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Building Styles

Renaissance Revival (1870 - 1910)

Origins --- Renaissance Revival Architecture

Italian Precedents ------Renaissance Design in Europe__

Renaissance Revival Churches---Toronto--- Hamilton---

Commercial and Civic Renaissance Revival--- Stratford--- Simcoe--- Hamilton-- Shelbourne-- Dundas

Renaissance Revival Residences--- Hamilton--- Stratford---


During the 15th and 16th centuries, in Florence and later in Rome and other centers, the Renaissance Palazzo was born. The palazzo was a three or four storey building with a rusticated ground floor, and regularized understated windows on two increasingly refined upper levels, always finished by an elaborate cornice. The architects believed that architecture was an art form, and they strived for a studied harmony of design. There were no columns or pilasters, but pediments, often alternating curved and triangular, and regularized patterns. The Renaissance also saw the development of a graceful and balanced adaptation of the Greek styles. The 16th and 17th centuries saw Renaissance architecture translated into French and English equivalents, and it can also be seen in Germany, the Czech Republic and Holland.

Renaissance Revival Architecture

In Ontario, the Renaissance was revived in commercial buildings, banks, offices, and churches in many urban centers. Most of the Renaissance Revival buildings are designed without columns, and these are called astylar; they follow the palazzo design. Buildings that use a more or less direct translation of Renaissance architecture with columns and pilasters are more ornate, but still elegantly Renaissance.

Italianate design in Ontario was the adaptation of the Italian palazzo silhouette and a multitude of 'Italian' leaning detailing to both residential and commercial architecture. Renaissance Revival is more a transferal of the more precise, geometrically based, balanced and, most importantly, understated designs of the Renaissance, most elegantly presented by Palladio.

Like the Italian Villa style, Renaissance Revival could be included in the overall term "Italianate". The difference in the styles is that the Renaissance revival is simplified and follows much more closely with the Renaissance proper than do the other two styles.














Italian Precedents

The most important aspect of Renaissance design was the search for beauty in the adaptation of simple geometric forms and mathematical principles. Behind every great building is a 'formula,' a blueprint with balanced, symmetrical forms based on circles, squares and triangles. They then expanded to embrace the Golden Section, a system of working perfect, indeed divine, proportions. The calculations and examples for this are best seen in the website dedicated to that study.


In 1450 moveable type was invented and the printing press was born. The ancient texts by writers such as Vitruvius, who wrote the first books on architecture, were available to many architects and craftsmen. The Renaissance architect Alberti's

treatises on architecture were also made available and quickly became the standard for architecture in Italy, then France, then the rest of Europe.

Renaissance architecture is all about balance. Mathematical ratios formed the basis of all design. Buildings were planned on a grid that contained circles, squares, and an intricate system of often overlapping geometric shapes. The aim was to create a harmonious design. Pleasing geometric proportions in architecture were found to be linked to pleasing harmonic intervals in music. The intermingling of art, architecture, music and science was considered to be a sign that nature and man had found a divine unity. The fundamental laws of nature and of God could thus be reflected in the divine proportions of a building.

Florentine Pediment Cornice Sash Windows Shutters Door Surround Window Cornice Dormer

Santa Maria delle Grazie

Bramante - 1493

Bramante's Santa Maria delle Grazie done in 1493 is a Renaissance masterpiece. It illustrates perfectly the early Renaissance attitude towards geometry and balance.

Within the lunette is a fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. The portico is supported by Corinthian columns. Clearly Bramante was aware of the principles set out by Vitruvius and Alberti, and he has followed the ideas of proportion very closely. The intrados of the lunette is created by a circle that can be perfectly doubled between the floor level and the intrados. The extrados creates a circle that when carried down ends in the radius of two rondels in the column base. As well, the line between the uppermost point of the capital on the right extending down to the bottom of the base on the left exactly cuts the door in two.

San Andrea

Santa Maria delle Grazie

Clearly Bramante was aware of the principles set out by Vitruvius and Alberti, and he has followed the ideas of proportion very closely. The intrados of the lunette is created by a circle that can be perfectly doubled between the floor level and the intrados. The extrados creates a circle that when carried down ends in the radius of two rondels in the column base. As well, the line between the uppermost point of the capital on the right extending down to the bottom of the base on the left exactly cuts the door in two.

San Andrea


The Uffizi was built for Cosimo I de Medici in the mid-16th century as a large office building. It was designed by Georgio Vasari and completed, with minor changes, after his death.

The interior façade has a simple, elegant design created with alternating triangular and Florentine pediments. This is the signature feature of Renaissance Revival in Ontario. If it has alternating pediments with triangular and Florentine pediments, it is Renaissance Revival.

The Uffizi now houses one of the most important art collections in the world.


Renaissance Revival Churches

Balance and symmetry.



You would not be surprised to see a church like this anywhere in Italy. The majority of churches built in Ontario before 1950 are Gothic Revival. This one is clearly Classical and is, not surprisingly, Catholic.

The first tier of the church is three times the height of the door. There are grand manner columns, columns of great height, topped with alternating triangular and rounded pediments, in the Renaissance manner. Unlike the Renaissance examples, however, the pediments are broken. The second level has a volute motif used frequently on Jesuits churches. Atop both the first and the second tier pediments there are balustrades, also found in the Renaissance examples. Finally, crowning the building is a copper domed campanile. All the proportions are balanced and refined according to Renaissance principles.

Renaissance Revival Church

Toronto Ontario


The same balance and harmony are found in this Hamilton example. The design is symmetrical with an unadorned façade broken by a large pedimented portico as a main door and two side doors with large cornices. Above the side doors are roundels. The main body of the building has an oversized cornice with large dentils.

In contrast to the simplicity of the main building, the campanile is ornate and spectacular. The first level has a round-headed arch opening with a balustraded balcony flanked by Ionic pilasters. Atop this section is a large, decorated cornice.

The top of the campanile has a four-sided open roundel with ornate molding. An acroterion crowns the roof section which is also resplendent with white ribs and decoration.

Renaissance Revival Storefronts

Hamilton Ontario

Commercial Renaissance Revival

Similar to Italianate, but simpler and incorporating more Renaissance motifs like the alternating pediment.



This is a detail of the upper level of a block of commercial buildings in Stratford. The bays of the building are marked by brackets. The elaborate cornice is not of wood, as it appears, but of cast metal, probably tin. There are dentils and a simple Renaissance pattern in the frieze.

The most outstanding feature, however, are the arches over the windows. The windows on the top row have a semicircular arch being the intrados with a drop arch above as the extrados. The lower row have a pseudo-three-centered arch as the intrados and a two centered pointed arch as the extrados. Between the intrados and extrados of these arches the design is accentuated by dichromatic brickwork reminiscent of many Italian buildings.


Renaissance Revival Office

Stratford Ontario


Similar to the above façade, this corner store block has a cornice produced by decorative brickwork. An architrave and a row of dentils top a series of dentilled corbels. Beneath this is a frieze with a rope and geometric patterns.

The windows are well proportioned and have half-round arches with simple keystones and curving brick voussoirs. The extrados is elevated.

The effect is one of refined and calculated uniformity.


Renaissance Revival Storefronts

Simcoe Ontario


Also in Simcoe, this pleasant public building has window surrounds similar to those produced by Palladio and his followers in Northern Italy.

The frontispiece is discreet with accentuated dichromatic quoins. The front door is not pronounced, with a half-round lunette and little molding or detailing. On either side of the door are brick pillars reflective of the rustication used on Italian palazzo design. All windows have a "Gibbs Surround" - use of alternating large and small blocks - popular in the north of Italy.

The overall final effect is a very calm, elegant façade.

Renaissance Revival Storefronts

Simcoe Ontario


This storefront façade has a mixture of two window pediments. On the top floor are Baroque pediments on a mansard roof. The next floor down has triangular pediments, and the next floor down has Florentine.


Renaissance Revival Storefronts

Hamilton Ontario


Many Ontario towns have a mixture of Italianate and Renaissance store fronts. This one in Shelbourne is a nice second storey Palladian window with dichromatic brickwork and keystones.

Renaissance Revival Storefronts

Shelbourne Ontario


Dundas has one of the most impressive pre-1850 buildings in the province. This building, designed by **** and finished in 1848, is made from local limestone with an impressive ashlar finish.




The door on the Town Hall is a late Renaissance style, verging on Baroque. The pediment is broken in many sections and the center has an urn flanked by a series of stylized roses. The keystone has an interesting agraffe. The fanlight is a large semicircular radiating design. The pillars and the spandrel design are French.

Residential Renaissance Revival

During the 19th century, Britain proved to be a great country to leave. The rich lived very well, but the poor had few priviledges or opportunities. This proved to be a wonderful thing for Ontario when it became one of the choice destinations for emmigrants looking for a new life.

The Renaissance Revival houses were important for many reasons, not the least of which is that many of these residences, single family and terraced, were created by workmen who brought

building techniques from Britain and were able to apply them to their own hones, something they could not have done in Europe.

Sandyford Terrace 1840

Most of Hamilton's 19th century stone work is the product of Scottish stone masons who came over beginning in the 1840s from small industrial towns near Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Much of residential downtown, Herkimer St., Park Street and James Street, was once comprised of this type of stone terrace or rowhouse. Sandyford Place was lucky to survive the wrecker's, and is the best surviving stone terrace west of Montreal.

The facade of the terrace is finely cut stone with an ashlar finish. The eave brackets were part of the Italian repertoire popular at the time and the windows are alternating Florentine pediments and flat cornices of the Renaissance Revival style. The windows are six over six sash.

Sandyford Place - Scottish Dormer

While the building is done in the Renaissance Revival style popularized in Europe by Indigo Jones and others, the workmen were certainly Scottish as can be seen by the three sided dormers on the roof. These can be found quite abundantly in the Maritimes, but are somewhat rare in Upper Canada. This dormer design is often called a Scottish Dormer since it is taken from the 18th century dormer design in Scotland.

Scottish Dormer

Scottish Dormer


This is a rare example of the Renaissance Revival style being applied to a residence.

The basis of Renaissance design was harmonious proportion. Treatises by Renaissance architects such as Alberti and Palladio defined what was appropriate in proportions and applied them to their buildings. The result was calm grandeur with a uniform use of Classical motifs.

In this house we see a semicircular arch with an ornate reveal and a plain lunette. The door surround is composed of brick in a radiating pattern around the lunette, and two decorative bands on the spring line. The windows reflect the same concern for quiet, balanced detailing. The result is an example of Northern Renaissance design on a sophisticated yet subtle doorway.

Renaissance Doorway

Stratford Ontario


Early Renaissance Extra Reading and Films


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Bolton, Jerry, The Renaissance Bazaar, Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002

Borsi, Franco, Leon Battista Alberti, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, 1975, translated by Rudolf G. Carpanini 1977

Giedion, Sigfried, Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.1971

Maxwell, Robert, Sweet Disorder and the Carelessly Careless; Theory and Criticism in Architecture, Princeton Papers on Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1993

Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, translated by Morris Hicky Morgan, Dover Publications, New York, 1960.


Girard Depardieu, The Return of Martin Guerre

The Medici

Iron Cresting Modillions or Paired Brackets Bay Quoins Dormer Belvedere Awning Modillions Balconette Paired Windows Cornice Return Cornice Return Campanile Pediments Pilaster Balustrade Balustrade Volute Dentils Bracket Extrados Intrados Arch Lunette Reveal Band Cornice Roundel Pediment Column Campanile Acroterion Frieze Corbelled Dentils Extrados Keystone Cornice Frontis Window Surround