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Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church Essay


The evolution of architectural styles is defined by their tendency for linear progression. Unlike with other forms of art, where evolution can branch out into different and sometimes bizarre directions, architecture is motivated not solely by the aesthetics, but also by the practicality and purposes of any given structure. While art techniques are capable of evolving at a relatively rapid pace, architectural styles are limited by the construction technology available to engineers, architects, and workers.1 This progression can be observed when comparing Italian structures from different time periods. In the majority of cases, architectural choices were motivated by the available technology as well as various socio-political and economic factors. If we observe and compare the Church of Gesu, constructed in the late 17th century, with Santa Maria Novella (early 14th century) we could see that the latter was built in an effort to recreate the monumental style of the ancient Roman and Greek architecture, whereas the former, while sharing the same monumental purpose, also expressed a powerful theological statement and a symbol of Catholic Counter-reformation.

If we analyze the façade design and the architectural layout of both churches, they would appear to be very similar. The façades are divided into two sections, with the lower sections featuring pillars decorated in Roman or Greek styles. The main entrance is located at the center, with two additional passages on either side from the central axis.2 The use of volutes as well as triangular and curvilinear tympanums is present in both cases.3 In addition, the architectural layout of both churches is very similar, resembling a cross. Two rows of supportive columns go along the main axis, ending in a ceremonial chamber.4 Both churches also feature a large round dome above the intersection of the cross.

Despite the similarities, these two architectural marvels represent two different styles. Santa Marian Novella is built in the Early Renaissance style. During that time period, the main focus was on the authentic recreation of the ancient Roman architectural style. While the church is beautiful in its own right, its creation does not hold any particular message other than the expression of adoration and devotion towards God. Its appearance is not imposing; it does not attempt to shock the viewer with its grandeur. That effect is achieved by the frescoes and other artworks inside the church.

The Church of Gesu, on the other hand, is considered to be the earliest example of the Baroque architectural style. Baroque, both in art and architecture, sought to invoke emotion and transmit a powerful message. It was often used as a propaganda weapon by the Church, which, at the time, suffered a crisis of Faith due to the appearance of Protestant movements and Catholic counter-reformation. While the Church of Gesu retained many classic Roman features, like the use of a round dome and general symmetry, it also features greater attention to detail and numerous striking features about its architecture. If we observe the façade of the church, it would be possible to see how sharp and precise the lines are. The use of Tenebrism (dramatic illumination) is apparent if we look at the statues, who are placed in small chambers that are supposed to magnify the shadows around them.5 The entire appearance of the church is aimed to inspire awe, respect, and a modicum of fear in the viewers, making them feel small and insignificant next to the power of God and the Society of Jesus.6

This example illustrates the difference between Early-Renaissance architecture and Baroque. While the former was the progenitor of the majority of architectural styles that developed throughout the Renaissance period, the latter was its evolution, which employed its grander, more dramatic and dynamic style to lure the masses away from Protestantism.

Bibliography

Anderson, Christy. Renaissance Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Ching, Francis. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order. New York: Wiley, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Francis Ching, Renaissance Architecture (New York: Wiley, 2014), 28.
  2. Christy Anderson, Architecture: Form, Space, and Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 89.
  3. Christy Anderson, Architecture: Form, Space, and Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 89.
  4. Anderson, Architecture: Form, Space, and Order, 91.
  5. Francis Ching, Renaissance Architecture (New York: Wiley, 2014), 43.
  6. Ching, Renaissance Architecture, 44.
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IvyPanda. (2020, October 8). Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/architectural-styles-santa-maria-novella-and-the-gesu-church/

Work Cited

"Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church." IvyPanda, 8 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/architectural-styles-santa-maria-novella-and-the-gesu-church/.

1. IvyPanda. "Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/architectural-styles-santa-maria-novella-and-the-gesu-church/.


Bibliography


IvyPanda. "Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/architectural-styles-santa-maria-novella-and-the-gesu-church/.

References

IvyPanda. 2020. "Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/architectural-styles-santa-maria-novella-and-the-gesu-church/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) 'Architectural Styles: Santa Maria Novella and the Gesu Church'. 8 October.

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