Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King
I know most of you have no idea who Filippo Brunelleschi was. You have no idea what accomplishments he had. You have no idea how important he is to the world of architecture and even your football and basketball games.
So what makes Filippo so special? Well, Filippo designed and oversaw the creation of the very large dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Most of us haven’t been to Italy. I know I haven’t, so I’ve never gotten to see Filippo’s work in person. Here is the thing about the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral…the dome that sits atop it was the largest dome created, EVER, at the time period. In fact, it had been hundred of years, since the Pantheon was built, that anyone had even attempted to build a dome anywhere near as large. Domes were a fairly new-fangled idea in the world of architecture. Sure, there were instances of one or two here or there, but no one had really been able to make it work very well. Filippo did it.
This book is about how he did it and the process. This took over sixteen years. Most of the time when we think about a building being built, we’re thinking about six months to a year. We’re not thinking multiple years. Construction back in the day was very difficult. Filippo had to compete for the chance to even design this thing. The city councilors didn’t just call Filippo up and say, “Hey Baby, I got a job for you,” he had to design a model, a scale model, of the dome and how it would work. He was competing against several other men.
You may be thinking, “How did Filippo learn to do any of this,” well, he was a gold smith. A gold smith isn’t exactly who you would choose to design your house, unless you wanted a house made of gold, but this was a different era. People often branched out into other areas. The term “Renaissance man” is technically before the age of Filippo, but the term would apply to him. Men like Filippo weren’t satisfied with being just a sculptor or just a gold smith, they wanted to be other things as well.
Filippo’s design was favored by the committee, but Lorenzo Ghiberti was also in favor with the committee. The two men would compete against each other for the next sixteen years and dually oversee the construction of not only the dome, but other projects for the city of Florence.
The dome took monumental amounts of materials. There were bricks, marble, wood and workers involved. The workers came from all around. They weren’t allowed to leave the scaffolding for lunch. Part of me is really curious about how they used the bathroom hundreds of feet in the air. As the years progressed, the dome went up. What is unique about Filippo’s dome is that it did not use centering, a technique to support the dome until its completion, and also that it’s actually more like two domes. There is sort of an inner dome and an outer dome. The inner dome is what made it possible for Filippo’s dome to be raised without support.
This building was the life blood of Florence at the time. People were enthusiastic to see its completion. People had lived their entire lives in its shadow. I think there was a point, when the church was finished, that they didn’t know what to do with themselves. They could actually use their building for its intended purpose. Sadly, Filippo died after the completion of the dome, but before the completion of the lantern atop the dome. The lantern is that big pillared sculptured looking structure in the very middle of the dome. You can stand there. In fact, if you Google some pictures of this dome, you will see very tiny people standing at the base of the lantern. That’s how big this dome is.
What I liked
Filippo seems like an interesting guy. One of the stories in this book is particularly humorous. Apparently, Filippo knew this carpenter named Matteo. One night he decides to play a big prank on Matteo, it’s actually more like a prank of Punk’d proportions. Filippo slips Matteo a sleeping draught and he falls asleep. Filippos has Matteo transported to the house of Manetto. There they put him to bed. When he wakes up, he wakes up in Manetto’s house and everyone is calling him Manetto, even Manetto’s own brothers. Everyone is in on this except Matteo. Everyone keeps calling him Manetto. They tell him he better go to work, and it’s a job he doesn’t know how to do because he’s a carpenter. This keeps going on, until dinner. They give him another sleeping draught. They carry him back to his own house, put him in his own bed, and then move all of his stuff around. When he wakes up, the real Manetto talks to him and tells him, “Dude, I had the strangest dream. I dreamed I was a carpenter and all my stuff was moved around,” and Matteo was all like, “I know the feeling.” He didn’t actually find out about the prank until some time later. Filippo deserves his own television show. I would watch that.
I liked learning more about the history of architecture and the history of Florence. Florence used to be the “big time” as far as Italy was concerned. Rome? Maybe. Venice? Maybe. Cecily? As if. Florence? HECK YEAH! Florence was where the happenings were. Florence was where all the beautiful people lived. I actually don’t know if the Mediccis were beautiful, but they had lots of money, so I guess that counts. It’s really neat to learn more about a place. I also found it very interesting that the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is larger than the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. That’s impressive, because St. Peter’s is huge.
What I didn’t like
At times, the book could get a bit slow. It’s a non-fiction book. It does read like a story in many aspects, but it is kind of filled with that air a non-fiction book generally has. There are facts and figures interspersed with the story. It’s kind of like, “Filippo designed the dome and created a model using bricks. Bricks were created by getting a specific clay from a specific place and then formed into bricks by such-and-such men, and then they had to cure for two years, then they were baked in giant kilns. Those kilns could produce a million bricks during such and such time period. Then the bricks had to cool. Then the bricks had to be inspected. It’s rumored that Filippo inspected each brick himself,” and so on. Really, what we need to know for the story is, “Filippo made a model of bricks and it was rumored that he inspected each brick himself.” We don’t need to know all of that other stuff. In the larger scheme of things, I guess it’s pretty neat to know how the Florentines made bricks, but I don’t really have to know that.
Knowledge is good though. So it may not be on par with The Hunger Games as far as readability, but it’s still good stuff.
Ashton Kutcher and Filippo should meet up and hold a punking contest.
Brunelleschi’s dome, Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, buildings of italy, dome in florence, filippo brunelleschi, history of santa maria del fiore, italian art history, ross king, santa maria del fiore, santa maria del fiore dome
art history/artists, History, King-Ross, Non-Fiction