If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Alberti, Palazzo Rucellai

The Palazzo Rucellai, designed by architect Alberti, showcases a revival of ancient Roman architecture in Florence. Inspired by Vitruvius's work, Alberti incorporated classical elements like pilasters, rounded arches, and entablatures. The palace emphasizes harmony and measure, reflecting the humanist movement and beautifying the city.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(light jazz piano music) - [Voiceover] Just a few years after the Medici Palace was completed, and only a few blocks away, one of the other wealthiest families in Florence, built a palace. - [Voiceover] Well there was a whole boom in palace building after the Medici built their palace. And so we're looking at the Palazzo Rucellai, whose architect was the famous Alberti. Now Alberti was a brilliant humanist. He wrote an important book on architecture, in addition to his famous book on painting. - [Voiceover] Alberti's "On Architecture" is probably the most important treatise on architecture after the 10 books of architecture by the ancient Roman Vitruvius. - [Voiceover] Right, which it had only been discovered a few decades earlier. So, there's this whole revival of ancient Roman architecture. And we see that a little bit in the Medici Palace, but we see it really here in the Rucellai Palace by Alberti. - [Voiceover] What's fascinating is that Alberti is looking back to Vitruvius's ancient work, seeing this standardized vocabulary, and employing it in a self-conscious way, that is announcing its historicism. - [Voiceover] Announcing its looking back to ancient Roman architecture. Alberti had been in Rome, he had studied ancient Roman architecture. - [Voiceover] And the classicism is not coming through only in the individual elements, but also in the emphasis on measure and harmony. Giovanni Rucellai came from a wealthy Florentine family, of wool manufacturers. - [Voiceover] Like most wealthy Florentines, that's how they made their money. - [Voiceover] At this particular moment in Florentine history, it was important that Rucellai express his loyalty to the Medici family. Alberti was clearly referencing the Medici Palace, and you can see that in the organization of the facade, into three primary stories. But there are also really important differences, and you can see that especially in the masonry. For example, this building is much more delicate, gone is that heavy, dark, rusticated masonry that we saw in the earlier building. - [Voiceover] Right, that gave the impression of the Medici Palace as being almost like a fortress, and recalling the Palazzo Vecchio. - [Voiceover] This building feels much more intellectual in its geometry, its lightness, it's sense of the cerebral. - [Voiceover] So we see more classical elements here than we saw in the Medici Palace. We have pilasters, rounded arches, although we did see that also in the Medici Palace. But in-between the stories, instead of just a string course, we have more classical entablature, which gives us a sense of horizontality and which is filled with decorative patterns, between the ground floor and the first floor. We see a Medici device, of a diamond ring with three feathers coming out of it, and between the second floor and the third floor, we see a device of the Rucellai family, of a sail that appears to be blowing in the wind. - [Voiceover] If you start at the bottom, just like the Medici Palace, there are benches on the ground floor, which is an invitation for the citizens of the city to come and rest. - [Voiceover] So the ground floor, very much feels like the ground floor. It has a sense of weightiness, that comes from that diamond pattern. - [Voiceover] And as you move up the facade, there are three sets of pilasters. Each with different capitals. At the bottom you see variations of the Tuscan traditions, or of the simplest heaviest. Above that a form of the Ionic, and then at the top, Corinthian. - [Voiceover] And we see that differentiation of orders, also if we go to the Colosseum in Rome, where at the bottom we have the Tuscan. The middle story is decorated with the Ionic order, and at the top with the Corinthian. So, Alberti is clearly looking at ancient Rome and architecture. - [Voiceover] But the building's emphasis is not vertical, even though you've got the pilasters moving from top to bottom. Because those pilasters are interrupted by these very elaborate entablatures that really emphasize the horizontality, the grounded quality of the building. - [Voiceover] Now the building was never finished. About 2/3rds of what Alberti intended is there. And you can see it's unfinished on the right side, and so there would have been a third entrance. - [Voiceover] Alberti did more than simply the facade. The structure was remodeled on the inside, joining a number of pre-existing independent structures. - [Voiceover] Now Alberti may also have designed the Loggia, that is caddy-cornered to the Palazzo, the palace. This is an open space, with round arches, beautiful columns with Corinthian capitals and pilasters on the interior wall, also very classicizing. And this loggia may in fact have been built to commemorate a wedding between a member of the Medici family and the Rucellai family. So a joining of these two powerful Florentine families. - [Voiceover] Actually it's important to note, that it's no longer an open loggia, it's now got a glass covering, and it's actually a shoe store. But originally it would have been an open space that would have protected people as they walked through. And reminds us, that even the palace, is seen a a kind of civic good. That this was adding to the beauty and harmony of the city. - [Voiceover] Well we can see the building of the Palazzo, of the loggia, of this piazza in front, as part of the beautification of the city. that happened in the 15th century. That civic pride that led the people of Florence to be interested in beautifying their city, with great works of sculpture and architecture. - [Voiceover] So, here in the middle of the 15th century, in the center of Florence, we have this invention of what humanism looks like, applied to domestic architecture. (light jazz piano music)