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Monthly Book Challenge > Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

October 1, 2010

There really are no 'rules' for this month's book read.

We have decided that since this book has a little over 200 pages, we would read about 50 pages (or to the end of the chapter) per week. We can either discuss the book during the week as we read, or at the end of the week we can place our comments. It's all up to you!

BUT, if you choose to discuss the pages of the book that we are currently reading for that week, please place a spoiler alert before your comment.

I think this is going to be fun! Happy Reading Everyone!!!

message 2: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments So page 50 by Oct. 9th.

message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments OK. I bought a used copy on Amazon for a quite reasonable price. Looking forward to the group read...

message 4: by Caryl (new)

Caryl (cdahn) | 32 comments I also bought a copy at Amazon for a very reasonable price. I am looking forward to the discussion.

message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments I may read this one. I've heard it's good. Just put a summons for it into the library ether.

message 6: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments At the very beginning of the book, so as to illustrate the accomplishment of building a dome of this sort, King contrasts it with the buttresses used to support the domes (?) of Gothic cathedrals -- flying buttresses.... I think there was a photo of these in Gombrich (The Story of Art), but I don't have a clear sense of what he's talking about -- does anyone have a photo or two and/or a link to a quick (and easy) explanation? Thanks

Here, btw, is a nice photo (wiki) of the Dome, looking north (?) - if I'm not mistaken:

message 7: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments That is a beautiful picture of the cathedral. Thanks for posting that, AC.

message 8: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I don't know if this is what you're asking, but I found these sites that explain a little about gothic cathedrals and their construction. Interesting.

message 9: by Ruth (last edited Sep 26, 2010 03:17PM) (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments Gothic cathedrals didn't generally have domes. But the major advancement in architectural engineering of the Gothic age was the flying buttress.

message 10: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments I see... Thanks, both!

message 11: by Azhin (new)

Azhin | 1 comments Hello everybody
I've got a question!
Is there a site where I can download the book for free?
coz I wasn't able to find an oiginl copy here in Iran.

message 12: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments I doubt you can get it for free, Azhin. It's a fairly recent book and still under copyright.

message 13: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments Azhin wrote: "Hello everybody
I've got a question!
Is there a site where I can download the book for free?
coz I wasn't able to find an oiginl copy here in Iran."

Try kindle...?

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) I just received my copy from Amazon. Fifty pages per week is doable. Looks interesting.

message 15: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments It's October 1, 2010!
Time to start reading! I look forward to everyone's comments, this is going to be fun!
Good Luck Everyone...HAPPY READING!

message 16: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments I'm not sure when to start commenting.

message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments And by coincidence the notice from the library that it's in came just this morning.

message 18: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments We can comment starting today if we put a SPOILER ALERT before every comment, or we can start commenting next Friday. What do you think? Feedback anyone???

message 19: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments I can wait til next Friday:-)

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) Next Friday works for me. I'm enjoying the book.

message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Yes, Friday sounds good to me too. I haven't started yet, but will get going on it this weekend.

message 22: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Next Friday works best for me.

message 23: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments Friday works for me as well... I look forward to the conversation.

message 24: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Great! Thank you all for your input. We will go with Friday then for our comments.

message 25: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Interesting tidbit about the artists of the day, including Michelangelo:

"...Michelangelo would become legendary for his ugliness...was indifferent to the state of his dress often going for months on end without changing his dogskin breeches."

It goes on to say "in the end ugly and eccentric artists would become so much the norm..."

message 26: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Does anyone know how old Ghiberti was when he and Brunelleschi competed to construct the baptistry doors? I think I missed that part, they both must have been fairly young...

message 27: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments They were born within a year of each other. So Ghiberti would have been about 23 and Brunelleschi about 24 at the time of the competition for the doors in 1401.

message 28: by Monica (last edited Oct 08, 2010 02:48PM) (new)

Monica | 909 comments Not really that young. I want to say 40 but don't quote me. Brunelleschi was a bit disheveled, too. Ghiberti was born 1378 and the competition was 1418... God, I was right on the money!

message 29: by Jonathan (last edited Oct 08, 2010 03:00PM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments The competition for the doors, which Ghiberti won, was much earlier, Monica. It's covered in Chapter 2 of the book, and Brunelleschi's loss there sets up his pursuit of the commission for the dome during the competition of 1418-19, when he (Brunelleschi) was around 41.

message 30: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments Oh I was thinking of the competition for the dome. I went to U of M but can't read!

message 31: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Actually very easy to mistake one competition for another, especially when they are discussed fairly close together in the text.

message 32: by Robin (last edited Oct 08, 2010 04:10PM) (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) Heather, In Chapter 2, it states that in 1418 ,Filippo Brunelleschi was 41 years old And Lorenzo Ghiberti was 24 years old.

message 33: by Jonathan (last edited Oct 08, 2010 05:24PM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments This birthdate issue is becoming a distraction:

Filippo Brunelleschi, born 1377

Lorenzo Ghiberti, born 1378

Can we put this behind us now and maybe move on to something substantive relating to the book?

One issue that struck me as interesting was the loss of complex engineering knowledge after the fall of the Roman Empire. This meant that problems like the construction of large domes were a mystery in the 14th century though such domes had been built with some frequency and great skill in antiquity.

message 34: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments That's why I thought it was cool that Brunelleschi went to Rome to study the ruins. I'm sure he got the ideas there that he needed, especially the pantheon. I think that dome is beautiful.

message 35: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) I was ready for a discussion, I have the book, also have gone past page 50. Some parts of the book makes me question why we are reading such a book? The structure is amazing, and I get the rivalry between the two, and since my husband works in construction, which deals with concrete, I get all that. Was not here when you people voted for the reading material.

message 36: by Jonathan (last edited Oct 08, 2010 07:21PM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Heather wrote: "That's why I thought it was cool that Brunelleschi went to Rome to study the ruins. I'm sure he got the ideas there that he needed, especially the pantheon. I think that dome is beautiful."

That's a good point Heather. Brunelleschi did draw explicit inspiration from the ancients. And yet he had to devise his own methods to achieve similar feats. He could see the Pantheon and recognize that such an accomplishment was possible, but the step-by-step techniques were no longer part of the working knowledge of architects or builders.

message 37: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) He is credited with so many things because of his work on the dome, he is the one who re-introduced perspective, and he had to devise a way to make the dome not come crashing down as most structures of the day were wont to do. He had to come up with a way for the cement to not buckle in. I can't wait to read the rest, and find out how he solved the dome dilemma.

message 38: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments I'm sorry. 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 without defining them and there is no glossary. He discusses complicated bits of machinery with no clear diagrams of how they worked. Somebody can do better than this.

So...that's how I really feel. :)

message 39: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) I don't know who gave the reviews of this book either. Once I got the book I was trying to picture in my mind what the machinery is, and most times I have had to use my imagination. Although the author apparently knows what he is talking about, for the average lay person who doesn't hold any engineering degree I cannot fathom what he is talking about. I may finish the book but I am not getting any great satisfaction out of it. I am also reading Northanger Abbey, Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice and I have others to read also.

message 40: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments King's focus on engineering is dense. His book is not a critical art history --or Brunelleschi's biography, per se, but isn't the competition interesting? Isn't the insight to Brunelleschi and Ghiberti's opposing personalities interesting? The book is certainly is giving me insight into the dome's construction and life in Florence at the time. The natural resources and technology of the day aren't something I've read about before and the unsanitary curing methods of earlier times are surprising. The herculean task of the men who performed the construction is interesting. I don't know what we were expecting but I'm learning something and my book has diagrams.


Isn't it fascinating what Michaelangelo got from Bruneleschi's genius? I'm glad credit is given where credit is due.

message 41: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) Yes, and they also had to drink wine since the water was unsanitary. For the most part I like the book because of the rivalry and being that Brunelleschi's is the older man but he is very insightful and inventive and some of his inventions were unheard of, and so he took risks in developing the tools whereby they could do their job. What got to me is the Black Plague appearing every 10 years and if you were wealthy you went to the country to wait it out.

message 42: by Jonathan (last edited Oct 09, 2010 06:25AM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Hi Ruth--Sorry to hear that you aren't enjoying the book. I have to admit that it's not quite what I was expecting either. I do think it could be an interesting secondary read for students in a high school AP art history class or college art history survey because it deals with a large amount of material--the baptistry doors, the excavations of ancient artifacts, perspective drawing, and the engineering difficulties of Renaissance architecture--in a fairly undemanding narrative framework. That said, the book is very short on authorial ideas and historical context and seems strangely inert stylistically. Its great success may be due in part to the fact that this important and well-known story has seldom been presented in a clear, concise, and untaxing way for the general reader. It seems to be designed as a primer on the topic, not a deep or authoritative treatment.

Anyway, live and learn. Maybe next time we should go for something a bit more engaging.

message 43: by Dvora (new)

Dvora I bought my copy (had no choice) but I'm not sure I will finish it either. It is really, seriously boring. I love art and architectural history and have read lots about both. I'm not even sure I would like it better with diagrams and more useful information on what the author is talking about. I was hoping for more about the people involved, and somehow even that is missing.
Ruth wrote: "I'm sorry. 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 lectu..."

message 44: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments I'm not a fan either, and would be happy to switch. Mark Doty? But I'll post two bibliographical refs on ancient engineering/transmission when I get home. Currently at the beautiful new library in rockville w/ my 4-year old. There is such a thing as heaven-on-earth, after all...! :-))

message 45: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) I finished the book, since there was little discussion, I think it should be read in the context that we get Brunelleschi's genius of taking on this monumental feat and accomplishing it. It is a long slog, but I endured it.

message 46: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments I'm completely incompetent wrt: to scientific/engineering issues, and so much of this book simply passes me by. But for those better situated, there is a good introduction to classical engineering here:

and here:

This last is an important book in its own right.

For those interested in the transmission of ancient texts from Byzantium to Italy, read:

This is a book of great scholarly value which, at the same time, is written for the interested layman.

For those who want something more extensive:


(which is also fascinating).

message 47: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) At first, I think I was not used to all the mechanical engineering machinery that Brunelleschi set out to use to accomplish his dome work. But it engrossed me after a while and I got in to the rhythm of what the author was trying to convey, and I could picture the machines and their being used for the purposes to which they were utilized.

message 48: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I agree with Robin, I haven't finished the book yet, but I see what King is trying convey although a little dryly. I don't know how he could make it any other way and get the gist of the history behind the competition, the building, and the overall feel of life during that time.

message 49: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) Once you get into it, it isn't a dry read per se, but he has to use the engineering facts and the inventions to get his story to unfold. I looked at my library database and they do have a pop-up Brunelleschi dome, but is not available for checkout. That would have been nice to see what they did, and how it looks.

message 50: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments Facts are interesting. They're only dry if the book isn't well written. Read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. A book crammed with nothing but facts and explanation, and it's interesting as all get out.

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