The next neoclassical period, which we call the Renaissance, exploded in Italy under the patronage of such personages as the Medicis and Pope Leo X. The Renaissance with its focus on secular life, fortified by the availability of the important literary works of the Romans and by translations of the Greeks into Latin, sometimes via Arabic, and then by the study of Greek, enabling educated people to read Greek originals, created the great flowering of classicism. Fortified by copious commentary on the ancients from such scholars as Pico della Mirandola and Ficino and stimulated by such scholars as the humanist Erasmus, educated people across Europe talked about classical language, art, architecture, and ideas. Petrarch wrote sonnets in the vernacular. Botticelli painted the beautiful Birth of Venus. Great works of poetry, painting, architecture, and sculpture appeared first in Italy in the mid-fourteenth century, and then surged across Europe, into France, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and elsewhere.
An excellent illustration of this sweep of classicism across Europe and into America is in architecture. Andrea Palladio (1508–1580), probably the most influential architect in Western history, rejected the medieval Gothic structures, turning instead to classical antiquity for models. He not only created beautiful classical buildings in northern Italy, but he published his ideas, complete with goals, models, dimensions, materials, and methods of construction. Designers such as the English architect Inigo Jones read Palladio's books and went to see his buildings, then went back home to construct Palladian architecture, the most famous being the classic Queen's House in Greenwich (1616). Its simple, clean, symmetrical elegance contrasted strongly with Tudor architecture. Over a century later, Alexander Pope wrote a 204-line poem on English architecture ("Moral Essays: Epistle IV, Of the Use of Riches,"1734), praising the good taste of Lord Burlington, who discriminately applied Palladian ideas, and satirizing noblemen who built expensive mansions lacking in harmony and proportion. Palladian architecture moved across Europe, into parts of Asia, and especially to the Americas, dominating colonial architecture in the United States. Buildings across the world illustrate Palladio's influence: symmetrical structures with balanced vertical and horizontal lines, grand staircases, Greek pillars and Roman arches, porticoes and frescoes, pediments and loggias, statues in the Greek style. In each building, every part contributes to a harmonious, unified whole.