726: Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

by Gerard

726.6094551: King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. New York: Penguin, 2001. 167 pp. ISBN 0-1420-0015-9.

The 700s are dense. They are dedicated to the fine arts; you have fit all of them in there. Painting, photography, dance, acting, sculpture, comics, television, sports–everything. Since architecture is a fairly broad subject it gets all of the 720s. Our book today falls under 726–Architecture of buildings for religious or related purposes.

In August 1418, a simple competition was announced:

Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome of the Cathedral under construction by the Opera del Duomo–for armature, scaffold or other thing, or any lifting device pertaining to the construction and perfection of said cupola or vault–shall do so before the end of the month of September. If the model be used he shall be entitled to a payment of 200 gold Florins.

With that notice, Filippo Brunelleschi envisioned and led the construction of the greatest domed structure the world had ever seen. It would take him 28 years (until his death) and along the way, he would revolutionize construction techniques and apparatus.

Ross King does a very good job of telling the story of “the Duomo.” Brunelleschi’s life, even as an architect, is full of fun nuggets that will delight the Renaissance enthusiast. The book actually has a leg up on many others I’ve read; it has plenty of illustrations. In order to envision the magnitude of the Filippo’s achievement, numerous drawings from contemporaneous journals are provided to add to the fun. Like any great artist, Filippo gets into spats with his fellow architects and that makes the story that much richer. It’s a short book, but fun to read.