune, were weak; and these he partly filled up, and beside them he made two winding or spiral staircases, in which is an ascent so easy that the beasts of burden can climb them, carrying all the materials to the very top, and men on horseback, likewise, can go up to the uppermost level of the arches.” Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the artists, Part III, 1568.

Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573)

16th century Mannerist architect. Two main projects: Villa Farnese at Caprarola (inserted the round courtyard into Antonio da Sangallo and Peruzzi’s polygonal design and a Bramante-like spiral staircase, 1555/9–1573, for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese) and the Jesuit Church, Il Gesù in Rome (begun 1568, patron Cardinal Alessandro Farnese).

1551-55 Villa Giulia, Rome for Pope Julius III.

From 1564, continued Michelangelo’s work at St Peter’s Basilica (two subordinate domes).

From (?)1566, designed Villa Lante at Bagnaia, the gardens, water features and casino for Cardinal Gianfrancesco Gambara, Bishop of Viterbo.

Author of treatises, Regole delli cinque Ordini d’Architettura, Rules of the five Orders of Architecture, Rome, 1562; manuscript of Le due regole della prospettiva pratica, The two rules of practical perspective, Bologna, 1583.


Map of Vatican City
Map of Vatican City
Coloured woodcut town view of Florence 1493
Coloured woodcut town view of Florence 1493

By Hartmann Schedel. From the Nuremberg Chronicle in Latin edition published in 1493. Leaf number LXXXVII. Printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger in 1493.

From FOLIO LXXXVI verso and LXXXVII recto “This special woodcut covers fully two-thirds of these two folios, and appears to have been based on other panoramic views of Florence of about the time of the Chronicle. Let us enter the city by way of the Arno in the flat bottom boat that is being piloted without passengers or cargo at the river mouth. The Arno flows off to the right and is spanned by a number of bridges. The city lies on either side of the river and is fortified with walls and turrets. In the center of the town is the great cathedral church and before it the famous Campanile of Giotto. The church, called Santa Maria del Fiore (but more popularly known as the Duomo), is the largest and most important of the numerous Florentine churches. It was founded in 1298, but the façade was not finished until the nineteenth century. In actuality, the famous Campanile of Giotto is close by; and the woodcutter has given us some suggestion at least of the Baptistery which was built in the thirteenth century, and adorned with the beautiful bronze doors of Ghiberti in the fifteenth century. The city is pictured as nestling at the foot of the Apennines, and in the distance, to the left, there is a suggestion of another city, probably Fiesole.

Source: From the first English translation (in 2010) of Schedel’s “Chronicles of Nurenberg”.