Brunelleschi’s Dome

by Ross King

Read this in about 5 minutes

After completing my course on sacred architecture in Goa specialising in churches I developed an unhealthy fascination with the renaissance architecture. The dome of St Cajetan inspired me to learn more about the architecture of Florence and how churches were built during the time there. After watching ‘Medici: Masters of Florence’ my obsession with the dome of Florence cathedral only heightened further. Cosimo de Medici’s fascination with renaissance art is like a communicable disease.

Cover: Brunelleschi’s Dome

On my quest to learn more about the Renaissance period and the Medicis I stumbled upon this book by Ross King. By this time Brunelleschi had caught my fascination. This book came by at the right time and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Cover page

This section somewhat falls redundant when one is reading on kindle. The kindle version does not show the cover page which is a disappointment since the cover page here is beautiful. The Florence cathedral with the large blue sky in the background feels like royalty. The font and the description only make the cover more beautiful. This cover by vintage is beautiful. I recommend buying the physical copy of the book to anyone who looks forward to reading this book.

Characters

The book is by and large about Filippo Brunelleschi. He is considered to be the most renowned architect of the period. For someone trained as a goldsmith, Brunelleschi possessed the craft of a mechanical engineer and the talent of an artist. Known for his eccentric nature, Brunelleschi was an artist whom people preferred to keep away from but his sheer genius could not prevent them from applauding him.

The book also talks about other personalities involved in the construction of the cathedral and the dome itself. There is master mason named Arnolfo di Cambio who was the master mason of the cathedral. Neri di Fioravanti is extensively talked about for his model of the dome. However no deserves more attention than the arch rival Lorenzo Ghiberti and Giovanni da Prato. The volatile relationship between the cape maestros is extensively spoken of.

Content

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: the dome. It was tricky to say the least. The roof covering a span of more than that of Pantheon was a dream that was given wings to by Neri di Fioravanti. Neri designed the two shelled dome but passed away before he could resolve the structural stability of the dome, leaving it to the architects to follow to brainstorm over it. The model was curiously kept in the cathedral while the Florentines waited for God to show them a way to build it or for the arrival of an architect who could take over this enormous task.

And when Brunellschi arrived he was literally god sent. Brunelleschi was sieving the ruins of Rome when he heard of the competition. He immediately returned to Florence after 10 years of self-imposed exile to begin working on the most famous building of the era.

The book begins with the announcement of a competition call to all those interested in building the cathedral as per Neri’s model of the dome. The work was to begin on ‘the more beautiful and honourable temple than any in any other party of Tuscany’.

Brunelleschi presented his model but did not give away the secret of how he was going to build it, asking the opera to ‘trust’ him with it. He also explicitly mentioned that the structure is going to be revealed as the work progressed. The opera had no other choice but to trust him with the dome however they refrained from declaring him the winner.

The work began and halted and then began again. There were several hiccups along the way that was extensively talked about in the book. King an almost clinical dissection of the building and its progress and presents it as a mystery unfolding itself. There are details of the mechanics involved, rivalries and the personal life of Brunelleschi that helps one understand the dome much better.

The content is a delight to read, especially for an art/architecture enthusiast.

Language

King has a way of narrating architecture that you seldom come across. Every building has a story to tell and King has become an exceptional mouth piece. There is a suspense maintained throughout the book that will make you read through the night.

Good points

The cover page is beautiful. The characters are well understood through the writing. The content, of course, is kept interesting throughout. The marvellous narration gives life to the building.

Bad points

The working of the reverse gear mechanics is difficult to understand with the narration. The pictures inside the book are not clear enough. This maybe a fault in the kindle format. One may need to go through several images and videos to understand the working of the mechanics involved.

Overall

I completely loved the book. I hope to read more form the author really soon.

Whom do I recommend this to

This book is for those who like reading about architecture. Those who are remotely interested in the art and architecture of renaissance period are going to like this book.

Buy the book

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com