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Brunelleschi's Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  24,337 ratings  ·  936 reviews
Even in an age of soaring skyscrapers and cavernous sports stadiums, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence still retains a rare power to astonish. Yet the elegance of the building belies the tremendous labour, technical ingenuity and bitter personal strife involved in its creation. For over a century after work on the cathedral began in 1296, the proposed dome ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 8th 2008 by Vintage (first published October 1st 2000)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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I read this book about a year before six of us traveled to Italy. A fantastic book from engineering, history of the Renaissance, and history of architecture viewpoints. Having read the book, I knew we had to visit Florence and climb up to the top of il Duomo. I spent many weeks before we left walking up and down two flights of stairs in our house to prepare myself. It was a wonderful experience, a great view from up there (the Duomo that is, not the top of my stairs).

If you ever visit Italy, do
Apr 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: monographies, 2014, art

This is an account of how the monument that human ingenuity could build to itself came into being.

During the 13C the prosperous Florence deemed that its small Cathedral needed more than just more repairs. Santa Reparata was then demolished and a new and considerably larger building was commissioned to Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect who had already designed other pleasing churches in the city. The new Cathedral would also drop its no longer suitable old name and take on the radiant designation
Will Byrnes
Oct 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Updated July 17, 2013 - added image and links

At the height of the Renaissance in Florence a competition was announced. The cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore had been under construction for more than a century, but no one knew how to construct the massive dome that was called for in the original design, a design from which the city rulers were loathe to depart. The task was widely considered impossible, but Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, submitted a construction plan that was br
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, art
I thought it was a fascinating look at a wonder of architecture and at the always interesting Middle Ages.

Filippo is generally recognized as the one who discovered (or rediscovered) the mathematical laws of perspective. For example, he worked out the principle of the vanishing point, which was known to the Greeks and Romans, but, like so much other knowledge, had long since been lost. Plato had actually condemned perspective as a deceit. He praised the flat Egyptian art for showing figures in t
Czarny Pies
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tourists planning to visit Florence.
Shelves: art-architecture
Read this book either on the flight to Italy or on the flight back. Either way it will greatly enhance the pleasure you experience from visiting Florence. Ross King's "Brunellschi's Dome" is short, easy to read and filled with delightful anecdotes. It's prime merit is that it explains everything that the tourist would want to know about the design, construction techniques employed and technological innovations that were made in the building of this architectural wonder. One is overwhelmed by the ...more
Roman Clodia
A quick, 'popular' read about the construction of the Duomo in Florence. Lots of gossip, facts, technical information taken from secondary sources but not well referenced. Still, an ideal preparation for, or companion to, a trip to beautiful Florence. ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gee, when I was younger, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I didn't pursue it because I knew I was terrible at math. What I didn't take into account was my complete lack of physics knowledge. After reading this book, I know I made the right decision.
There is A LOT of description of pulleys, machines, construction, etc.. I didn't understand most of it. I felt like an idiot. I was determined to persevere and finish slogging through this book. I did it, but not without falling asleep MANY time
Nov 09, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dof-didnotfinish, art
This one's going back to the library unfinished. I'd heard so often that it was good. Though my MFA is in Painting, I did teach a year long Art History survey course, so I've even lectured on the darn dome. And I've always been interested in architecture.

But I am 75 years old and I don't have time to waste on books I'm not enjoying. This one is so poorly written I can't believe it got the good reviews it did.

The writing is plodding and awkward. The author introduces technical/architectural terms
Lewis Weinstein
When you stand in the Duomo in Florence and look up, even though you know the dome has been there for over 5 centuries, it's still hard to believe it stays in place. It's even harder to imagine how it was constructed - without supporting scaffolding. Read this book and you will understand, not only the construction but also the nature of the Renaissance civilization that encouraged and financed such a miracle.

Great book, fascinating history covering everything that went into the building of this amazing world landmark. Architecture, art history, culture, Italian politics and drama, of course. I learned a lot and was thoroughly enchanted by this book.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
Even the original planners of the dome had been unable to advise how their project might be completed: they merely expressed a touching faith that at some point in the future God might provide a solution, and architects with a more advanced knowledge would be found.

I was in Florence a couple of weeks ago, and although I hadn't really noted the omission at the time, it's now oddly sad to me that at the Accademia we were told, “This is Michelangelo's Statue of David”, and at the Uffizi we were
Michael Huang
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the early 1400s, Firenze (Florence) has a population of about 50,000 (similar to London at the time). To reflect its importance, a grand cathedral with a huge dome will be built: the Santa Maria del Fiore, simply known as Il duomo (the cathedral). The foundation was laid in 1296. In Middle ages and the Renaissance, it was not uncommon for buildings to fall down soon after completion. So this is no cake walk.

A competition for a model dome is held by the office of works (Opera del duomo). The p
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture was a fascinating look at the personal struggles and brilliance of Brunelleschi in his engineering, design and erection of the dome over the beautiful new cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in the heart of Florence. However, it had already been under construction for a century when, in 1418, a contest was announced for designs to be submitted for the construction of a dome that would vault over the cathedral.

"However, of the man
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Fascinating account of the construction of the dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiori in Florence, Italy centering around it's main architect, Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi was the first man in the renaissance to re-invent the major dome like structures that covered many ancient Roman edifices, such as the Pantheon in Rome. This information was lost over the 1500 years since the Roman Empire but Brunelleschi figured out how to use physics and engineering to create a massive dome structu
Jason Golomb
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 a ...more
Nov 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monica by: Francesca
Shelves: history
(Nov '08)-Have to put this aside, have to cram on South America...Dec. '10-- Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, by Ross King, was scholarly, yet had a lighter touch than most art history dissertations. It was even a best seller. Extremely well researched, it details the competition and execution of the building of the dome of the cathedral in Florence, an architectural and artistic accomplishment few understand. The scope King gives us, although at times heavi ...more
Sep 03, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the first half of the book much more interesting than the second half: the innovation in the architecture of the dome held much more narrative interest in than the chapters on the various machines invented in order to construct the thing. Although it has been several years since I read the book, I do also recall being vaguely disappointed with the ending: The Dome Goes Up! Still, an incredibly interesting portrait of the convergence of many sciences in this beautiful masterpiece.
What a pleasant gem to find! Although this is nonfiction the author delves into a lot of the social politics in play during the build which kept this, for me, from reading like a text book. Some of the stories shared were quite funny, especially the lengths people would go to get credit for their work! It made me think how in some regards business politics haven't changed since the 1300s and on the other hand, without today's technology available, could we be successful with such a task? Pouring ...more
Aug 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book about the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It talks about Filippo Brunelleschi, and his absolute genius in constructing a dome that spans 140 feet, without any sort of supporting framework. He solved each problem as it arose, and even invented a lot of the machinery and equipment he needed.

It is amazing to me that a good portion of the duomo had been built before there was even a call for plans to construct the dome. Still more amazing that Brunelleschi's a
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
What an unexpected little treat this was. An account of the building of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Begun in 1296 and completed in 1436, the dome itself took nearly a quarter of a century to construct, and even when it was initially designed regarded as potentially impossible to construct, the original designers essentially shrugging their shoulders and hoping God would provide. Provision came in the form of bad-tempered genius Filippo Brunelleschi, master gol ...more
Cool little book. Not exactly crucial to anything, but it gives some nice flavor of life in the early Renaissance, and of the return of architecture - and at 167 pages, it's only an afternoon's commitment anyway. David Macaulay's Cathedral would be an excellent companion read, and I found it useful to refer to this big-ass picture of the dome from time to time. ...more
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Excellent history of the erection of the dome of the cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore, by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was easier to follow the infighting and jealousies of the various sculptors and architects involved in the project than the architectural process itself. Still, the author made the basics of that discussion easy to follow as well. The most interesting parts were not only Brunelleschi's overall design itself but the many machines he developed as the work proceeded in orde ...more
Robert Lukins
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A light but compelling account of the design and construction of the Duomo di Firenze. There are many more detailed (and perhaps more reliable) writings on Brunelleschi and the dome (Saalman, Hartt, etc.) but none are more inspiring.
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Filippo Brunelleschi is best known for his design of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Apparently, he was an unkempt and cantankerous old goldsmith and sculptor, very paranoid and suspicious of his fellow artisans - even for fifteenth-century Florence. But it was not just the design for which he deserves accolades. The manner by which he proposed to erect the dome was so radical that he was labeled a madman. Even more startling was that he refused to reveal the deta ...more
Richelle Priscilla
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all-the-art
Okay but this was actually really good??? It wasn’t a too descriptive and mathematical explanation on how this dome was constructed. There was a story in it and a variety of other small narratives that contributed to the construction as a whole. We got technical and we got terms and we got dates but we also got character studies of the people involved, cause and effects, and some humorous anecdotes on the side. I was surprisingly not bored by this considering I had to read it for a critical revi ...more
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Florence in the late 14th century was a fast developing state where the money essentially came from the wool merchants that held the Signoria. Florence giving a tough competition to other cities in Europe was in the lookout for a different style of architecture that represented their city. The gothic towering structures were looked down upon, not to forget thought to be ugly. When the master mason Arnolfo di Cambio designed the cathedral the important part of the structure remained unfinished: t ...more
Oct 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book centers on the construction of the "Duomo" - Santa Maria del Fiore and its engineering genius Filippo Brunelleschi. The architectural challenges and solutions, the politics and the competition surrounding the construction of this marvel makes for a good read. However, the best thing about this book, by far, is that it captures the spirit, creativeness, and problem-solving capability of the people of the Renaissance. "Pippo" Brunelleschi not only changed construction engineering forever, ...more
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dale
Recommended to Sandra by: Lew
Shelves: history
In addition to learning about dome building, (which I really hadn't considered the difficulties of previously,) the first several chapters continued to enlighten me on what it was like to live in the 14th and 15th centuries. The plague was a constant population thinner. You worked, if you were lucky, 14-16 hours a day, 6 days a week. No benefits. they did bury you for free if you fell to your death. Sorry for digressing, back to the focus of the booki..........The question still seems to be unan ...more
Florence Millo
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the story of the building of the dome on Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy over a period of 28 years by Filippo Brunelleschi.

In August, 1418 a competition was held to determine who would design and construct the dome on the cathedral which had been under construction for over a century. The dome was considered by many to be impossible because it would span 143 feet. It is still the largest dome in the world. The winner of that competition was the goldsmith and clockmaker, Filippo
Feb 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, architecture
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ross King (born July 16, 1962) is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer. He began his career by writing two works of historical fiction in the 1990s, later turning to non-fiction, and has since written several critically acclaimed and best-selling historical works.


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“The Black Death was a faithful visitor to Florence. It arrived, on average, once every ten years, always in the summer.” 1 likes
“On August 19, 1418, a competition was announced in Florence, where the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, had been under construction for more than a century” 0 likes
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