Brunelleschi's Dome
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Brunelleschi's Death Mask
Filippo Brunelleschi, Death Mask from the Museo de Duomo
Filippo Brunelleschi, the often forgotten genius

Filippo Brunelleschi 1377-1446

Brunelleschi was an eccentric and forward-thinking man who over the course of his lifetime would win both respect and admiration from the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci. Brunelleschi was initially trained as goldsmith, but in his twenties he took up art and architecture after a three-year trip to Rome.

In Rome, Brunelleschi studied several of the ancient ruins, including the Pantheon. At the time, the Pantheon was the largest dome in existence, and how it had been built was a total mystery. Brunelleschi studied the dome, even climbing up into it to take a closer look.

Upon returning to Florence, Brunelleschi convinced the builders of the new Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), that he had a solution to the perplexing problem of how to add a cupola to the cathedral. Up until that point some of the brightest minds in architecture had tried to solve the riddle with ideas as complex as filling the entire space with dirt and building the dome on top of it, to building in supports on the floor of the cathedral to hold up the dome.

Brunelleschi's idea for how to build the dome would revolutionize engineering and construction, and his creation would be the largest dome in the world for nearly half a millennium. His place in history was not secured during the construction, and constant questioning and rivalries with other architects would plague his progress.

Brunelleschi kept many of his plans for building the dome secret as it was constructed, because he feared that his rivals would steal his ideas. He built strange contraptions that hoisted bricks to the top of the dome, and were admired by DaVinci (who is a pretty well known gadget guy). DaVinci's did several drawings of the contraptions that Brunelleschi created for the construction of the dome.

Jennifer Brown, 2002