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Filippo Brunelleschi. K.J. Benoy. A Renaissance Man. Trained as a goldsmith and sculptor, Brunelleschi became an accomplished artist and architect. His inventiveness still amaze artists, architects and engineers today. Brunelleschi’s losing entry. His Loss -- Posterity’s Gain.

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Filippo Brunelleschi

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a renaissance man
A Renaissance Man
  • Trained as a goldsmith and sculptor, Brunelleschi became an accomplished artist and architect.
  • His inventiveness still amaze artists, architects and engineers today.
his loss posterity s gain

Brunelleschi’s losing entry

His Loss -- Posterity’s Gain
  • The defining moment in Brunelleschi’s life came when he lost a competition to create doors for Florence’s cathedral.
  • The test was to create a low relief panel, showing Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.
  • The panel was to depict the moment of God’s intervention.
his loss posterity s gain4

Ghiberti’s winning entry

His Loss -- Posterity’s Gain
  • Lorenzo Ghiberti, who won the 1401 contest, noted that there were seven competitors.
  • Only Brunelleschi and Ghiberti’s panels survive.
  • Ghiberti devoted 49 years of his life to carving two sets of doors for the Baptistry. His memory is immortalized by this achievement, but he is known for nothing more.
inventing perspective
Inventing Perspective
  • Creating realistic looking 3 dimensional images on a flat surface has challenged artists since paint was first applied to cave walls.
  • Brunelleschi is often given credit for being the first person to create a workable mathematical formula to use in doing so.
inventing perspective6

the Kaufmann Haggadah. Spain,

late 14th Century

Inventing Perspective
  • Medieval painters noted receding lines of architectural features, but couldn’t make mathematical sense of them.
  • The placement of figures within architecture was particularly perplexing.

His drawing of Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito photograph

  • Brunelleschi’s discovery is linked to his architectural work.
  • Presenting realistic images of what his final work would look like helped him win contracts.
the peep show demonstration
The Peep-Show Demonstration
  • Brunelleschi demonstrated his idea dramatically by creating a painted panel showing Florence’s Baptistry from the Cathedral.
  • In the center is a hole to look through.
  • The viewer faces the Baptistry and looks at it.
  • Then he holds up the panel in front of his face and peers through the hole in the panel at a mirror.
  • The two views are indistinguishable
the peep show experiment
The Peep-Show Experiment
  • His biographer noted the method, saying that he:

had made a hole in the panel on which there was this painting; ... which hole was as small as a lentil on the painting side of the panel, and on the back it opened pyramidally, like a woman's straw hat, to the size of a ducat or a little more. And he wished the eye to be placed at the back, where it was large, by whoever had it to see, with the one hand bringing it close to the eye, and with the other holding a mirror opposite, so that there the painting came to be reflected back; ... which on being seen, ... it seemed as if the real thing was seen: I have had the painting in my hand and have seen it many times in these days, so I can give testimony. (Trans. by White, 1968, pp. 114-17)

the peep show demonstration11
The Peep-Show Demonstration
  • Brunelleschi noted that a horizon line and a central vanishing point defined everything in the image.
brunelleschi s architecture
Brunelleschi’s Architecture
  • He eagerly sought novel solutions to old and new problems.
  • He did not feel bound by traditional ideas or methods.
  • He rejected the Gothic notion of heavenly scale and sought to build a new, human, architecture.
the pazzi chapel
The Pazzi Chapel
  • A clear example of this human scale is found in a small chapel at Santa Croce in Florence.
  • Here, he employs the geometric forms of circles, spheres, squares and cubes to perfection
the pazzi chapel14
The Pazzi Chapel
  • Man is intended to fit harmoniously within its scale .
  • In its simplicity it also returns to Roman models.
    • Round arches
    • Barrel vaults
    • A defining dome.
san lorenzo
San Lorenzo
  • The simple geometry of his Pazzi Chapel is also present in larger works.
  • San Lorenzo is his interpretation of a large basilica.
san lorenzo17


Lantern over dome


San Lorenzo
the duomo
The Duomo
  • Brunelleschi’s crowning achievement was not even a complete structure.
  • Rather, it was the completion of a Medieval building begun by builders incapable of finishing it.
  • At Florence’s heart lies Sta. Maria del Fiore, whose baptistry features prominently in Brunelleschi’s discovery of perspective.
  • Here was a great church with an enormous void at its crossing; an opening so large it seemed impossible to cover it.
the duomo19
The Duomo
  • With typical Florentine self-assurance, the building was constructed prior to a solution being found.
  • In 1418 Brunelleschi and Ghiberti once again competed with eachother.
  • This time Brunelleschi won.
the duomo20
The Duomo
  • The difficulty was how to place a dome over an octogon.
  • The span was massive, making centering very difficult.
  • The only engineering solutions suggested at the time involve extreme solutions like building an interior tower or filling the church interior temporarily with dirt.
the duomo21
The Duomo
  • Brunelleschi won the competition though he refused to say how he would solve the problem – merely that he knew how to do so.
  • This involved new engineering techniques and inventing all kinds of new construction equipment.
the duomo22

A reconstruction

The Duomo
  • The width of the octagonal base allowed space for a central dome to be constructed within it.
  • To reduce weight a two shelled dome was built.
  • The inner shell was of self-supporting herringboned brick
the duomo23
The Duomo
  • The outer shell would resist weathering.
  • The two shells were linked to each other by ribs and supports.
  • No supporting scafolding was required in construction.
the duomo24
The Duomo
  • The completed structure immortalized both Brunelleschi and the city of Florence.
  • This was exactly what both intended.
  • The Duomo is Florence’s defining monument