Guarneri about Italian Renaissance palaces

Cristiano Guarneri, from IUAV, gave an introduction about the Italian Renaissance Palaces.

He explained that for a long time, outside Venice, palaces were complex heterogeneous constructions surrounded by walls. Venetian palaces were an exception.

Guarneri explained the structure of the “Casa-Fondaco” (ex. Ca’Loredan and Ca’Farsetti), a perfect combination between mercantile and housing needs, driven by functional needs. The most important rooms were in front of the canal. On the ground flour, the doors opened to the canal.

Then, Guarneri discussed the structure of Palazzo Rucellai in Florence (redesigned by Alberti at the Renaissance). The Palace was combining different functions (loggia, etc.). The new concept of the Renaissance is to create a general structuring concept. Contrary to the Venetian palaces in which the courtyard is on the backside, Rucellai’s courtyard has a central role in the organisation of the palace. The vestibule connecting the public street with the inner courtyard played another crucial role. Eventually, the main stair case, was the main connecting component between the courtyard and the family’s appartements.

How did this new organisation emerged? Two cultural factors played a role: (1) a larger attention to the inhabitant’s need and (2) the re-discovery of the antiquity.

(1) Commonly shared needs include a good degree of privacy, a secure place to keep goods, a fine settings for domestic and social life. For more important persons, other needs were expressed (more space for working, institutional or representative activity, more elaborate devices to isolate themselves from the world). Important Florentine elite needed to have spaces both “more public and more private”.

(2) The rediscovery of classical antiquity led to the definition of building principles: projections according to harmonic principles, respect of symmetry, alignment of windows in façade and doors in the plans, and more generally the use of architectural orders.

A new typology of rooms in apartments was established: “Camera da letto” (bed chamber), “Sala” (great hall). “Saletta” (sitting of dining room), “Anticamera” (antechamber), “Camera delle udienze”, audience room, “Studio/Studiolo” study, Claset of the bedchamber. Rooms were organised in sequence. Different levels of privacy were associated to the different kinds of rooms, allowing for different kinds of guest receptions.

Guarneri then discussed in detail each kind of rooms.

Bed chamber

The bed chamber was not only for sleeping, but also for private meetings and even eating. It was a multifunctional room. This led to the creation of a second type of bed chambers, really dedicated to sleeping (like a Palazzo Castellesi).

Vittore Carpaccio_The dream of Saint Orsola

Since the appartement was a residential unit, some palaces had several appartements. Wives and husbands had often different appartements in the same palace (ex. Palazzo Strozzi in Florence).


The bed was usually situated in an alcove. Above the bed, children and nurses could stay in a “sopraletti”, accessible by little hidden staircases (cf. illustrations below).

Giovanni_Mansueti_Healing of the daughter of ser nicolò


Great Hall

The Great Hall had one or more fireplaces; it was hosting theatre and dances performances.

Saletta / Salotto

The Saletta was just next to the Great Hall. Usually, it was the first room in the apartment. Moreover, it would often feature a display showing plates or other valuable objects.

Example of a painted side board in a “Saletta”.



People were sometimes taking meal or having audience beside the main chamber, in the antechamber.

Private rooms / Study rooms

The private rooms were dedicated to prayer and study. Among them, the “studiolo” was an evolution of the monk’s study room and the treasure room.

La Renaissance en Italie 1502-1507 Carpaccio Vittore La vision de saint Augustin probablement portrait du cardinal Bessarion

The idea of the studiolo is also linked with the rediscovery of antiquity. Many writers from the antiquity (Cicero, etc.) described the place where they worked. The images of Petrarch working in his studioli with his books (with a turning book rest) also played a great role in popularising these rooms.



The study rooms were often the last ones in the palaces.

Other rooms

Other rooms include :

– The private chapel, which could also be used to receive guests.

Loggia: The loggia is a partially open space, built over the courtyard.

– Galleria : The Galleria originated from France. It is a long corridor with windows on both side connecting different part of palaces (ex. Fontainebleau Castle)


It took shorter forms in Italy (ex : Farnese Palace in Rome). In Venice, the galleria was very rare.


– Shops were sometimes rented to merchants.

– Kitchen were difficult to place in Palaces (smell, water). (Image : Cucina by Bartomomeo Scappi)

scappi cucina

– The “toilets” were called “destri e necessari”.

– The bath and spas, “bagni e stufe”, were also inspired by the discovery of antiquity.

Image : 3d reconstruction of Rucellai palace (Prof. Adam Laruso, ETH Zurich)



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