Early Renaissance Architecture in Italy: from Alberti to Bramante

Francesco Paolo Fiore, Sapienza University of Rome

Through some of the most celebrated examples of the early Renaissance architecture and the most important statements of the early Renaissance theories, the course will examine problems of the architectural spaces, technology and forms looking to the antiquity in the XV century in Italy.

Early Renaissance Architecture in Italy: from Alberti to Bramante

When Leon Battista Alberti completed his treatise about architecture around 1452, his initial study of texts and monuments of Antiquity was based on mathematics and geometry as a reflection of nature, with a belief that architecture was a part of a man's civil duty.

This attitude would condition the architectural principles of the early Renaissance and architects did not apply themselves to textual imitations of individual antique monuments. In Florence, they preferred to accept and articulate the rational “system” of Brunelleschi, either transforming it, like Alberti, or breaking with it in a return to tradition, like Michelozzo. In north and south Italy, the battle between innovation and resistance was increasing in strength and substance because it not only encompassed immediate questions of decorative language  (antique forms and architectural orders) but also the problems of conceiving and constructing an architecture that could replace the gothic structural membering with the continuous masonry of the Antiquity. At first, the new decoration was frequently adapted to the existing architectural system, and only later did it find a partner in the different spatial and structural conceptions that descended from Florentine exempla. The tendency to see norms and models in antique architecture, which must be rigidly replicated, first affirmed itself at the beginning of the XVI century in Rome.

Through some of the most celebrated examples of the early Renaissance architecture and the most important statements of the early Renaissance theories, the course will examine problems of the architectural spaces, technology and forms in the XV century in Italy, from Leon Battista Alberti’s to Francesco di Giorgio’s and Bramante’s proposals.


1. First week: Introduction
    1.1 About the course
    1.2 Florence in the early XV century
    1.3 Brunelleschi and the architectural order
    1.4 The sources of the Antiquity
2. Second week: Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)
    2.1 Rimini, Tempio Malatestiano
    2.2 Florence, the Rucellai Palace
    2.3 Florence, the façade of S. Maria Novella
    2.4 Mantua, the churches of S. Sebastiano and S. Andrea
3. Third week: Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501)
    3.1 Siena in the times of pope Pius II
    3.2 The Palazzo Ducale in Urbino
    3.3 Fortresses and treatises
    3.4 Churches and monasteries
4. Fourth week: Giuliano da Sangallo (1443-1516)
    4.1 The Villa of Poggio a Caiano
    4.2 Churches
    4.3 Palaces
    4.4 Fortresses
5. Fifth week: Other points of view
    5.1 Milan
    5.2 Venice
    5.3 Naples
    5.4 Rome
6. Sixth week: Bramante (1444-1514) in Milan
    6.1 Bramante from Urbino
    6.2 S. Maria presso S. Satiro
    6.3 The Pavia Cathedral and the Choir of S. Maria delle Grazie
    6.4 The Canonica and the Cloisters of S. Ambrogio
7. Seventh week: Bramante in Rome (I)
    7.1 The Cloister of S. Maria della Pace
    7.2 The Belvedere Court of the Vatican
    7.3 New St. Peter’s
    7.4 The Tempietto of S. Pietro in Montorio
8. Eight week: Bramante in Rome (II)
    8.1 Palaces
    8.2 Churches
    8.3 The Choir of S. Maria del Popolo and the Nympheum in Genazzano
    8.4 Conclusions

Recommended Background

Interest in History of Architecture and general knowledge of history of the Renaissance

Suggested Readings

- E. Panofsky, Renaissance and renascences in Western art, New York Harper, 1960
- R. Wittkower, Architectural principles in the age of humanism, London, Tiranti, 1962
- L. H. Heydenreich, W. Lotz, Architecture in Italy 1400 to 1600, Harmondsworth,
  Penguin Books, 1974
- A. Bruschi, Bramante, trans. by P. Murray, London, Thames and Hudson, 1977
- H. A. Millon (ed.), Italian Renaissance architecture: from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo, 
  London, Thames and Hudson, 1996
- V. Hart, P. Hicks (ed.), Paper Palaces. The rise of the Renaissance architectural treatise, 
  New Haven-London, Yale University Press, 1998
- A. Grafton, Leon Battista Alberti. Master builder of the Renaissance,
  New York, Hill &  Wang, 2000
- M. Tafuri, Interpreting the Renaissance: princes, cities, architects, trans. by D. Sherer, 
  New Haven, Conn.-London, Yale Un. Press, 2006
- C. L. Frommel, The architecture of the Italian Renaissance, trans. by P. Spring, London,
  Thames and Hudson, 2007
- F. P. Fiore, Leon Battista Alberti, Milano, Mondadori-Electa, 2012

Course Format

The class will consist of lecture videos, which are between 8 and 15 minutes in length. There will be standalone online quiz for each week of class.
Evaluation is based on the point system. The maximum score is 100 points /100%.
The lowest positive score in the course is 60 points, i.e. 60% of the maximum score.
The evaluation model for this course is:
  1. Weekly Evaluation (written quiz) -  an opportunity to evaluate the weekly performance of a student - 5 points / 40%
  2. Final Examination  (written quiz) - 60 points / 20%
The final exam has a prevailing significance. This means that a student will be considered to have failed a course if he/she failed the final examination ( < 50% ), in spite of his/her achievements in all the quiz evaluation components.


  • Will I get a statement of accomplishment after completing this class?

Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a statement of accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • Will I get a statement of accomplishment with Distinction completing this class?

Yes, Students who successfully complete the class with the final score >= 90% of the maximum possible score will receive a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction.

  • Do I earn Sapienza of Rome University credits upon completion of the course?

No. However, students who successfully complete the course above a threshold score will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

There are no requirements or prerequisites for the course. Students wishing to fully engage should read, some of the suggested readings section.

Interest in History of Architecture and general knowledge of history of the Renaissance will be helpful.

  • What are the learning outcomes of this course and why should I take it?

By the end of the course you will have a better understanding of the Early Architecture Renaissance in Italy and you should be able to recognize the complexity of architectural order in ancient buildings. 

  • 20 January 2014, 10 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb


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