Leon Battista Alberti: Humanist and Architect

  • Behind the harmoniuos proportions and classical details of Palazzo Rucellai was one of the greatest humanist of the 15th century, Leon Battista Alberti suggested fame through knowledge.
  • For the reconstruction of the 13th century church of Sa. Francesco as a mausoleum in 1450 the crew encased the old church in a thick marble envelope of classical architecture, lining the side elevations with deep arches like an aqueduct for the tombs of Malastesta’s courtiers. Alberti put fluted half columns on the facade of Malatesta’s “temple.” imitating some of the details on the nearby Arch of Augustus of the 1st century BCE.
Tempio Malatestiano, facade.
Alberti’s church of S. Francesco
  • Alberti designed the central plan church of S. Sebastiano on the outskirts of the city.. He positioned it over a hypostyle vaulted substructure to avoid the humidity of the site, while leaving space below for a mausoleum. His antiquirian interest in ancient Etruscan temples led to the church’s unconventional central plan.Over the central space he placed a groin vault that extended in each direction as barrel vaults over the entry and three side chapels. The layout appeared so strange to Cardinal Gonzaga, son of the patron, he wondered whether it was a church, a mosque, or a synagogue.
  • The facade of Sant’Andrea fulfilled the Albertian concept of “invention” harmoniously interating a triumphal arch with a temple front. The elements of the facade, such as the coffered barrel vault over te entry porch, were repeated on the interior elevations of the nave. The repetition of the rhythmic system of the facade on the interior offered a rare instance oin 15th century architecture of an organic correspondence between inside and outside. Emulating ancient works, such as the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome, Alberti designed Sant’Andrea with a barrel vaulted longitudinal nave without side aisles.
  • The courtyard of Palazzo Ducale in the late 1460s, reflected Alberti’s sensibilities. The corners consist of square piers framing sets of arcades. This early solution to the corner problem strengthened the points where the planes intersected.
  • Medici family had commisioned Giuliano da Sangallo to prepare measured drawings of the gret works of antiquity in Rome. Sangallo’s drawings of the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, abd the Basilica of Maxentius codified the graphic conventions of plan, elevation, sections, and axonometrics still used today.
  • Sangallo designed a large villa in 1486, embellished with an unusual Doric temple front at its entry, treated the villa as ideal architecture without the usual compromises imposed by preexisting buildings or specialized functions. The H shaped plan fit on a prefectly square podium. The rooms in each of the four wings were arrnged in discrete clusters rather than enfilade. This unique integration of a temple front into a secular facade corresponded to the Albertian concept of “invention”, the creative combination of classical elements within a harmoniously proportioned whole.
  • Alberti’s theory of concinnitas proposed that beauty resulted from the proper use of symmetry and proportionally so that the design of buildings would be as sensible as the organisms produced by nature. The principles that he derived from observing ancient architecture and the relationships in nature served to inspire buildings he hoped would surpass those of the past.

Pienza: Quest for the Ideal City

  • Alberti’s treatise on architecture lacked illustrations. Federico da Montefeltro visualized a so called Ideal City panel with a series of perspective city views which depicts a harmonious collection of palaces set on a gridded piazza, overlooking a round church in the center. For this vision of classical order, the artist made all the buildings similar in scale but slightly different in detail, using a common vocabulary of colonnades and pilasters. This ideal city had neither a castle nor a poor person’s dwelling, implying an ideal republican social context in wich everyone was equally well-off.
the Ideal City
  • Pius completed the tranformation of the small farm town of Corsignano, into the dignified city of Pienza. Its design adheres to many of the ideas in Alberti’s treaise, such as using a slightly curved main street to make a asmall wotn appear larger. Pius widened and leveled the main street and placed a gridded piazza at its summit.
  • To the east stood the largest secular building, the brownstone, Florentine style Palazzo Picccolomini. To the other side of the church, the papal secretary of state rebuilt the bishop’s palace, with Roman style, curiform windows. All the entries of the buildings in the center related to the grid of the piazza. Like the “Ideal City” painting, each building relied on the same palette of materials, brownstone and travertine, but with different combinations of detils, resulting in harmoniously variety.
  • Pius intented to create an environment of social equilibrium and justice. On a symbolic level Pienza resembled a balanced republic. The openness of the city hall denotes the desire to keep local politics free of conflict.
  • The humanis revival of classical culture in 15th century Italy, following the examples built in Florence and the thoretical positions of Alberti, led to diverse attempts to perfect the visual order of the city. The full scale experiment in Pienza appeared like a game board for a well balanced social hierarchy. In the fictional Sforzinda, Filarete anticipated a complete social system and unwittingly introduced a recuring theme in architectural utopias: the belief that form can influence behaviour for the betterment of society.