For Italian Renaissance architects, Rome was their classroom, and classical Roman buildings such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum were their teachers. Renaissance architects were fascinated by classical Greek and Roman architecture and the discovery of a written account titled “De Architectura” by classical Roman architect Vitruvius (78-10 B.C.), in which he describes the development of new materials and classical Roman architectural concepts, had a strong influence on Renaissance architectural design.

Features of Classical Roman and Greek Architecture

Classical Roman architecture borrowed many ideas from the Greeks, most importantly the concepts of harmony, balance and simplicity in the use of space. The Romans also adopted columns from the Greeks, which they used in such classical buildings as the Colosseum which has Doric, Ionic and Corinthian order columns. The invention of cement allowed the Romans to improve on Greek design, providing their buildings with more fluidity than the Greek marble structures, and soon arches and domes began to appear in classical Roman designs.

Bramante in Rome

The 1500s marked the beginning of the High Renaissance and architect Donato Bramante was considered the leading architect of the early High Renaissance. His Tempietto (or temple) at San Pietro in Rome incorporates many classical Greek and Roman themes with its harmonious simplicity and use of columns. Bramante was originally commissioned by Pope Julius II for the redesign of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. His architectural plan reflected classical Greek and Roman concepts -- its dome borrowed from classical Roman construction techniques and its harmony and proportions borrowed from classical Greek design. He died before he was able to execute it and Michelangelo was commissioned for its creation, incorporating some of Bramante's classically-inspired design into his plan.

Palladio in Venice

Italian architect was Andrea Palladio was an extremely influential architect of the High Renaissance. His design for San Giorgio Maggiore Church in Venice demonstrates classical Greek concepts of harmony as well as the use of marble columns of the Corinthian order. Palladio's La Rotunda (or porch) in Villa Capra, also in Venice, is reminiscent of classical Greek temples in both size and style with its large open-air porch being supported by six Ionic columns. Palladio designed several other villas: Villa Emo, Villa Barbaro and Villa Foscari, each inspired by classical Greek and Roman design.

Other Important Works

Palladio also designed the Olympic Theater in Venice, which was influenced by classical style theaters and the descriptions of classical Roman architect Vitruvius. Also in Venice, architect Jacopo Sansovino was commissioned to design the Marciana Library. His design is an ode to classical Roman and Greek architecture with its arches, pillars and harmonious use of space.

Another classically inspired building from the Italian High Renaissance is the Palazzo Farnese in Rome designed by Antonio de Sangallo the Younger. Its open-air courtyard is supported by Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns.