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Michelozzo

Michelozzo

The Italian architect and sculptor Michelozzo (ca. 1396-1472) designed the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence, which set the standard for Renaissance palace architecture in Tuscany for the next century.

Born in Florence, Michelozzo, also known as Michelozzo Michelozzi, served from about 1417 to 1424 as assistant to the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. In 1425 Michelozzo became the partner of the sculptor Donatello and designed the architectural elements for the tombs of the antipope John XXIII (1425-1427) in the Baptistery of Florence and Cardinal Brancacci (1427-1428) in Naples and for the outdoor pulpit (1433-1438) of the Cathedral at Prato.

With his commission to rebuild the monastic church of St. Francesco in Mugello, called Bosco ai Frati (ca. 1427), Michelozzo became the architect of Cosimo dé Medici, for whom he worked for at least 30 years. Several of the Medici villas near Florence, beginning with the Castello di Trebbio (ca. 1427-1436) and including buildings at Cafaggiolo (ca. 1451) and Careggi (ca. 1457), were converted by Michelozzo from fortified country houses. The Medici villa he designed at Fiesole (1458-1461) lacks any aspect of fortification and in its openness and elegance is a modest forerunner of a type of architecture important in Renaissance Italy.

Michelozzo accompanied Cosimo during his exile in Venice from 1433 to 1434 and on his return rebuilt Cosimo's favorite retreat, the monastery of St. Marco in Florence (1436-1443) with its impressive library. Michelozzo's most important building is the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence (1444-1464). The massive, block-like residence, lengthened in the 17th century, has three stories of graded rustication, from the heavy, rough stone of the ground floor to smooth ashlar above capped by a large cornice. The interior court with a ground-floor arcade on Composite columns recalls the architecture of the great, contemporary architect Filippo Brunelleschi.

In 1466 Michelozzo succeeded Brunelleschi as capomastro of the Cathedral of Florence and completed the details, including the lantern of the great dome. The church of St. Maria delle Grazie in Pistoia, for which Michelozzo furnished the design (from 1452), although it was completed by others with changes, reveals the influence of Brunelleschi in its square tribune with a saucer dome flanked by barrel-vaulted arms. However, the pendentives of the dome supported only by freestanding columns create an open spaciousness more suggestive of later-15th-century architecture.

In 1462 Michelozzo was in Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia) as engineer for the city walls, and in 1464 he prepared a design for rebuilding the Palazzo dei Rettori there, but the work was carried out with no reference to his style. He died in Florence and was buried in St. Marco on Oct. 7, 1472.

Further Reading

There is no monograph or important consideration of Michelozzo in English. He is discussed in Nikolaus Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture (1943; 5th rev. ed. 1957), and John Pope-Hennessy, Italian Renaissance Sculpture (1958). □

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