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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Filippo Brunelleschi

Mix Master
About Mr.B

Filippo Brunelleschi: 1377-1446...Italy

As a goldsmith, sculptor, architect, archeologist, and inventor, it is fair to say that Filippo Brunelleschi is a true Renaissance man. Known as Pippo to his friends, he spent his life in Florence, Italy, and developed a reputation as the leading mind of his time. Little is known about his early study. He was first in the public’s eye when he entered a competition to design a second set of bronze doors for the Baptistery in Florence. And although he lost the competition to Lorenzo Ghiberti, he was determined and he was becoming recognized as a man with great potential. Some of his first known projects include a wooden crucifix and designing the pulpit for the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and a children's orphanage known as the "Hospital of the Innocents" (Ospedale degli Innocenti) all in Florence.  

Hospital of the Innocents
1419. Florence, Italy

Not only was Brunelleschi a major part of show wonderful architectural structures, but he was also creating artworks that could be used to function inside them. One example of this is his Crucifix.

1412-13. Polychromed wood. Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy

Brunelleschi spent a lot of time in those early years working as a  clockmaker. One of his more grand clocks is in the Cathedral of Florence. This twenty-four hour clock has a face that was painted by Paolo Uccello in 1443. There are four faces around the clock that represent the evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

As a designer, Brunelleschi excelled. He developed a system for drawing space so it looked as though it was real. It gives a mathematical relationship to the placement of every object in a painting. This discovery of perspective, or more specifically, one-point linear perspective in 1415 (which he taught to Donatello Bardi), revolutionized art forever. He also designed practical tools, like several mechanical lifts for utilitarian and theatrical purposes, clocks, and various other things that helped life in this time.

Brunelleschi main passion and contribution to the world was in the form of architecture. He loved the Roman architectural style so much that he, along with his student Donatello Bardi, traveled to Rome to study their ruins. As a matter of fact, Brunelleschi led the first excavations of ancient Rome. It was this study of the classic architecture that aided him with his first major architectural commission. His Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is commonly known (by me anyway) as the Cathedral of Florence. This large structure has many parts that required many to help assemble it all over many years. Brunelleschi was responsible for several parts, including the prominent Duomo (dome). At the time this was completed, it was the largest cathedral in all of Europe. With room of 30,000 people, this would be the prototype for architectural projects like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Basilica in London, and the United States Capitol. As is true with all these structures; it is the dome that is the crown jewel of the structure.

As is also true with all these famous buildings, it takes many hands and minds to pull off the project. The building of the Cathedral of Florence began on September 9, 1296. Although the church itself was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, he died in 1302, and the project was taken over by Giotto di Bondone, who died in 1337, and his assistant Andrea Pisano took over until the Black Plague halted all work for a year. Work resumed in 1349 with several architects worked on the project: Francesco Talenti, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini, Alberto Arnoldi, Giovanni d’Ambrogio, Neri di Fioravante, and Andrea di Cione di Arcangelo. In 1419 a competition was set up to find someone to build a dome onto the cathedral. The two big names to compete, once again, were Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. Many architects came to the commission team with plans and designs for the dome, but Brunelleschi came with only an egg. Quickly forcing the egg on a table so the bottom of the egg would be crushed, but the pointiest end would be erect. That was his plan, build an egg shaped dome. Brilliant! He won the  on the commission. The plan in his mind was truely more complex. The inspiration for his design came from the Pantheon, but without the concrete. His dome was going to be a double walled dome created from wood and brick. At 140 feet in diameter, it would be the widest dome since the Pantheon. The design was for a height of 300 feet from the top of the dome down to the floor (twice the height of the Pantheon). To create the project the way it was in his mind, he would need to develop some new technologies. Brunelleschi invented temporary moveable scaffolding and a horse powered hoist to lift stone and brick onto the scaffold. This lift could raise 1,000 pounds 200 feet in thirteen minutes. It beat taking the stairs. Also in an attempt to save time, he built an area near the top of the cathedral for the crew to get a break so they wouldn’t waste time going down to the ground floor for lunch. Ghiberti called the project an impossible feat for Brunelleschi, but he was assigned to help create the dome. Feeling insulted, Brunelleschi faked a sickness, placing Ghiberti in charge. This was a plan of strategy to expose Ghiberti's lack of knowledge about architecture. It worked. The project was completely over his head and Brunelleschi was given total control of the project . The brick was organized in a herringbone pattern along the domes eight sides. To this day, we do not completely know how he calculated the angles of the walls to rise to one point. The dome is the largest masonry dome ever created. Brunelleschi worked for sixteen years on the 140 year project. Brunelleschi's portion of the project was completed largely due to his amazing design and mathematical abilities.

Cathedral of Florence
1436. Florence, Italy.

Because of Brunelleschi's contribution to the people of Florence and because of the respect they had for him, he was buried in the Cathedral of Florence. The inscription over his body reads: "Here lies the body of the great ingenious man Filippo Brunelleschi of Florence."


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063