I wonder, can a rebirth be reborn.  If so, how many times?  The American Renaissance Revival began circa 1880 and continued through 1930, or so, one of many revival styles, Colonial, Mission, Tudor, et cetera, each a style practiced by architects skilled in design, tutored in history, sympathetic to neighbors, to parents, children and friends, faithful architects who created homes to enlarge souls, architects quite unlike the self-regarding rearrangers of steel and glass and fad.

Renaissance Revival architects created ennobling houses, homes suited to beings souled by God, persons who might rise by virtue to abide in Heaven.  Designers of steel and glass boxes have no such notion of noble-souled man, as you can see; theirs is the flat-cold house for the soulless, persons suited to mass-produced furniture, to droning gadgets, those moderns inclined to meaningless lives of fashion and fakery in screens large and small.  Perhaps you have met a person of the modern, steel and glass type.


Renaissance Revival, Washington D.C.

Waddy Wood, Harlow-Taft Renaissance Revival House, Washington, D.C. credit: M. Curtis


Perhaps you remember Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, that stern man resolved into eternal geometry, artfully drawn and boldly conceived.  If you do, you will see in your mind’s eye measurement and movement, harmony in parts, you will notice that his finger’s tip defines the line of our mortal place in eternal space.  Extend the line beyond fingertips, your soul breathes, squeeze the lines and your body knows discomfort, constriction, even fear, a tiny box claustrophobia.  Too, you should note the Vitruvian triangles suggested in large and in small.  You should notice the tripartite (the parts of threes, alike the clover leaf, a triad of one in whole).  You should see the swelling form of man, life in the convex, a consciousness that man and the machine are different things with different needs toward different ends.  The leaf is not suited to steel and glass.

Humane Renaissance architecture subordinates itself to human life, to human scale, to that human understanding which conceives not only all things beneath the sun but all beyond the sun, into eternity.  And Renaissance architecture is expansive, is beautiful, alike song, melodious, suitable to the angelic in each of us.  You will notice in Renaissance architecture of church, palace, house, a portrait of human life in the abstract, a pacing of rooms, a space that suits like a womb humane growth, you will notice a face in the façade, pleasing and confident, and sympathetic.


Renaissance Revival, Kalorama

Italian Renaissance Revival house, Kalorama, Washington, D.C. credit: M. Curtis


The steel and glass house box or apartment stack is not sympathetic to human need, to human want.  The steel and glass box is cold and smudgy, devoid of Nature’s long growth and slow development.  The steel-glass box lacks the richness of billions of years that refined we men into sensitive creatures capable of comprehending the Beautiful, the Good, the True.  A steel and glass container is as sterile as an alcohol washed petri dish, is political alike social experiment, is lethal to the soul, is an excellent comparison when contrasting the steel-glass house that degrades man with the house that ennobles man, the Renaissance Revival house.

In the first instance, renaissance means “rebirth”, in the spiritual sense, to be reborn, to appear again, revived and renewed.  The term “Renaissance” describes that period which began in the Quattrocento (1400–1499, the 15th Century of Christ), those turbulent, invigorating years when Roman-Greek wisdom was merged with Roman-Latin ambition.  How remerged?  From Constantinople by diaspora of the Greek, Eastern Roman Empire* when pressed to defeat by Islam (1453).  From Constantinople into the Italian city-states, from there into all the kingdoms and principalities of Europe.  Venerated books, venerable objects, ancient knowledge and discernment, a measureless enrichment from Solon through the Golden Age of Athens (449–400 Before Christ) to all that grew from Classical Greece over two millennia.


Renaissance Revival, New York City

Renaissance Revival townhouse block, New York, New York, featuring Italian, French, and Spanish styles. credit: M. Curtis


Truly, we can say that Pico, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Bernini, Shakespeare were borne of Athens, of Rome, of the Renaissance, as you were born of the Renaissance.  If not for the Renaissance, the remerging of Classive Greece and Rome, America would not be, you would not be, we would not be as we are, if we would be at all.  We all are carried along from Solon to tomorrow.  The Renaissance Revival?  Well, in the instance of American domestic architecture, a revival of Papal Rome’s villas and Florentine palaces.  Yes.  That.  And too, of Plato’s geometry and Vitruvius’ know-how.

This month at The Beautiful Home, a revival of The Renaissance Revival, of the essential architectural elements that make we humans princely, that make us Beautiful and Good … a high architecture for high things, Eternal and True.


Renaissance Revival, facade

Renaissance Revival, Clarke Waggaman, Zambia Ambassadorial Residence, detail, Washington, D.C. credit: M. Curtis


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* Constantinople (city of Constantine I, the Great, first Christian emperor of Rome), now Istanbul, fell to Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror (1453).  Recall, “…in 1453 the Roman Empire ceased to be; in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, et cetera.

Featured image: Villa Cora, Florence, late XIX Century, Villa Cora Hotel, an Italian, Italian Renaissance Revival

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