In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Classical Architecture in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe

  • Introduction
  • Encyclopedias
  • Open-Access Electronic Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • The Survival and Preservation of Classical Architecture
  • Ancient Textual Sources

Classics Classical Architecture in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe
William Stenhouse
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0329


The early modern period (here defined as 1400–1600 CE) holds a fundamental position in the reception of classical architecture. It was in this period, for the first time since Antiquity, that architects studied classical buildings in order to assimilate ancient building techniques. It was also in this period that humanist philologists edited, translated, and commented on the text of the Roman architectural writer Vitruvius, providing scholars and architects with an example of a theoretical treatise on building. Connected with these two developments, it is in early modern period that we can first identify efforts to graphically record evidence of ancient buildings’ appearance. These endeavors are part of what we know as the European Renaissance, the wider cultural movement dedicated to the understanding and emulation of classical Antiquity. It is important to note that this was usually a practical endeavor: humanist scholars studied Antiquity in order not simply to replicate its achievements, but to adapt them to the needs of the present. It is therefore vital to contextualize the records that we have for the reception of classical architecture: plans of buildings from the period should not be seen as analogous to archaeological surveys, but representations made for particular ends; ancient buildings were reproduced in print for the first time in the Renaissance, but the requirements of the new medium, as well as the audience for new books, shaped how they appeared. This bibliography aims to provide the tools to allow that contextualization. There is no general guide to these developments. Archaeologists who have looked at this period have usually examined individual buildings and sites, placing early modern developments in a wider context. For historians of architecture, the Renaissance has long been a well-studied field, in which responses to classical architecture are a defining (if not the defining) feature, though the surveys of Renaissance architecture they have produced have tended, understandably, to concentrate on buildings made in response to the antique. Rome was the main site where Renaissance scholars and architects went to study ancient buildings, and as a result most modern scholarship has focused on responses to buildings in the city, although there are valuable contributions on southern France. Renaissance scholars read about Greek buildings in Roman writers, and puzzled over Greek terms, but few traveled to the eastern Mediterranean; an important exception is Ciriaco d’Ancona, in the first half of the 15th century.


References to the fate of classical architecture, and to responses to it, appear in a wide variety of reference works devoted to art history and the classics. Landfester 2006–2011 and Landfester 2017 are valuable for their coverage; Grafton, et al. 2010 examines classical reception more widely. Oxford Art Online includes the fullest encyclopedia devoted to the history of art.

  • Grafton, Anthony, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis, eds. 2010. The classical tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Although this reference work ranges far beyond the early modern period, its relatively lengthy articles and scope can give a good idea of debates about reception and different approaches to the classical tradition. Includes valuable entries on Vitruvius and the Orders, and architecture.

  • Landfester, Manfred, ed. 2006–2011. Brill’s New Pauly, classical tradition. 5 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    The most extensive encyclopedia of the classical tradition, it includes overviews of topics (including Architectural Theory/Vitruvianism), and entries devoted to individual humanists and architects, places, and buildings, such as the Pantheon. Includes index.

  • Landfester, Manfred, ed. 2017. Brill’s New Pauly, Supplement 8: The reception of antiquity in Renaissance humanism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Designed to complement and expand Brill’s New Pauly, Classical Tradition (Landfester 2006–2011), this volume of the encyclopedia includes some new articles with the same titles as those in its predecessor, as well as articles on new themes. Particularly valuable for bibliography in German.

  • Oxford Art Online.

    This subscription database includes Grove Art Online, the most extensive encyclopedia devoted to the history of art, with illustrated, peer-reviewed entries, and bibliographies.

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