UA-33338386-2 #30 Brunelleschi & The Dome I - The Renaissance Times
#29 Ghiberti & The Doors II
October 12, 2018
#31 Brunelleschi & The Dome II
November 2, 2018

#30 Brunelleschi & The Dome I

  • After he finished the first set of doors, he was commissioned to make a huge bronze statue of John The Baptist by the same guild – by the cloth merchant’s guild, the Arte di Calimala. –  for the outside wall of Orsanmichele (Orsan-mikele) – (or “Kitchen Garden of St. Michael”) –  another church in Florence.
  • It was the largest statue ever cast in Florence up to that point.
  • From its base, it rises 2.55 meters.
  • By comparison, Michelangelo’s David stands at 5.17-metres.
  • Vasari: In this work, which was placed in position in the year 1414, there is seen the beginning of the good modern manner, in the head, in an arm which appears to be living flesh, in the hands, and in the whole attitude of the figure. He was thus the first who began to imitate the works of the ancient Romans, whereof he was an ardent student, as all must be who desire to do good work.
  • Ghiberti also wrote a book, which he called his Commentary.
  • This was the first artist’s autobiography.
  • Now this is a big deal.
  • One thing we haven’t mentioned, is that at this stage, and actually for a long time afterwards, these visual artists weren’t celebrities.
  • They were working joes.
  • Florence was the city of guilds.
  • Craftsmen.
  • Being an artist was a craft.
  • Sure – you had some craftsmen who were more talented, or who worked harder, or had higher standards, than others.
  • But they weren’t superstars like we think of artists today.
  • What they were producing wasn’t “art” as we think of it.
  • It was more like… wallpaper.
  • Something to cover your walls with.
  • Not something you’d go into a hushed gallery and stare at for hours.
  • But it was more than wallpaper.
  • It was like wallpaper and picture books combined.
  • Because most people were still illiterate and uneducated.
  • But everyone can look at a picture, a sculpture.
  • And from that they can learn, or be reminded of, the stories from the Bible.
  • But this position of “artist as celebrity” started to emerge in Florence during the Renaissance.
  • Because the wealth elite wanted the very best artists to work on their projects, there was a lot of competition.
  • And some artists ended up in a position where they were admired during their lifetimes.
  • The Medici had a lot to do with this.
  • But we’ll get to that in later episodes.
  • So anyway, for Gibbo to write a book about himself, is a pretty big deal.
  • As we said earlier in the series, Augustine of Hippo wrote Confessions, the first Western autobiography ever written, around 400.
  • Although the idea of writing about yourself obviously wasn’t new.
  • Julius Caesar wrote his own commentaries about his own campaigns.
  • The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote his own autobiography in the late first century.
  • Anyway, back to Ghiberti’s book.
  • Unfortunately, the only copy of Gibbo’s Commentaries we have is a single corrupt manuscript.
  • Vasari wasn’t a big fan:
  • Vasari: The same Lorenzo wrote a book in the vulgar tongue, wherein he treated of many diverse matters, but in such wise that little profit can be drawn from it. The only good thing in it, in my judgment, is this, that after having discoursed of many ancient painters, and particularly of those cited by Pliny, he makes brief mention of Cimabue (Chim-a-boo-ay), Giotto, and many others of those times; and this he did, with much more brevity than was right, for no other reason but to slip with a good grace into a discourse about himself, and to enumerate minutely, as he did, one by one, all his own works. Nor will I forbear to say that he feigns that his book was written by another, whereas afterwards, in the process of writing as one who knew better how to draw, to chisel, and to cast in bronze, than how to weave stories-talking of himself, he speaks in the first person, ” I made, ” “I said, ” “I was making, ” I was saying”. Finally, having come to the sixty-fourth year of his age, and being assailed by a grievous and continuous fever, he died, leaving immortal fame for himself by reason of the works that he made, and through the pens of writers; and he was honourably buried in S. Croce. His portrait is on the principal bronze door of the Church of S. Giovanni, on the border that is in the middle when the door is closed, in the form of a bald man, and beside him is his father Bartoluccio; and near them may be read these words: LAURENTII CIONIS DE ĢHIBERTIS MIRA ARTE FABRICATUM
  • LORENZO cione de ĢHIBERTIS – wonderful art fabricator
  • Okay let’s talk a little more about Bruno.
  • We know about his life because the first artist’s biography (in the western tradition) is Antonio Manetti’s biography of Filippo Brunelleschi, written in the 15th century.
  • After he lost the Baptistery commission, Bruno and his friend Donatello visited Rome to study its ancient ruins.
  • Donatello, like Brunelleschi, was trained as a goldsmith.
  • And as we know, Donatello returned to Florence to help Gibbo with the bronze doors.
  • But Bruno seems to have decided he couldn’t return to painting, or goldsmithing or sculpture.
  • He was going to be Florence’s greatest architect.
  • Brunelleschi’s first architectural commission was the Ospedale degli Innocenti (1419–ca.1445), or ‘Hospital of the Innocents.
  • I have to thank Tony & Alex Kynaston for pointing it out to me on our last trip to Florence.
  • We walked past it on our way to see David at the Accademia.
  • I wouldn’t have noticed it.
  • He received the commission in 1419 from the Arte della Seta, the silk guild.
  • The guild he trained with in his youth.
  • It was going to manage the orphanage.
  • That guild was one of the wealthiest in the city and, like most guilds, took upon itself philanthropic duties.
  • Children were sometimes abandoned in a basin which was located at the front portico.
  • However, this basin was removed in 1660 and replaced by a door with a special rotating horizontal wheel that brought the baby into the building without the parent being seen.
  • This allowed people to leave their babies, anonymously, to be cared for by the orphanage.
  • This system was in operation until the hospital’s closure in 1875.
  • Today the building houses a small museum of Renaissance art with works by Luca della Robbia, Sandro Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo and Adoration of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
  • So he gets this commission 16 or 17 years after he lost the Baptistery competition.
  • It was originally a children’s orphanage.
  • is made up of nine semicircular arches.
  • It was the first building in Florence to make clear reference—in its columns and capitals—to classical antiquity.
  • Plus is has a sense of the new humanism about it.
  • It has a clean and clear sense of proportion.
  • Its long row of 9 loggia – loggia  (lozh-ah) – covered exterior corridor, with columns and arches – would have been a rare sight in the tight and curving streets of Florence, not to mention its impressive arches, each about 8 meters high.
  • Brunelleschi’s design was based on Classical Roman, Italian Romanesque and late Gothic architecture.
  • The loggia was a well known building type, for example the Loggia dei Lanzi, also called the Loggia della Signoria, was already built.
  • You might remember it as the building with the outdoor statues, in the Piazza della Signoria, next door to the Uffizi.
  • But Bruno’s building has a new sense of order.
  • The height of the columns is the same as the width of the intercolumniation – the distance between adjacent columns of a building.
  • Which gives it a sense of stability and order.
  • The building is dignified and sober; there were no displays of fine marble or decorative inlays.
  • However… a year before he gets this commission:
  • In 1418 the Florence Cathedral announced an open competition for design-models to finally finish the dome for the cathedral.
  • The cathedral was originally a building of the fifth or even the fourth century, which had twice been reconstructed in early medieval times.
  • A generation before, in 1294, the Florentines decided they ought to pull down their old cathedral and build a new and bigger one, and a plan was drawn up two years later.
  • The new church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio.
  • By then the final design was for a massive, oblong church with an octagonal space surmounted by a great drum with a dome on top.
  • The first stone was laid on Sept 9, 1296.
  • It took 140 years to complete.
  • Arnolfo died in 1310.
  • Lazy.
  • It went quiet for a while.
  • In 1334 appointed Giotto to oversee the work
  • The cathedral, as designed, was painted in a huge fresco, called The Church Triumphant, by Andrea da Firenze, a member of the planning committee around 1365.
  • The façade was built of brick faced with white, green and pink marble, but work was suspended to build the campanile in similar fashion, and the old cathedral was not finally demolished until 1375.
  • The nave was finished by 1380, and by 1418, only the dome remained incomplete.
  • But building the dome was considered impossible.
  • It was unprecedented in size and raised a host of engineering problems that had never been tackled before.
  • When the building was designed in the previous century, no one had any idea how such a dome was to be built, given that it was to be even larger than the Pantheon’s dome in Rome and that no dome of that size had been built since antiquity.
  • How fucking high was the guy who designed it then?
  • Because buttresses – structures that project out to support or reinforce a wall, think of the famous flying buttresses at Notre Dame in Paris -had been forbidden by the city fathers, – why?
  • Italian architects regarded Gothic flying buttresses as ugly makeshifts.
  • And, the use of buttresses was forbidden in Florence, as the style was favored by central Italy’s traditional enemies to the north.
  • and anyway, it was impossible to obtain wooden rafters for scaffolding long and strong enough (and in sufficient quantity) for the task
  • So it was unclear how a dome of that size could be constructed without it collapsing under its own weight.
  • ON top of that, the stresses of compression weren’t very well understood.
  • So they didn’t know how it could be done
  • But, like Donald J Trump, they figured – hey, money solves everything.
  • In 1418, the Arte della Lana, the wool merchants’ guild, held a competition to solve the problem.
  • They promised a 200-florin prize for the winner, and created a separate committee of overseers for the project.
  • Brunelleschi is nearly 20 years older than he was during the competition for the doors and he’s ready for another competition.
  • Bruno said “Impossible dome? Hold my fucking beer. I got this.”
  • But this time – he’s going to blow everyone’s fucking minds.
  • He proposes  a dome could be built without wooden scaffolding – which most people thought was impossible.
  • The technology to build a dome like the Pantheon had largely been lost.
  • The challenge was hold to build a dome that wide without wooden centering.
  • The way you would usually build an arch – and a dome is just an arch, a round arch – is you’d use wooden scaffolding to support the bricks until you put the keystone in at the top, which holds it all in place.
  • But it this place was so insanely big,  they couldn’t get enough lumber or lumber that was strong enough to support a dome of that size.
  • He said – hey – I’ve spent the last 20 years in Rome studying the Pantheon – the biggest dome in the world.
  • And it’s been there for 1300 years.
  • Anyone else climbed up on top of it? Anyone? Hello? No? Right. Shut up.
  • But there’s a whole series of meetings and consultations.
  • City officials had asked to see his model, but he refused
  • According to Vasari he proposed this instead:
  • That whosoever could make an egg stand upright on a flat piece of marble should build the cupola, since thus each man’s intellect would be discerned. Taking an egg, therefore, all those Masters sought to make it stand upright, but not one could find a way. Whereupon Filippo, being told to make it stand, took it graciously, and, giving one end of it a blow on the flat piece of marble, made it stand upright. The craftsmen protested that they could have done the same; but Filippo answered, laughing, that they could also have raised the cupola, if they had seen the model or the design. And so it was resolved that he should be commissioned to carry out this work.
  • In the end, the officials approved his crazy-ass plan.
  • But… just one small condition.
  • They appointed Brunelleschi and Ghiberti as co-supervisors of the project.
  • Took four million bricks and 16 years to complete.
  • When Bruno died, he left no plans.
  • So people are STILL debating how he did it.
  • And we’re going to talk about it next time.

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