Brunelleschi, Filippo

Brunelleschi, Filippo
b. 1377 Florence, Italy
d. 15 April 1446 Florence, Italy
Italian artist, craftsman and architect who introduced the Italian Renaissance style of classical architecture in the fifteenth century.
Brunelleschi was a true "Renaissance Man" in that he excelled in several disciplines, as did most artists of the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He was a goldsmith and sculptor; fifteenth-century writers acknowledge him as the first to study and demonstrate the principles of perspective, and he clearly possessed a deep mathematical understanding of the principles of architectural structure.
Brunelleschi's Foundling Hospital in Florence, begun in 1419, is accepted as the first Renaissance building, one whose architectural style is based upon a blend of the classical principles and decoration of Ancient Rome and those of the Tuscan Romanesque. Brunelleschi went on to design a number of important Renaissance structures in Florence, such as the basilicas of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, the Pazzi Chapel at Santa Croce, and the unfinished church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
However, the artistic and technical feat for which Brunelleschi is most famed is the completion of Florence Cathedral by constructing a dome above the octagonal drum which had been completed in 1412. The building of this dome presented what appeared to be at the time insuperable problems, which had caused previous cathedral architects to shy away from tackling it. The drum was nearly 140 ft (43 m) in diameter and its base was 180 ft (55 m) above floor level: no wooden centering was possible because no trees long enough to span the gap could be found, and even if they had been available, the weight of such a massive framework would have broken centering beneath. In addition, the drum had no external abutment, so the weight of the dome must exert excessive lateral thrust. Aesthetically, the ideal Renaissance dome, like the Roman dome before it (for example, the Pantheon) was a hemisphere, but in the case of the Florence Cathedral such a structure would have been unsafe, so Brunelleschi created a pointed dome that would create less thrust laterally. He constructed eight major ribs of stone and, between them, sixteen minor ones, using a light infilling. He constructed a double-shell dome, which was the first of this type but is a design that has been followed by nearly all major architects since this date (for example Michelangelo's Saint Peter's in Rome, and Wren's Saint Paul's in London). Further strength is given by a herringbone pattern of masonry and brick infilling, and by tension chains of massive blocks, fastened with iron and with iron chains above, girding the dome at three levels. A large lantern finally stops the 50 ft (15.25 m) diameter eye at the point of the dome. Construction of the Florence Cathedral dome was begun on 7 August 1420 and was completed to the base of the lantern sixteen years later. It survives as the peak of Brunelleschi's Renaissance achievement.
Further Reading
Peter Murray, 1963, The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance, Batsford, Ch. 2. Howard Saalman, 1980, Filippo Brunelleschi: The Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore, Zwemmer.
Piero Sanpaolesi, 1977, La Cupola di Santa Maria del Fiore: Il Progetto: La Costruzione, Florence: Edam.
Eugenio Battisti, 1981, Brunelleschi: The Complete Work, Thames and Hudson.

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