Italian architecture

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Italian architecture, the several styles employed in Italy after the Roman period.

The Romanesque

Italy's Romanesque architecture (12th cent.) reveals the first use of the groined vault with projecting ribs. It is also typified by the development of a type of basilica having side galleries. The style was especially pronounced in Lombardy and is superbly exemplified in Sant' Ambrogio, Milan. There are two regional forms of Italian Romanesque—Tuscan (including Florentine) and southern. The cathedral of Pisa (1063–1118), with its campanile (the "leaning tower" ), admirably displays the Tuscan characteristics, chief of which is the decorative use of tier upon tier of columns. Tuscan architects of the period also made a specialty of using variegated marbles and followed the antique style in this rather closely. The Romanesque of the south, as in the cathedral of Monreale, is characterized by its rich mosaics and delicate carvings, which show Byzantine, Saracenic, and Norman influences.

Gothic Influences

Gothic architecture was not greatly developed in Italy; a notable exception is the cathedral of Milan, built in part by foreign architects. The Church of St. Francis in Assisi (begun 1228) and the cathedral at Siena (begun 1269), among others, also have Gothic elements—the ribbed vault and the pointed arch (see Gothic architecture and art). However, the Italians largely adhered to the native tradition of building in terms of simple basilican proportions with massive walls, a practice that was carried into the Renaissance.

The Renaissance

In the 15th cent. a conscious revival of classical antiquity began (see Renaissance art and architecture). Brunelleschi emulated the ancient Romans in his masterly construction (1420–34) of the dome of the Florentine cathedral, and Michelozzo used antique elements in the courtyard of the Medici Palace, Florence (begun 1444). Alberti borrowed freely from a Roman triumphal arch in his design (1450s) for the exterior of the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. Bramante, Antonio da Sangallo, Peruzzi, and Raphael made Rome the center of spectacular architectural developments in the first half of the 16th cent., when St. Peter's was the most important project under way. Vignola did significant work in Rome in the latter part of the 16th cent., while in N Italy the formal classicism of Palladio was a potent factor in the spreading of Renaissance architecture throughout Europe. The monumental work of Michelangelo reflected elements of mannerism and his influence extended into the baroque period.

The Baroque

The beginning of the 17th cent. ushered in the drama of the baroque era with Maderno's nave and facade for St. Peter's, to which a magnificent colonnaded plaza was added, designed by Bernini, the foremost genius of the period. Other outstanding architects of the century included Borromini, Cortona, and Rainaldi. After their deaths, Carlo Fontana became the most influential architect in Italy, transmitting the ideas of the great baroque masters to many of the most important architects of Europe. Italy, however, no longer possessed the undisputed leadership in European architecture, although in the 18th cent. Piedmont in N Italy produced remarkable designers, such as Guarini, Juvarra, and Vittone.

The Modern Era

Nineteenth-century Italian architecture, such as Giuseppe Sacconi's Victor Emmanuel monument, shows a decline in quality and increased pomposity. In the 20th cent. Italy has followed the trends of modern architecture; its outstanding practitioners include Pier Luigi Nervi, Giuseppe Terragni, Gio Ponti, and Renzo Piano.


See R. Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600 to 1750 (1958) and Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (3d ed. 1962); C. L. V. Meeks, Italian Architecture, 1750–1914 (1966); T. W. West, A History of Architecture in Italy (1968); M. Tafuri, History of Italian Architecture, 1944–1985 (1989).

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Italianate. Style of C19 architecture modelled on a type of astylar Italian palazzo, represented by the Palazzo Farnese, Rome (1517–89), by da Sangallo the Younger and Michelangelo. The plain façade had window-apertures framed by aedicules, quoins were emphasized and the whole front was held down by a large cornicione. Typical of this style are Barry's Travellers' (1829–32) and Reform (1837–41) Clubs, Pall Mall, London, the Northern (formerly Belfast) Bank Head Office, Belfast, by Lanyon (1845), and Osborne House, IoW, by Thomas Cubitt and Prince Albert (1845–51). Following such a Royal imprimatur Italianate stucco ornament was widely used to enrich the façades of terrace-houses in areas such as Kensington, London, from the mid-C19. The style was widely used in Germany (especially Berlin, Dresden, and Munich) and in the USA.


J. Curl (1990);
Dinsmoor & and Muthesius (1985);
Lampugnani (ed.)& Hamilton (1993);
Middleton & and Watkin (1987);
Sheppard (ed.) (1973)

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I·tal·ian·ate / iˈtalyəˌnāt/ • adj. Italian in character or appearance: an Italianate staircase with triple loggia.