Renaissance Art & Science @ Florence

Susan B. Puett and J. David Puett


The creativity of the human mind was brilliantly displayed during the Florentine Renaissance when artists, mathematicians, astronomers, apothecaries, architects, and others embraced the interconnectedness of their disciplines. (EMS 17)

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Early Modern Studies, Vol. 17

The creativity of the human mind was brilliantly displayed during the Florentine Renaissance when artists, mathematicians, astronomers, apothecaries, architects, and others embraced the interconnectedness of their disciplines. Artists used mathematical perspective in painting and scientific techniques to create new materials; hospitals used art to invigorate the soul; apothecaries prepared and dispensed, often from the same plants, both medicinals for patients and pigments for painters; utilitarian glassware and maps became objects to be admired for their beauty; art enhanced depictions of scientific observations; and innovations in construction made buildings canvases for artistic grandeur. An exploration of these and other intersections of art and science deepens our appreciation of the magnificent contributions of the extraordinary Florentines.


Figures and Illustrations



Introduction: The Art in the Science, the Science in the Art

Chapter 1: The Evolution of Art, Science, and Polity in Renaissance Florence

1.1 Geography and the Establishment of Florence

1.2 The Emergence of Humanism

1.3 Rise of the Florentine City-State

1.4 From Medieval Commune to Modern Republic

1.5 Why Florence and Why Then?

Chapter 2: The Science of Art

2.1 Color Production and Visualization

2.1.1 Pigments and Their Compositions Blue Red Yellow Green Other Colors

2.1.2 Visualization of Colors

2.2 Painting

2.2.1 Fresco Chemistry and Methods Examples of Florentine Frescoes

  1. Santa Maria Novella
  2. Florence Cathedral (Duomo), Santa Maria del Fiore
  3. Ognissanti
  4. Santa Trinita
  5. Sant’Apollonia
  6. Santa Maria del Carmine
  7. San Marco
  8. Santa Croce Intersection of Renaissance Art and Modern Science

2.2.2 Tempera Chemistry and Applications The Painting Process Tempera Masterpieces in Florentine Art

  1. Santa Maria Novella
  2. Uffizi Gallery
  3. San Marco

2.2.3 Oil Paints Composition and Applications The Painting Process Florentine Oil Painting

  1. Uffizi Gallery

2.3 Sculpture

2.3.1 Marble Formation, Composition, and the Sculpting Process Examples of Florentine Marble Sculpture

  1. The Church of Orsanmichele
  2. Duomo Museum
  3. Galleria dell’Accademia

2.3.2 Porphyry Formation, Composition, and Historical Perspective Examples of Porphyry in Florence

  1. San Lorenzo
  2. Santa Maria Novella
  3. Palazzo Vecchio
  4. Piazza Santa Trinita

2.3.3 Wood Representative Florentine Works

  1. Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce
  2. Duomo Museum
  3. Bargello Museum

2.3.4 Florentine Terracotta The della Robbia Workshop

  1. Duomo Museum
  2. Bargello Museum Contemporary Analyses

2.3.5 Bronze The Lost-Wax Method of Bronze Casting Illustrative Florentine Bronzes

  1. Baptistery
  2. San Lorenzo
  3. Orsanmichele
  4. Bargello Museum
  5. Loggia dei Lanzia (Loggia della Piazza Signoria)

2.4 Glass

2.4.1 Composition

2.4.2 Glassmaking in Florence

2.4.3 Mosaics An Illustrative Florentine Work Contemporary Scientific Studies

2.4.4 Stained Glass The Creative Process Examples of Florentine Stained Glass

  1. Duomo
  2. Santa Maria Novella

2.5 Semi-Precious Hardstone

2.5.1 The Technology Opificio delle Pietre Dure San Lorenzo (Chapel of the Princes)

2.5.2 Stones Utilized

2.6 Ceramics

2.6.1 Pottery in Italy Bargello Museum

2.6.2 Porcelain Bargello Museum

2.6.3 Decorative Italian Technique of Sgraffito

2.7 Textiles

2.7.1 Florentine Tapestries

2.8 Printmaking and Engraving

2.8.1 Illustrative Florentine Works

Chapter 3: Applying Mathematics to Art and Cartography

3.1 Use of Geometric Perspective in Art

3.1.1 The Origins of Modern Geometry

3.1.2 Mathematical Perspective in Renaissance Art Establishment of the Principle Seminal Treatises on Perspective Applying the Principles of Perspective

  1. Masaccio
  2. Lorenzo Ghiberti
  3. Donatello
  4. Paolo Uccello
  5. Fra Angelico
  6. Continuing the Process

3.2 Cartography: Florentine Maps, a Blending of Art and Science

3.2.1 Early Maps

3.2.2 Florentine Mapmaking Palazzo Vecchio

Chapter 4: Renaissance Medicine: Physicians, Hospitals, Apothecaries, and the Artistic Dimension

4.1 Foundations of Western Medicine

4.2 Doctors and the Practice of Medicine

4.2.1 Training, Health Care, and Regulation

4.2.2 Understanding the Human Body for Medicine and Art

4.2.3 The Role of the Divine in the Healing Process

4.3 Florentine Hospitals

4.3.1 Santa Maria Nuova and Sant’Egidio History and Mission Healing through Art

4.3.2 Ospedale degli Innocenti History and Mission Importance of Art

4.4 Apothecaries

4.4.1 Monastery and Convent Apothecaries

4.4.2 Ingredients and Recipes

4.4.3 Standardization of Recipes

4.4.4 Vital Role of Apothecaries in Art

4.5 Medicine Depicted in Art

4.5.1 Campanile (Duomo)

4.5.2 Bargello Museum

4.5.3 Santa Felicitá and the Palazzo Vecchio

4.5.4 Oratorio Buonomini di San Martino

Chapter 5: Astronomy and Time Reckoning

5.1 Ancient Origins of Renaissance Astronomy

5.2 Solar Time Measurement: The Sites, the Scientists, and the Art

5.2.1 The Baptistery

5.2.2 The Florence Cathedral (Duomo), Santa Maria del Fiore

5.2.3 Santa Maria Novella

5.2.4 The Uffizi

5.2.5 The Pitti Palace

5.3 Measuring the Hours in Florence

5.3.1 Ponte Vecchio

5.3.2 Palazzo Vecchio

5.3.3 Duomo

5.3.4 Galileo Museum

5.4 Understanding the Solar System: Galileo Galilei and the European Scientific Revolution

5.5 Astronomical Instruments and Their Artistic Dimensions

5.6 Astronomy Depicted in Art

5.6.1 Campanile

5.6.2 Santa Croce

5.6.3 San Lorenzo

5.6.4 Duomo, Uffizi, and Ognissanti

5.7 Astronomy in Post-Renaissance Florence: The Sites and Scientists

5.7.1 The Ximenes Observatory (Osservatorio Ximeniano)

5.7.2 La Specola

5.7.3 Piazza dei Giudici

Chapter 6: Art and Technology

6.1 Rediscovery and Refinement of Ancient Technology

6.2 Transport of Marble for Sculpting and Building

6.2.1 Marble Quarries

6.2.2 Selection and Extraction

6.2.3 Transportation

6.3 Technology Developed for Construction

6.3.1 The Florence Cathedral (Duomo), Santa Maria del Fiore Building the Cathedral The Dome Rises

  1. Enter Brunelleschi
  2. Specifications for the Shells
  3. Structural Specifications
  4. Building Methods
  5. The Timeframe of Construction The Lantern Completes the Construction Materials for the Dome and the Lantern Machines Used in the Construction of the Dome

  1. The Great Hoist
  2. The Great Crane Additional Machines Used in the Construction of the Lantern Art and the Cupola Intersection of Art and Contemporary Science

6.3.2 Renovation of the Palazzo Vecchio Salone dei Cinquecento

  1. The Technological Challenge
  2. Enhancement with Art Studiolo

6.4 Military Engineering and Fortification

6.4.1 Leonardo da Vinci

6.4.2 Michelangelo

6.5 Performing Arts and Technology

6.5.1 Background

6.5.2 Sacred Enactments

6.5.3 Secular Theatrical Presentations Intermezzi Opera

Concluding Remarks: Connections between Science and Art

Site Links

Works Cited

About the Authors


Susan B. Puett has a BA from Duke University in history and education, holds a certificate in the teaching of kindergarten from Belmont University, and is a graduate of the University of Miami Chemical Dependency Training Institute. She has worked throughout her career as a teacher, group facilitator, and advocate for young people and currently is devoting her time to professional writing. She is the author of one historical book, as well as numerous poetic works that have appeared in various journals. In recent years her passion for art and history, as well as her Italian heritage, has coalesced in a desire to immerse herself in the study of the Italian Renaissance, and most particularly Florence.

J. David Puett has a BS and MS in physics and earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has held faculty and administrative positions in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the University of Miami School of Medicine, and the University of Georgia where he served as department head for fourteen years. He is currently Regents Professor and Department Head Emeritus at the University of Georgia and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. His science teaching has focused on human, medical, and physical biochemistry, as well as topics in Renaissance Florence (honors and first-year seminars). He has authored hundreds of scientific publications including research articles, reviews, and books.

Susan and David, who now reside in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have been traveling to Italy for many years and together have led groups of University of Georgia Honors students to Florence on travel-abroad programs focused on art and science in the Renaissance. They have also accompanied study-abroad students to Florence from the University of Georgia Cortona campus where David taught for five years. Although this book is their first major collaborative endeavor, the authors have jointly published an article on Florentine Renaissance apothecaries and their role in both medicine and art.


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