Showing posts with label Santa Maria Novella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Maria Novella. Show all posts

25 April 2018

Leon Battista Alberti - Renaissance polymath

Architect with multiple artistic talents

Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects of Renaissance cultural development
Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects
of Renaissance cultural development
The polymath Leon Battista Alberti, who was one of the 15th century’s most significant architects but possessed an intellect that was much more wide ranging, died on this day in 1472 in Rome.

In his 68 years, Alberti became well known for his work on palaces and churches in Florence, Rimini and Mantua in particular, but he also made major contributions to the study of mathematics, astronomy, language and cryptography, wrote poetry in Latin and works of philosophy and was ordained as a priest.

He was one of those multi-talented figures of his era, along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and, a little later, Galileo Galilei, for whom the description Renaissance Man was coined.

Alberti was born in Genoa in 1404, although his family were wealthy Florentine bankers. It just happened that at the time of his birth his father, Lorenzo, was in exile, having been expelled by the powerful Albizzi family.  Leon and his brother, Carlo, were born out of wedlock, the product of their father’s relationship with a Bolognese widow, but as Lorenzo’s only offspring they were given a privileged upbringing.

Lorenzo would be allowed to return to Florence in 1428, by which time Leon - at the time known simply as Battista - had been educated in Padua, Venice and Bologna before taking holy orders in Rome.

The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was designed by Alberti
The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in
Florence was designed by Alberti
His great intellect soon became apparent. As a young man at school, he had written a comedy in Latin that for a while was taken to be the lost work of a Roman playwright. In 1435 he began his famous work Della pittura (On pictures), a groundbreaking study in which he analysed the nature of painting and explored the elements of perspective, composition and colour.

His first major architectural commission was for the facade of the Rucellai Palace in Florence in 1446, followed in 1450 by a commission to transform the Gothic church of San Francesco in Rimini into a memorial chapel, which became known as the Tempio Malatestiano.

In Florence, he famously designed the upper parts of the white marble facade for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella.

He is also credited with the Piazza Pio II, and its surrounding buildings, in the Tuscan village of Pienza, and both the church of San Sebastiano and the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua.

A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp
of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
In 1452, Alberti completed De re aedificatoria, a treatise on architecture, using as its basis the work of Vitruvius and influenced by the archaeological remains of Rome that had fascinated him while he was studying for the priesthood.

In the field of philosophy, Alberti’s treatise Della famiglia established his reputation as an ethical thinker. He wrote the text in accessible language, rather than Latin. Based largely on the classical works of Cicero and Seneca, and addressed the day-to-day concerns of a bourgeois society, tackling such topics as the fickleness of fortune, meeting adversity and prosperity, husbandry, friendship and family, education and obligation to the common good.

Alberti’s important contribution to cryptography came with his invention of the first polyalphabetic cipher, which became known as the Alberti cipher, and his Cipher Disk, which consisted of two concentric disks, the outer one carrying capital letters and numbers, the inner one lower case letters, attached by a common pin.

Although clearly he made a scholarly contribution to the understanding of art, he produced very few paintings or sculptures in his own right. Giorgio Vasari, the artist whose Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is considered the first history of art, described Alberti as an artist who “concentrated on writing rather than applied work”.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which looms over the Piazza Mantegna in Mantua, is considered one of the major works of 15th-century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy. Commissioned by Ludovico III Gonzaga, the church was begun in 1472 according to designs by Alberti on the site of a Benedictine monastery. Although it was 328 years before it was finished, with changes that altered Alberti's design, the church is still considered to be one of Alberti's most complete works.

The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Travel tip:

Pienza, a town in the province of Siena between Montepulciano and Montalcino, is described as the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism." The whole of the centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The trapezoidal Piazza Pio II is defined by four buildings, the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Duomo, the Palazzo Vescovile and the Palazzo Comunale.

More reading:

The unparalleled genius of Leonardo da Vinci

La Pietà - Michelangelo's masterpiece

Brunelleschi and the incredible dome of Florence's Duomo

Also on this day:

The Festa della Liberazione

1973: The death of World War One flying ace Ferruccio Ranza


31 December 2016

Giovanni Michelucci - architect

Designer made mark with railway station and motorway church

Giovanni Michelucci
Giovanni Michelucci 
The architect Giovanni Michelucci, whose major legacies include the Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence, died on this day in 1990 in his studio just outside the Tuscan city at Fiesole.

Considered by many to be the 'father' of modern Italian architecture, he was only two days away from his 100th birthday.  He was still working and is said to have been inspecting progress on his latest project when he slipped and fell, later suffering a cardiac arrest.

Michelucci, who was born in Pistoia on January 2, 1891, is also remembered for the brilliantly unconventional church of San Giovanni Battista, with its tent-like curved roof, which forms part of a rest area on the Autostrada del Sole as it passes Florence.

The Santa Maria Novella station project for which he first won acclaim came after a collective of young architects known as the Tuscan Group, co-ordinated by Michelucci, beat more than 100 other entries in a national competition in the early 1930s to built a new station behind the church of the same name.

The linear design was loathed by conservatives but loved by modernists, although it could not be said to conform to the style identifiable as Fascist architecture in Italy at the time, which had echoes of classical Roman design, albeit without ornate decoration.

It met with the approval of Fascist leader Mussolini, nonetheless, who approved the design, and it came to be regarded subsequently as a masterpiece of rationalist architecture. The stone of its exterior blended with the historic colours of Florence, yet a spacious entrance hall and gallery with a thermolux and steel roof made it functional and modern.

Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
The station was built between 1932 and 1935, almost 30 years before Michelucci's second landmark work, which he undertook at the age of 73 after the highways authority commissioned him to design a church that would both honour the memory of those who died in the construction of the motorway and provide a 'parish for tourists', where travellers could break their journeys to worship.

The church, in concrete and stone, is built around a traditional 'cross' floor plan with tent-like vertical elements, rising to a height of 27.5 metres (90 feet), giving it a modern feel. The roof is of copper, oxidised to a blue-green colour on the outside and burnished blond on the inside, with marble, glass and bronze used for other interior features.

Michelucci came from a family which owned a craft iron workshop, which gave him his introduction to design. He graduated from the Higher Institute of Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence before teaching at the Institute of Architecture of Florence, where he could later become Dean.

During his military service in the First World War, he built his first architectural work, a chapel for soldiers on the eastern front in Casale Ladra, near Caporetto in what is now Slovenia.

In the early 1920s, Michelucci taught in Rome, the city where he married the painter Eloisa Pacini. He returned to Florence in 1928.

Michelucci's church of San Giovanni Battista
Michelucci's 'motorway' church of San Giovanni Battista
Other important works in Tuscany include a 1936 town plan for Pistoia, the classicist-style Palazzo del Governo in Arezzo the same year and the Borsa Merci in Pistoia (1950).

In Florence, he designed an urban plan for the Sorgane neighbourhood of Florence in 1955) and the Cassa di Risparmio of Florence in 1957.  The Inn of the Red Crawfish at the Pinocchio Park in Collodi (1963) is his, as is the skyscraper in Piazza Matteotti in Livorno (1966).

His biggest disappointments were the rejection of his plans for reconstruction of the Ponte Vecchio area after the Second World War II and for restoring the buildings around Piazza Santa Croce after the 1966 flood.

However, Michelucci did become involved with the reconstruction work necessitated by the Vajont Dam disaster in the mountains above Venice in 1963, in particular the village of Longarone, where he designed a memorial church.

Always an architect who wanted his buildings to benefit the people who used them, in his later years he concentrated almost entirely on what might be deemed social projects, designing churches, schools, hospitals, and prisons. He also devoted time and energy to setting up the Michelucci Foundation to support research into urban planning and modern architecture and to promote his own values and ideals.

Travel tip:

Florence's railway station was opened on February 3, 1848, to serve the railway lines to Pistoia and Pisa. It was initially called Maria Antonia in honour of Princess Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies but was renamed after the church of Santa Maria Novella after the unification of Italy.  Nowadays, the station is used by 59 million people every year and is one of the busiest in Italy, with high speed lines to Rome and Bologna.

The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
Travel tip:

Fiesole, situated in an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) north-east of Florence, has since the 14th century been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in Florence.  Formerly an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus.

More reading:

Ulisse Stacchini's architectural legacy to Milan

Pier Luigi Nervi - from football stadiums to churches

How Marcello Piacentini's designs symbolised Fascist ideals

Also on this day:

New Year's Eve - the Festa di San Silvestro

(Picture credits: Motorway church by Luca Aless)