Early European Renaissance architecture can be attributed to Alberti and Brunelleschi. These two men developed the foundations of much of the style that characterizes this era of design. As the style evolved, architects such as Bramante and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger developed more distinctive design elements. If you study the works of these architects, you will understand the basics of Renaissance architecture, allowing you to recognize Renaissance influences even in modern-day structures.
Brunelleschi is regarded as the cornerstone architect of the Renaissance period. His emphasis was on structure, symmetry, rules of proportion and mathematical order. Brunelleschi's first major accomplishment was the brick dome of the Cathedral of Florence, in which he used pointed Gothic arches and Gothic ribs. He used a herringbone-shaped rib support that became popular in future domes, a classic Renaissance feature.
Brunelleschi also designed the churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito of Florence. In each of these, his eye for symmetry, modular design and attention to proportion set the tone for subsequent buildings of this era.
Leon Battista Alberti
Alberti was an architect and an author. His book, De re Aedificatoria, defined many of the architectural principles that belong to Renaissance style. He designed the Church of Sant Andrea in Mantua, using a grand archway, a signature portico and many measured archways and windows, all arranged with precise order and symmetry. Many of his churches had elaborate facades, which would become the fashion throughout Europe.
Bramante is known for adding a crossing and a choir to the abbey church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. He crafted a magnificent dome, complete with arched openings. Bramante invested in elaborate detail decorations that set his work apart. He loved to use arches and columns. His work inspired Michelangelo.
When you look at European Renaissance architecture, you'll see structure, symmetry, order, proportion, archways, domes, columns, pillars, pilasters and ornate décor. These characteristics of this architectural form are striking and easy to recognize, once you've seen a few examples of the style.