David Hemsoll

David Hemsoll

Visiting Professor
Emulating the Antique: Renaissance Buildings From Brunelleschi to Michelangelo


David Hemsoll first studied architecture before turning to art history (University of East Anglia; Courtauld Institute). Subsequently, he worked on the ‘Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance’ at the Warburg Institute. Arriving at the University of Birmingham with the re-founding of its art history department (1990), he was eventually departmental head for eight years (2002–10).  He is co-author (with Paul Davies) of Michele Sanmicheli (Milan, 2004) and Renaissance and Later Architecture and Ornament (London, 2012), cataloguing architectural drawings once belonging to Cassiano dal Pozzo; and has written numerous articles on Renaissance architecture. More recently he has served as the editor of the scholarly journal Architectural History.

Project Summary

Italian Renaissance architecture has been much explored, but the historical development of its key animating principle, the revival of classical Antiquity, has never been comprehensively analysed. In modern scholarship this revival is usually presented as an unquestionable axiom, and is often over-simplified or misunderstood. My forthcoming book ‘Emulating the Antique: Renaissance Buildings From Brunelleschi to Michelangelo’ (YUP) will re-examine Renaissance architecture’s engagement with the ancient past, explaining with new precision the distinctive strategies and imitative practices followed by successive architects, beginning with Brunelleschi and then covering the architectural  careers especially of Giuliano da Sangallo, Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo. It will concentrate, above all, on their differing conceptions of all’antica architecture, and how they went about imitating – or surpassing – their ancient heritage, while also responding to differing cultural and political imperatives; and, in Michelangelo’s case, how and why he first attempted to assimilate selected ancient prototypes into a far more encompassing imitative strategy, before eventually distancing himself from the Antique, to the deep disquiet of many of his contemporaries. As a result, the book will shed new light on architecture’s evolution between 1400 and 1550 and provide a foundation for an enriched understanding and revised interpretation of this seminal period in European culture.