Brunelleschi's Dome

Brunelleschi's Dome

How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Book - 2000
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Anyone alive in Florence on August 19, 1418, would have understood the significance of the competition announced that day concerning the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, already under construction for more than a century. "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome...shall do so before the end of the month of September." The proposed dome was regarded far and wide as all but impossible to build: not only would it be enormous, but its original and sacrosanct design eschewed (shunned) the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. The dome would literally need to be erected over thin air.

Of the many plans submitted, one stood out--a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting what is still the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clock maker named Filippo Brunelleschi, then 41, who would dedicate the next 28 years to solving the puzzles of the dome's construction. In the process, he did nothing less than reinvent the field of architecture.

Brunelleschi's Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder we continue to marvel at today. Denounced at first as a madman, Brunelleschi was celebrated at the end as a genius. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, built ingenious hoists and cranes (some among the most renowned machines of the Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air, and designed the workers' platforms and routines so carefully that only one man died during the decades of construction--all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amidst plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence--events Ross King weaves into the story to great effect, from Brunelleschi's bitter, ongoing rivalry with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to the near capture of Florence by the Duke of Milan. King also offers a wealth of fascinating detail that opens windows onto fifteenth-century life: the celebrated traditions of the brickmaker's art, the daily routine of the artisans laboring hundreds of feet above the ground as the dome grew ever higher, the problems of transportation, the power of the guilds.

Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish. In telling the story of the greatest engineering puzzle of the Renaissance and one of the world's architectural marvels, Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance.

Publisher: New York : Walker & Co., 2000.
ISBN: 9780802713667
Branch Call Number: 726.6/KING
Characteristics: 194p. 22cm.


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Oct 05, 2020

Excellent information, a little dry, but fascinating.

Sep 03, 2019

A most excellent description of the building of El Duomo in Florence Italy in the early 1400's.
the engineers, architects are still scratching their noggins over how it was actually accomplished. The mystery is hidden in the massive stone work.

Apr 14, 2019

Book read like a pretty good novel. I read it in just two sittings. Check out Ross King's other books on Michelangelo and Machiavelli. They are even better than this one.

Aug 06, 2016

Interesting book. I know nothing about architecture or building. A fair amount of the descriptions were over my head.

ChristchurchLib May 12, 2014

"Acclaimed author Ross King, known for both his historical fiction and his narrative nonfiction about the arts, compellingly recounts how Filippo Brunelleschi designed and executed the most magnificent church dome in Florence. Weaving together vivid details of Brunelleschi's personal life, his artistic and engineering discoveries, and the history of 15th-century Florence, Brunelleschi's Dome celebrates the achievement that "would forever transform architecture from a mechanical craft into a creative art" (Booklist)." History and Current Events May 2014 newsletter

Feb 17, 2014

Although the construction of the Santa Marie del Fiore had begun in 1296 (plague and war impeded progress) it still wasn't finished by 1418. Since the city wardens had no idea how their model could be built, they held a competition for a design solution. The book recounts the amazing story of how a Florentine goldsmith with no formal architectural training achieved the feat. The top of the dome is 20+ stories high, so the details - especially the invention/use of machines - of how it was done in the 15th century are fascinating. I really enjoyed watching the NOVA special on PBS, The Great Cathedral Mystery, after finishing the book.

Jan 04, 2014

194 pp.

Apr 25, 2011

This is an awe inspiring, informative and, at times amusing, account of how Filippo Brunelleschi became the capomaestro in charge of the design of the main dome for the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore and, how over a twenty eight year period, successfully built this architectural wonder, which, some five hundred years later, remains the largest dome of its kind in the world and a jewel in the Florentine landscape.

The cathedral itself had been under construction for more than a century before the Dome was ready to be built. It was a complex and difficult design. Much of the architectural knowledge needed to build a stone structure that would maintain its shape through the tension and compression caused {even during high winds and earthquakes} had to be ferreted out – partially through developing models as well as through studying ancient buildings in Rome, Constantinople and the Egypt as well as any ancient texts that had been translated into Latin. This was certainly more of a challenge than it would be today. Also, Brunelleschi’s mechanical engineering knowledge, gained through his training as a goldsmith, proved essential in inventing the equipment needed to hoist and position the heavy materials up to where they were needed in a timely and efficient way. His creativity and skill ensured that the dome was built without the need of a wooden centering structure within it and by avoiding the need of balustrades to so popular with the Gothic cathedrals being built throughout Europe at that time. The political intrigues, personal issues, distracting wars and bureaucratic hurdles that had to be overcome added to the complexity of the challenge.
The author successfully reveals the genius behind the building in an informative and interesting way.


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