The Payne Stewart Mansion: Origins in Italian Renaissance architecture, designed by Florida Luxury Home Architect John Henry
At the advent of the Italian Renaissance, the Old World was awakening from years of war, famine, and spiritual darkness. The remnants of the Roman empire was buried under years of ruin and neglect.
But as the Catholic Church unified and peace came over the land, a new moment of enlightenment appeared and the scholars, artists, and builders started to unearth the work and thinking of 'the ancients'. They excavated the earth to reveal remarkable wonders of beauty and grace while quoting Greek and Roman philosophers and combining art, science, and rhetoric.
At the center of all was now...man. The thinker, the innovator, God's greatest creation.
Leonardo da Vinci exemplified this notion of man at the center of things with this graphic:
While there was a sense of symmetry during the Dark and Middle Ages, the human body was clearly the model now and the depiction was detailed as it was in ancient Greek sculpture.
Technologically, brick could be arranged in curves in order to span greater distances than the Greek stone lintel could ever afford. With the development of concrete out of pulverized limestone, water and volcanic tufa -- the Italian builder broke out of a system of rectangular geometry and afforded more daring vaulting and arched systems, while column spacing could be increased. Their Roman forefathers actually left them a wondrous and mighty example: the public baths of the ancient city.
The Greek word for 'man' is anthropo. Renaissance art, architecture and philosophy turned astonishingly -- for the first time in Church history --anthropocentric.
For builders and architects - they tried to see how aspects of structural elements could relate to the human body. They looked at columns and figured them as upright forms of human beings. If some had seen the Greek Erechtheion they would indeed see women sculpted as columns holding up the roof!
The Latin name facciata was used for the front face of the building or facade. All columns had a capital (head), shaft and base, or 'foot'. A building had to be symmetrical because the human body was. St. Peters' collonade in front of the Vatican Church has covered arcades that 'embrace' the people in the square, as two loving arms cradling the parishioners.
Architects embellished buildings as humans embellished their bodies with clothes and trinkets. There were exquisite moldings that related each component to another.
The curve was eminently human. The rigid construction of Greek and Roman temples gave way to graceful undulations and curves, in architecture and sculpture. But the temple front was still regarded as a sign of reverence to their forefathers and was essential in many villas constructed during and after the Renaissance.
One of the most famous Renaissance structures in Rome is Villa Borghese, now a museum. This is one example of a grand mansion without the temple front:
Notice the skillful combination of arches and curved windows in contrast with straight window and door headers. More wall than window is characteristic of the time as protection from the outside was still regarded, while the cost of glazing was also high. But what you don't realize until you enter the building is that large unpierced wall surfaces offered muralists space to compose colorful theatrical allegories. This was built for one of the wealthiest families in Rome at the time.
Meanwhile, Andrea Palladio, a rural architect of the Veneto, was constructing wondrous 'custom homes' for the less wealthy but not unimportant families of Venice. His trademark temple front graced nearly all his designs:
Here again, notice the resplendent arched porticos on either side of the magnificent temple front centerpiece.
The most famous Roman inspired edifice in the United States is this one, the White House. And so many other smaller mansions share the Greco-Roman features:
Finally, I would like you to see this design which was built for the famed golfer Payne Stewart and his family over 20 years ago. This is my favorite 'custom home' and the following video tribute was just completed using current aerial photography with earlier still shots. I hope you like it.
John Henry Architect
Orlando Winter Park Architect John Henry has been designing luxury mansions, villas, and chateaux in period styles for over 30 years. He holds a Master of Architecture from Texas A&M University