Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented ArchitectureRoss King has a knack for explaining complicated processes in a manner that is not only lucid but downright intriguing. . . . Fascinating." (Los Angeles Times)
By all accounts, Filippo Brunelleschi, goldsmith and clockmaker, was an unkempt, cantankerous, and suspicious man-even by the generous standards according to which artists were judged in fifteenth-century Florence. He also designed and erected a dome over the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore-a feat of architectural daring that we continue to marvel at today-thus securing himself a place among the most formidable geniuses of the Renaissance. At first denounced as a madman, Brunelleschi literally reinvented the field of architecture amid plagues, wars, and political feuds to raise seventy million pounds of metal, wood, and marble hundreds of feet in the air. Ross King's captivating narrative brings to life the personalities and intrigue surrounding the twenty-eight-year-long construction of the dome, opening a window onto Florentine life during one of history's most fascinating eras.
Filippo Brunelleschi's design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of more than 140 feet exceeds St Paul's in London and St Peter's in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington, D.C., making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but "hot-tempered" creator is told in Ross King's delightful Brunelleschi's Dome.
Both dome and architect offer King plenty of rich material. The story of the dome goes back to 1296, when work began on the cathedral, but it was only in 1420, when Brunelleschi won a competition over his bitter rival Lorenzo Ghiberti to design the daunting cupola, that work began in earnest. King weaves an engrossing tale from the political intrigue, personal jealousies, dramatic setbacks, and sheer inventive brilliance that led to the paranoid Filippo, "who was so proud of his inventions and so fearful of plagiarism," finally seeing his dome completed only months before his death. King argues that it was Brunelleschi's improvised brilliance in solving the problem of suspending the enormous cupola in bricks and mortar (painstakingly detailed with precise illustrations) that led him to "succeed in performing an engineering feat whose structural daring was without parallel." He tells a compelling, informed story, ranging from discussions of the construction of the bricks, mortar, and marble that made up the dome, to its subsequent use as a scientific instrument by the Florentine astronomer Paolo Toscanelli. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
Walker was the hardcover publisher of Dava Sobel's sleeper smash, Longitude, and Mark Kurlansky's steady-seller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. This brief, secondary source-based account is clearly aimed at the same lay science-cum-adventure readership. British novelist King (previously unpublished in the U.S.) compiles an elementary introduction to the story of how and why Renaissance Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed and oversaw the construction of the enormous dome of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedralAdesigning its curves so that they needed no supporting framework during construction: a major Renaissance architectural innovation. Illustrated with 26 b&w period prints, the book contains 19 chapters, some very brief. Although the result is fast moving and accessible, King overdoes the simplicity to the point that the book appears unwittingly as if it was intended for young adults. (Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo, for example, "took a dim view of marriage and women.") This book feels miles away from its actual characters, lacking the kind of dramatic flourish that would bring it fully to life. Despite direct quotes from letters and period accounts, the "would have," "may have" and "must have" sentences pile up. Still, the focus on the dome, its attendant social and architectural problems, and the solutions improvised by Brunelleschi provide enough inherent tension to carry readers along. (Oct. 23)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Like the poetry of Petrarch or the artistry of Giotto, the architecture of Filippo Brunelleschi radiates the talent of a Renaissance genius. King illuminates the mysterious sources of inspiration and the secretive methods of this architectural genius in a fascinating chronicle of the building of his masterwork, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Unsurpassed by St. Peter's in Rome or St. Paul's in London, Filippo's sublime dome required an imaginative leap in its conception and a stubborn relentlessness in its execution. King details how Filippo waged and won his 28-year battle to raise the magnificent structure, surmounting every technical, political, and artistic obstacle. And just as his dome created a visual focus for the city of Florence, his exploits in building it wove together numerous strands of municipal history--war, disease, intrigue, commerce--making one glorious narrative cord. King demonstrates a remarkable range, explaining everything from how Filippo engineered the hoists for raising stone to why the masons working on the dome drank diluted wine, but he always brings us back to the one incandescent mind performing the one matchless feat that would forever transform architecture from a mechanical craft into a creative art. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
A very nice read before visiting Florence
There must have been something in the water in Florence, Italy during the 13, 14, and 1500's... the amount of genius that city has produced continues to stagger the imagination: Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonerotti, ... and now (I discover) Brunelleschi. There's no denying the simple beauty of the cathedral's Rennaissance "five-point" dome, shelled in brilliant terra cotta, and topped with a distinctive "lantern" -whose origins are also covered in the book. What is not so widely appreciated is how revolutionary construction of the cathedral's dome was. Prior to Brunelleschi, domes were built over a scaffold frame to support the masonry until it dried. Brunelleschi's dome, however, is so large that its weight precluded such methods. How Brunelleschi overcame the technical challenges (while maneuvering through several political and interpersonal intrigues) to give the world this iconic dome makes for an edifying read, particulary for anybody traveling to Florence.
So why not five stars? - I guess I would have liked to hear some more of the architectural/engineering principles that underlie Brunelleschi's design, and more comparisons to the contemporary designs of Brunelleschi's day. Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody interested in art history, architecture, or who is about to visit Florence.
So sorry I didn't climb the dome on my recent trip to florence....
I travel a ton and I am so sorry I didn't climb Brunelleschi's Dome. After reading this book, I want to go back, just to climb and see all the details I just read about. At times the book got slow and technical, but it was overall fascinating.....Stands the test of time....
A short well written story about building a Renaissance church
The story of Brunelleschi's Dome is about a unique architectural accomplishment, one that has not been surpassed in the hundreds of years since it was built. The story is not just about the Dome, but about Brunelleschi and his competitors. It even gives us a glimpse of the era in which it takes place.
The book is short, only 167 pages. It is somewhat superficial; it does not delve too deeply into any one aspect of the Dome, the people or the time in which it was built. Readers with specialist knowledge or interest in any of those areas might be disappointed. Some of the descriptions of the building technics used and of the engineering of the Dome left me confused. More diagrams would have helped.
While this book does not have enough information in any one area to interest specialists, I thought it was a great read. It was an well written narrative on an interesting topic I would not have known much about otherwise.
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