Patrick Gibson's Reviews > Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King
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Jul 19, 09

bookshelves: history, truth_sort-of
Read in July, 2009, read count: 1

In the city of Florence, there is nothing higher. You can see it for miles. If you have been there, you know it dominates the city. There is hardly a corner to be turned where you can’t see it. My first time, it more than took my breath away—I think I almost fainted. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time and had never heard of Brunelleschi, but when I saw that immense pitched sphere sitting atop that weird multicolored cathedral my whole focus for being in Florence changed in an instant. I had come to see the Ghiberti doors which are on the piazza in front of the cathedral. I had seen lots of pictures of the cathedral, of course, but nothing prepared me for its size and height. Particularly the height. If only this book had been written earlier, I would have loved to have read it before my first visit to the cathedral.

The docents and guide books give the why’s and wherefore’s concerning the peculiar look to the building, and let’s face it—there isn’t a cathedral like it anywhere except maybe in Moscow—but this book gives the reader some wonderful detail concerning life at the beginning of the Renaissance. What ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ did for the 12th century, this does for the 14th.

The early chapters are an overview of the chaos created by the perpetual battles among Italian city states all jostling for dominance in the burgeoning post-Medieval trade boom. But it was the trade of ideas we remember most from the Renaissance and much of the profound changes in art, architecture, finance, government, literature and music are explored here. Brunelleschi’s lifelong competition with Ghiberti over Florence architectural commissions—expanding knowledge of mathematics, stress, compression, design (borrowed from the Romans)—has led to historians dubbing each the ‘father’ of the Renaissance.

While plagues, wars, jealous arguments, and endless financial problems beleaguered Brunelleschi he managed to hoist 70 million pounds of brick, mortar and marble into the air and create something incomparable.

Personal note: I was pleased to learn my art history teacher in college was full of it. He claimed details of building the dome were a complete mystery and no one knew how it was done. Guess what Bubba? Brunelleschi left behind copious amounts of information and drawings. Pulley systems, the movement of supplies twenty stories high, the spacing of brick, the consistency of mortar, cranes, distribution of weight—it’s all there. And none of this information takes away from the magic, or the brilliance or the sheer exuberance of a masterpiece.

The Ghiberti doors ain’t bad either.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Trspears42 (new)

Trspears42 All the tour buses arrive in the city on the hill across the river from the church. It is a very impressive sight.

The doors are almost worth the trip themselves.


Patrick Gibson Trspears42 wrote: "All the tour buses arrive in the city on the hill across the river from the church. It is a very impressive sight.

The doors are almost worth the trip themselves. "


I never made it up to the hill where everyone goes for the panorama view—it’s great the busses do that. I arrived by train, but you can still see the Duomo down a very long street. I agree about the doors. They are unfriggin believable. And the Medici tomb with the Michelangelo Dawn and Dusk. Makes me want to jump on a plane. Now you have to get the book. You are going to love it! Is ‘Room With A View’ one of your favorite movies?


message 3: by Trspears42 (new)

Trspears42 Yes, but it is not in my library....

Dang. Hate to buy another book.


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