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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (2000)

by Ross King

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,933694,678 (3.87)103
Anyone alive in Florence on August 19, 1418, would have understood the significance of the competition announced that day concerning the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, already under construction for more than a century. "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome ... shall do so before the end of the month of September". The proposed dome was regarded far and wide as all but impossible to build, due not only to its enormous size but also because its original and sacrosanct design eschewed the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. The dome would literally need to be erected over thin air. Of the many plans submitted, one stood out -- a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clock maker named Filippo Brunelleschi, then 41, who would dedicate the next 28 years to solving the puzzles of the dome's construction. Brunelleschi's Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder. Denounced at first as a madman, he was celebrated as a genius upon erecting the dome. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone and built ingenious hoists and cranes (some among the most renowned machines of the Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air -- all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and tackling personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amidst plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence -- events Ross King weaves into the story to great effect, from Brunelleschi's bitter, ongoing rivalry with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to the near capture of Florence by the Duke of Milan. He also offers a wealth of fascinating detail that opens windows into fifteenth-century life: the celebrated traditions of the brickmaker's art, the daily routine of the artisans laboring hundreds of feet above the ground as the dome grew ever higher, the problems of transportation, and the power of the guilds. Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish. Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance. Novelist Ross King offers an account of the remarkable design and construction of the largest dome in the world (even today): the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Reading with the excitement of a good novel, the book focuses on the innovative techniques used and the social and political context in which its architect worked. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com).… (more)
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English (60)  Dutch (3)  Hungarian (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (68)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
This isn't your average art history book. King's story of how the famous dome atop the Santa Maria del Fiore was born is engrossing and entertaining. This isn't just a book for engineers or art history nerds. It's an approachable tale to fifteenth century Florence and one of the greatest architectural marvels of that time.

Paragraphs of engineering details are broken up by Brunelleschi's colorful life: the pranks he played, the feuds he fought, and the secrets he kept. Readers come away, not just knowing how the dome was constructed, by who constructed it. Filippo Brunelleschi could be a called a late bloomer, as he doesn't start gaining recognition until well into adulthood, compared to his peers. Once he arrives on the scene, however, his genius makes up for lost time. Winning contest after contest with his inventions that helped construct the famous dome, it almost becomes funny just how intelligent Brunelleschi is. Even so, he still inspires awe.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in architecture, the Italian Renaissance, or a light history read. It's short, and a great addition to any library. ( )
  readerbug2 | Nov 16, 2023 |
Fantastic history of the most famous landmark in Florence and the genius that built it. ( )
  everettroberts | Oct 20, 2023 |
If you are going to Florence, you HAVE to read this. It's short and easy. ( )
  CMDoherty | Oct 3, 2023 |
Making a really big building as a way of showing off, as a way of making history. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 12, 2023 |
Well. That was... thorough. I don't know what to say. The writing isn't bad, the tone is pleasant, the information seems factual without being burdensome or dry, it's not too long or off-topic... it's just boring. A few page article would have sufficed to inform me on the topic. In the end what's lacking is any indication of why this story was worth telling.

While I came in without a particular interest in this period of architecture (or this period in Florence), I don't think that's an excuse. First, I have a high tolerance for overly detailed 'dry' writing, and secondly, two of my favorite random non-fiction reads include a book about cholera and sewer systems, and a series of essays on Dutch still lifes, neither of which is a topic I would ever seek out on purpose. It was the authors who made them worth reading and remembering.

2.5 stars. Although I didn't enjoy it, it may be worth it to others. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ross Kingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tacchetti, MaurizioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On August 19, 1418, a competition was announced in Florece, where the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, had been under construction for more than a century:  Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome of theCathedral 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.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Anyone alive in Florence on August 19, 1418, would have understood the significance of the competition announced that day concerning the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, already under construction for more than a century. "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome ... shall do so before the end of the month of September". The proposed dome was regarded far and wide as all but impossible to build, due not only to its enormous size but also because its original and sacrosanct design eschewed the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. The dome would literally need to be erected over thin air. Of the many plans submitted, one stood out -- a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clock maker named Filippo Brunelleschi, then 41, who would dedicate the next 28 years to solving the puzzles of the dome's construction. Brunelleschi's Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder. Denounced at first as a madman, he was celebrated as a genius upon erecting the dome. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone and built ingenious hoists and cranes (some among the most renowned machines of the Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air -- all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and tackling personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amidst plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence -- events Ross King weaves into the story to great effect, from Brunelleschi's bitter, ongoing rivalry with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to the near capture of Florence by the Duke of Milan. He also offers a wealth of fascinating detail that opens windows into fifteenth-century life: the celebrated traditions of the brickmaker's art, the daily routine of the artisans laboring hundreds of feet above the ground as the dome grew ever higher, the problems of transportation, and the power of the guilds. Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish. Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance. Novelist Ross King offers an account of the remarkable design and construction of the largest dome in the world (even today): the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Reading with the excitement of a good novel, the book focuses on the innovative techniques used and the social and political context in which its architect worked. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com).

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