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By Edward Bleiberg

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Like the Medici Palace, the impression most Florentine palaces made from the street was not one of opulence or grandeur, although such buildings would have stood out in a cityscape filled with monotonous and undistinguished medieval houses. Inside, though, the interiors were flooded with light from the stylish courtyards that usually served as the central focus of the building. The contrast between the dark spaces typical of medieval houses and those of the Renaissance was probably striking to fifteenth-century observers.

MEDIEVAL PROJECTS. Despite the falloff that had occurred in Florence’s population as a result of the Black Death, many public building projects had continued in the fourteenth century unabated. Some of these projects were still under construction even as the new architecture of the Renaissance transformed the cityscape. Around 1300, the city’s government had begun construction on a new town hall. Today known as the Palazzo Vecchio (or Old Palace, to distinguish it from another civic complex dating from the sixteenth century), the building was constructed in a thoroughly medieval style, with heavily rusticated walls and a crenellated tower.

1350 Work is temporarily halted on the cathedral at Florence. It soon resumes and during the 1350s the structure’s bell tower or campanile is completed. 1377 The future founder of the early Renaissance style in architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi, is born. 1401 The competition to create new doors for the Baptistery of Florence’s cathedral is announced. c. 1420 In Florence, Brunelleschi designs the orphanage known as the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the Church of San Lorenzo, and the dome of the cathedral.

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