Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

by Ross King
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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

On August 19, 1418, a competition concerning Florence's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore—already under construction for more than a century—was announced: "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 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 clockmaker named Filippo Brunelleschi, then forty-one, who would dedicate the next twenty-eight 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 (among some of 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 his own personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amid 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 catpure 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. Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620401934
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 08/13/2013
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 74,180
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Ross King is the highly praised author of Leonardo and The Last Supper, Brunelleschi's Dome (the Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2000), Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, The Judgment of Paris, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, and two novels, Ex Libris and Domino. He lives outside Oxford in England.

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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you love history or art history or Italy or a well written book, then you will love this book. A great tale of a 15th century Italy-- this book takes you back in time and gives you an appreciation for the unbelievable feat that was the building of this gorgeous dome. Caution: This book will make you want to go to Florence immediately!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an enjoyable read especially for those who know Florence and have climbed through the dome. The author appears to have done his research and sticks to facts. He does not simply create fiction to fill in gaps. Unlike so many books on the Italian Renaissance that are highly academic and laborsome to plough through, this reaches out to a wide audience - basically anyone who has an interest in Florence, the Renaissance, civil engineering, architecture ....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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GuysGrandma More than 1 year ago
Reads like a novel - highly recommend.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
Terrific Read: Brunelleschi, his dome and Renaissance Florence I'm no engineer and I only vaguely understand the basic tenets of architecture. But I'm a great admirer of history and have tremendous appreciation for the significance of milestone art and architecture. So in advance of an upcoming trip to Florence, I picked up Ross King's "Brunelleschi's Dome", assuming that King would do as good a job with this seminal Renaissance creation as he did with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in "Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling". The book is thorough and enjoyable and scores its highest marks on fleshing out the personality of Filippo Brunelleschi and connecting the building's construction to the greater context of the burgeoning Renaissance. The Dome, of course, refers the famed Santa Maria del Fiore in the heart of Florence, Italy. The book is fascinating in it's detail of the monumental effort that went into creating such an enormous structure. Filippo Brunelleschi was a goldsmith and clockmaker, and by the time he was given the commission to build the Dome, he'd had very little experience in large-scale construction (and this was one of the most large-scale ever conceived at the time). Work on the dome began after Brunelleschi won one of the ubiquitous Florentine architectural/design contests, and 50 years after construction on the rest of the church began. King writes, "even the original planners of the dome had been unable to advise how their project might be completed: they merely expressed a touching father that at some point in the future God might provide a solution, and architects with a more advanced knowledge would be found." The core problem Brunelleschi faced was the sheer scope of what the leaders of Florence were asking for. Specifically, King writes, "An architect must design a structure that will counteract (push and pull) pressures...a game of action and reaction-- and channeling them safely to the ground." This had been traditionally handled through the use of flying buttresses, which can be seen throughout gothic architecture in Europe, but the Florentine leaders had previously accepted a design with no external buttresses. After losing the "da uomo a uomo" battle of the bronze doors to Lorenzo Ghiberti, the intense Brunelleschi spent a few years traveling, including significant time in Rome. It's documented that he extensively explored the ancient Roman ruins, none of which would have been in the clean and, sometimes, rebuilt state that they are today. He undoubtedly visited the one monument, which is in, in fact, a comparable state to when it was originally built almost two thousand years ago: the Pantheon. The largest dome in the world clearly was built to handle the 'push and pull' pressures and Brunelleschi was sure to translate his learnings into his efforts back home in Florence. I had some trouble conceptualizing some of the more nuanced engineering hurdles that Brunelleschi overcame. King incorporates drawings and images and writes very plainly, but I think my architectural and construction vocabulary is simply too small. Throughout the long and protracted construction of the Duomo, Brunelleschi battled against supply issues, war-related interference (he was also Florence's Military Engineer), logistical concerns, as well as internecine battles from within the Florentine artistic and engineering community. In creating numerous novel mechanisms to aid in his construction, Brunelleschi clearly gained the trust and financial assurances from the Florentine leaders and was able to knock down just about every obstacle thrown his way. This read was a worthwhile investment ahead of my trip to Florence. At only 150 pages, this is the perfect introduction to a surprisingly complex set of problems faced at the forefront of the European Renaissance. While a terrific primer on the specifics of the Duomo, the books' even greater value is it's explorations, however shallow, into the culture and context of the time in which it was built.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
At first, I found that the book was a bit boring, but then when I became more involved with the art of the dome, I found that it became very interesting. I became so involved in the book, that all I remember is that I started the book at 10:30 P.M. and I finished at 2:15A.M. I lost track of time. GREAT BOOK!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reminds me of the patterns of the better known author John McPhee who has made a reputation of taking an interest and writing about it. The book is good and offers insight a good read for the plane or beach.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the worst book I have ever read. It was very boring and incredibly pointless. I don't know how anyone could read this book for fun because it was awful and put me to sleep!!!