Italian Renaissance

Washington, D.C. c.1901. The Willard Intercontinental Washington Hotel. Includes triangular and curved pediments above the lower windows, double-columned Baroque dormers on the upper floors, decorative quoins to emphasize the corners, string course above the ground floor, and scrolled brackets under the upper balustrade.

PERIOD OF POPULARITY:  Roughly 1890s – 1940 (mostly 1900 – 1920, prior to the Great Depression).

INTRODUCTION TO REVIVAL STYLES: Each revival style identifies specifically with an architecture of an earlier time and place, especially those related to early American or European precedents. Several popular revival styles are included on this blog, though other, less popular revival styles also appeared. To classify this grouping of architectural styles presents a challenge, as one could argue that many earlier Victorian styles were similarly revivalist. In fact, one publication includes several revival styles within the larger category of Victorian architecture (Cunliffe, et. al. 2010). The concept of “period styles” has also been adopted by some writers (including this one), though it was an early 20th century term used by non-professionals to romanticize the past. On the flip side are the architectural historians who prefer the more academic “Age of eclecticism” or “Eclectic Era,” which is an important concept to provide historical context here. The Eclectic Era, however, includes both revival and early modern styles that competed ideologically and appeared nearly simultaneously before the Great Depression. For purposes here, then, “revival styles” seems most appropriate, adapted widely across America for use in middle-class homes, wealthy country houses, commercial buildings, early skyscrapers, and civic buildings. Though overlapping with the more picturesque Victorian era, these styles largely gained popularity during the first two decades of the 20th century and heavily influenced our residential and commercial landscapes.

During this time (mostly between 1900 and 1929), accuracy of styles became important once again, unlike Queen Anne style, which borrowed from a variety of sources. Most Important, revival styles look to the past for inspiration. The trend toward revivalist architecture gained momentum from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition, where historical interpretations of European styles were encouraged. Simultaneous to the rise of revivalist architecture, the modern era saw its beginnings with architects who were instead looking to the future, not to the past, with more progressive, modernist styles. Thus defines the Eclectic Movement of the early 20th century, which consisted of a simultaneous and perhaps competing interest in both modern and historic architectural traditions. This variety, or eclecticism, provided for one of the most diverse and colorful periods for architecture and urban design in American history, when almost anyone with at least a middle-class income could choose from one of a dozen or more styles for their home.

Interestingly, this style tends to mimic its Italian counterparts more accurately than did the 19th-century Italianate style. Certain sources refer to this style as Renaissance Revival, equally as accurate. Both terms refer back to the influential architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque periods of Italy and France that first emerged in Florence during the 1400s and spread throughout Europe thereafter. The original Italian Renaissance was itself a revival, or “rebirth” of interest in Classical Greek and Roman civilization, including their intellectual and artistic contributions. Just as the original Renaissance looked to the Classical period for inspiration, so too did those promoting this Renaissance Revival in America and Europe. However, the Revival was less restrained and typically included lavish and ornate features designed to impress. The style appeared concurrent with steel-frame construction methods by the 1880s, allowing for the first generation of highrises. The style was therefore applied to everything from middle-class suburban homes to the nation’s first generation of skyscrapers. Especially in cities, this was the architecture of optimism associated with booming industrialism. Some refer to this period as the American Renaissance of the 1880s – 1920s.

San Antonio, TX. Includes arched windows on lower floor, restrained classical entryway, low-pitched hipped roof with overhanging eaves, and Renaissance symmetry with small wing.

For middle- and upper-class suburban homes and townhouses, the style often displays a low-pitched, hipped, or flat roof, often with ceramic tiles to hint at its Mediterranean source region. Like the Italian Renaissance palazzo (palace), The roofline includes wide, overhanging eaves with large, decorative brackets under the roofline. Doors and windows are often framed with round arches, primarily on the first floor, sometimes in the form of an Italian loggia, or covered patio. The entryway will often be framed with classical columns with occasional pediments, though more subtle than earlier Greek Revival temple fronts. The facade is usually symmetrical, but occasionally one finds asymmetrical or picturesque floor plans.

Chicago, IL. Michigan Avenue. Includes rusticated (heavily outlined) stonework on ground floor, large round arched windows, triangular pediments over the side windows, oval windows, and quoins to emphasize the corners.

Early highrises, or skyscrapers, soared up to 20 or 30 floors at the height of the style, allowing for a more complete application of Renaissance palazzo (palace) architecture. Like the Renaissance palaces of Italy, American highrises included a dominating ground floor of rusticated stonework, horizontal bands of brick or stone (string courses) to visually separate the floors, and massive, arched windows and doorways on the ground floor. Elaborate versions displayed a variety of late Renaissance and Baroque features such as scroll patterns, broken pediments, statuary, round windows, pilasters, and balustrades.

For More Photos of Italian Renaissance on Flickr, Click Here.


San Francisco, CA. c.1886. James Flood mansion, one of the few buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.


Coral Gables, FL. Biltmore Hotel. A splitting image of Italian Renaissance architecture, including the grand staircase, central loggia (arched colonade), elaborate balconies and balustrades, emphasized corners, low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves.

Boston, MA. Elaborate ground floor and arched entry, string course half way up, keystones over the windows, quoins at the corners, and decorative but restrained cornice under the roofline.

Chicago, IL. Colonaded, round arched windows supported by columns (below the string course), and gigantic triple-arched window reminiscent of the biforate windows of Renaissance palaces.

Chicago, IL. Includes arched, ground-floor windows, ornate window balconies, string course above second floor, rusticated appearance on lower floors.

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  1. […] and operated by different residents. Designed and built in 1908, the building was an example of the Second Renaissance Revival style. Exterior tiling lined the walls and light Art Moderne touches were added throughout the first […]

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