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5 - The Bones of Grammar and the Rhetoric of Flesh

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 March 2010

Charles Burroughs
Affiliation:
State University of New York, Binghamton
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Summary

LEGIBILITY IN THE ENVIRONMENT: LEARNING FROM ALBERTI

The analogy of architecture and language is habitual, if often unexamined, in scholarship on late-medieval and Renaissance architecture, as it is in much architectural writing of the period itself. Broadly speaking, architecture may resemble language in terms of structure (i.e., grammar) or effect (i.e., rhetoric), though the history of postmedieval architecture is full of attempts to find eloquence in “pure” form or structure. In Brunelleschi's buildings, in particular, both “legibility” and “eloquence” result from the materialization of a grammar transcending contingencies of place or patronage, though lending a generalized prestige to particular settings.

In practice, Brunelleschi's austere conception of architecture could not satisfy the growing interest in private self-representation, not least through residential construction. In architectural complexity, decorative embellishment, and even size, private buildings came to match public structures, though the decoration was often carried out in sgraffito or paint. Elements of the classical vocabulary appeared on palace facades, sometimes within a classical compositional framework, an obvious marker of status in a society that prized humanist learning and the exemplary value of Roman antiquity. On the other hand, a concern with peer solidarity and consensus also found expression on facades. The Palazzo Medici, cunningly, had it both ways; it would be much imitated, in contrast to the frankly and innovatively classical Rucellai facade.

For the most part, classicism in Florentine palace architecture served to mark status between social classes rather than within the narrowing social elite of the later fifteenth-century city.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Italian Renaissance Palace Façade
Structures of Authority, Surfaces of Sense
, pp. 94 - 107
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2002

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