Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo. Voltaire. Isaac Newton. These are some of the great thinkers that probably come to mind when you think of the Renaissance. But for some of us more versed in the history of the time, architect and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi may be a familiar name.
A native of Florence, Brunelleschi is often credited with the discovery of perspective – the technique notably missing from many works of the Middle Ages. Ross King’s book, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, tells not only the tale of the dome’s construction, but envelopes you into 15th century Florentine life. To me, a technical look at the engineering marvel of Santa Maria de Fiore’s dome would have been incredibly boring; what I enjoyed most about King’s account is the drama following the main character.
King’s writing immerses you in the daily life of Florence’s 15th century by getting the reader to think of the politics at play in the thinking of the time. Brunelleschi’s study of Roman ruins and their influence on his architectural accomplishments provide an interesting backdrop for the whole story. Brunelleschi’s experiences in Rome and his implementation of mathematics and engineering lost at the end of the Roman empire are tainted by the ignorance and hate for Roman thought coming out of the Middle Ages.
The politics of architecture and invention during this time are another story to follow. Our protagonist is extremely paranoid and protective of his discoveries, making his triumphs even more satisfying to the reader. King portrays Brunelleschi as a friend you are happy to see finally succeed, as we watch him overcome economic setbacks and failed attempts at solving problems set forth by those overseeing the Cathedral’s construction.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by King’s book. While Brunelleschi’s Dome certainly provides in-depth information on the architectural aspect of the building, anyone would find something in it to trigger their imagination. Brunelleschi’s Dome successfully blends more technical information with intriguing and humorous explanations for driving forces behind daily life, politics, art, and science of the early Renaissance.
Which Renaissance architectural masterpiece do you wish you had designed? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.