The Palazzo Rucellai is similar to early merchant palaces in that it consists of private apartments above a commercial ground floor (see also Palazzo Strozzi, Florence). But it was the first palazzo to employ the humanistic qualities that could already be seen in some of the city’s religious architecture. Humanism was an important aspect of Renaissance thought because it shifted focus from collectivism and community to the individual.
The famous Roman Vitruvian Man, a study of the ideal proportions of the human form, tied in with architect Leon Battista Alberti’s development of a set of ideal (and human-centric) proportions for architecture. In the Palazzo Rucellai, Alberti exemplifies these proportions by breaking down the buliding’s scale, even at the upper stories, in several ways. Pilasters divide each story into smaller visual units; extensive ornamentation is applied across the entire façade; and rustication is more polished and delicate than it had been in earlier palazzi.