Palazzo Rucellai is a landmark Renaissance palace in Florence, Italy, whose façade was designed by the renowned humanist an architect Leon Battista Alberti and erected between 1446 and 1451.
This splendid work was the first to fully express the spirit of fifteenth century Humanism in residential architecture. The structural elements of ancient Rome are replicated in the arches, pilasters and entablatures, and in the larger blocks on the ground floor which heighten the impression of strength and solidity. The pilasters of the three stories embody different classical orders creating an effect reminiscent of the Coliseum.
Flanking the two main doorways are long stone street benches that run the length of the building, a typical feature of fifteenth-century buildings that then, and still today, serve as a resting place for passers-by and visitors to the palazzo.
The elegant design of this palace marked a turning point in the architecture of the patrician residence and set it apart from the more fortress-like structures that had been previously built in Florence.
The palace was created from an enclave of eight smaller buildings which were combined to form a single architectural complex arranged around a central courtyard. The "piano nobile" or noble floor, is home to the Institute at Palazzo Rucellai. It was refurbished for the occasion of the wedding of Giuseppe Rucellai and Teresa de' Pazzi in 1740. The frescoed vaulted ceilings which date from that time depict mythological figures and motifs.
Palazzo Rucellai is one of the oldest and most prestigious historical residences in Florence and holds an important place in the city's patrimony. It has been home to the Rucellai family for over 500 years and the family continues to occupy portions of the building.
Another historically important construction lies diagonally across from the palazzo: the splendid Loggia Rucellai which opens onto via della Vigna Nuova, commissioned by Giovanni Rucellai at the same time as the Palazzo. The loggia, a classical construction of three large rounded arches, is known for the architrave that boasts the decorative motif of the Rucellai coat of arms, sails blowing in the wind. Until 1677 the loggia was the location of both public and private Rucellai family ceremonies. The small piazza in front of the loggia, the loggia itself and the Palazzo constitute together a unified spatial environment that had, for centuries, a residential, commercial and social function.
Rucellai Family Patronage in the City of Florence
In the same years, Giovanni Rucellai engaged Alberti for an equally important commission to complete the façade of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, another Florentine landmark. The visitor can observe Giovanni Rucellai’s name engraved in the architrave of the entablature, as Marcus Agrippa’s was on the architrave of the Pantheon fifteen hundred years earlier. The decoration of the façade includes the heraldic symbol of the Rucellai family, a billowing mainsail, which also appears in the Rucellai Loggia located directly opposite the Palazzo.