Florence art guide

Leon Battista Alberti

leon battista alberti

Philosopher, architect, musician, painter and sculptor
Genova 1406-Rome 1472

He was one of the major figures of the Renaissance, an elaborator of mathematical perspective and theoretician of art.
The son of an exiled Florentine, he studied in Padua and Bologna, arriving in Rome as an "apostolic abbreviator" in 1432 and this was where his interest in Classicism was first born: two years later he wrote "Descriptio Urbis Romae", the first systematic study on the reconstruction of the Roman city. Inspired by the art of antiquity, he elaborated the theory of beauty being harmony, that it can be expressed mathematically in every way and that the "proportions" of the Roman buildings contain the basis of architectural design. This harmonic vision is to be found in all his work.

palzzo rucellai
Palazzo Rucellai
in Via della Vigna

He arrived in Florence in 1434 and discovered the confirmation of his principles in the art of Brunelleschi, Masaccio and Donatello protègè of the Rucellai family, he created two of his most important works in Florence for them: (started in 1455 and today the seat of the Alinari Museum), whose facade is a pure geometric structure divided by pilaster strips and Doric, Ionic and Corinthian ornaments, and the elegant little Temple of Santo Sepolcro (1467) in the Rucellai Chapel near San Pancrazio (which today contains the Marino Marini Museum), built with the same proportions as the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.In the same year Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga charged him to do the tribune of SS.Annunziata.

Chapel Rucellai
Chapel Rucellai
The Little Temple of the
Holy Sepulchre

He also completed the facade of Santa Maria Novella (1470) by lining the upper part and the main entrance with marble and, above all, by placing a classic triangular tympanum on top with two inlaid volute at the sides to hide the sloping roofs above the lateral aisles.

santa maria novella
St. Maria Novella
Facade and Tympanum

However most of his architectural work was to develop elsewhere: in Rome, as an archeologist-restorer for Santo Stefano Rotondo and Santa Maria Maggiore; in Rimini, where he built the Temple Malatestiano (1450), a real demonstration of Renaissance classicism which also respected the design of the original Gothic church; and lastly in Mantua, where he left the "summa" of his architectural ideas in the churches of San Sebastiano (1460) and Sant'Andrea (1470), which were to anticipate the typical designs for churches during the Counter-Reformation.
In the meantime he wrote the "De Pictura" (1436, dedicated to Brunelleschi), the "De Re Aedificatoria" (1452) and the "De Statua" (1464). If Brunelleschi was a builder, Alberti was a theoretician: he gave a scientific basis to works of art and ennobled the figure of the artist, placed painting, sculpture and architecture on the same level as literature and philosophy. The craftsman became an intellectual.

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