UA-33338386-2 #32 Brunelleschi & The Dome III - The Renaissance Times
#31 Brunelleschi & The Dome II
November 2, 2018
#33 Brunelleschi & The Dome IV
November 16, 2018

#32 Brunelleschi & The Dome III

  • It’s thought that Bruno returned to Florence probably in 1416 or 1417
  • Which means he was in Rome for 15 years.
  • How did he earn a living?
  • Vasari says he didn’t have to at first.
  • Before he left Florence he sold a small farm that he owned.
  • So he lived off that money for a while.
  • When that ran out he worked as a goldsmith.
  • Vasari states that while in Rome, there wasn’t a single standing classical structure that Bruno didn’t measure and study.
  • When he got back to Florence, he would have noticed that the Duomo had just acquired its new name, Santa Maria del Fiore, “Saint Mary of the Flower,” having previously been referred to as Santa Reparata, the name of the older cathedral, which was now completely demolished.
  • The cathedral gets its name from the lily flower, the symbol of Florence.
  • They got it from the French monarch – Fleur-de-lis
  • fleur means “flower”, and lis means “lily”
  • And no-one seems sure how it came to represent the French throne.
  • One hypothesis is that the French or Franks, before entering Gaul itself, lived for a long time around the river named Leie in Dutch in the Flanders.
  • In French it’s the Lys.
  • And a species of wild iris, the Iris pseudacorus, grew around there.
  • So they were the Flower of Lys.
  • The city name is from Roman Colonia Florentia, “flowering colony,” either literal or figurative, and became Old Italian Fiorenze, modern Italian Firenze.
  • Controversy continues over who founded Florence.
  • One old theory is that Florence was founded by Sulla as a military colony
  • But the most commonly accepted story tells us that Julius Caesar founded Florentia around 59 BC,
  • He made it a strategic garrison on the narrowest crossing of the Arno river and controlling the Via Flaminia linking Rome to northern Italy and Gaul (France).
  • Archaeological evidence suggests the presence of an earlier village founded by the Etruscans of Fiesole around 200 BC.
  • But the Roman garrison might have been founded as late as 30 B.C. which would make it under Augustus.
  • Might have been Agrippa who set it up.
  • Which would make the whole Pantheon – Duomo connection even more exciting.
  • And as we’ll see – a flower was an important part of Bruno’s solution for building the dome.
  • When Bruno arrived back in Florence he is described as “middle aged, short, bald, and pugnacious looking, with an aquiline nose, thin lips, and a weak chin”.
  • So basically he looked like Ray.
  • He had dirty and disheveled clothing.
  • But in Florence looking like that was almost a badge of genius.
  • He was simply the latest in a long and illustrious line of ugly or unkempt artists.
  • The name of the painter Cimabue means “ox head,”
  • Giotto was so unattractive that Giovanni Boccaccio devoted a tale to his appearance in the Decameron,
  • He marvelled  at how “Nature has frequently planted astonishing genius in men of monstrously ugly appearance.”
  • Later, Michelangelo would become legendary for his ugliness, which was partly the result of a broken nose earned in a fracas with the sculptor Pietro Torrigiani.
  • And like both Giotto and Filippo, Michelangelo was indifferent to the state of his dress, often going for months on end without changing his dogskin breeches.
  • In the end, ugly and eccentric artists would become so much the norm that the guy who wrote Bruno’s biography, the painter and architect Giorgio Vasari — who himself had  a skin disease and dirty, uncut fingernails — was shocked that an artist as talented as Raphael should actually have been physically handsome.
  • And that bias against talented artists survives to this very day.
  • For example, People are often shocked when they find out how handsome I am.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly Bruno was unmarried.
  • But although in Florence bachelorhood was not unusual for a man in his forties, since men married late and generally took much younger women as their brides, Filippo would never marry, and in this abstention from family life he also became part of a long and glorious tradition of artists that included Donatello, Masaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo.
  • Many Florentine artists and thinkers took a dim view of both marriage and women.
  • Boccaccio, who never married, criticized Dante for having done so, claiming that a wife was a hindrance to study.
  • But a lot of these guys might have been gay.
  • And this is something I only realised on our last trip to Florence – a lot of the great masters were gay.
  • Why?
  • Does being gay make you more artistic?
  • Or does being artistic make you gay?
  • Or was there something about Florence in the Renaissance that made men gay?
  • Was it something in the water?
  • Were the women just really ugly?
  • Or were the men so ugly they couldn’t get a woman?
  • And men aren’t as picky?
  • Of course, during the time of the Renaissance, sodomy was illegal.
  • Thomas Aquinas, the immensely influential theologian, argued that sodomy is second only to murder in the ranking of sins.
  • In France during the Late Middle Ages, first-offending sodomites lost their testicles, second offenders lost their penis, and third offenders were burned. Women caught in same-sex acts would be mutilated and executed as well.
  • Because Christianity is the religion of love and peace, people.
  • I think using “context of the time” for a religion that claims moral superiority handed down directly from a supreme being, is a bit of a slippery slope.
  • Why did the supreme being allow his leaders all of whom claimed to have a “personal relationship” with him through prayer or revelation to be so reprehensible to millions of people for 1500 years? What kind of supreme being is that? What kind of love for humans is that?
  • In 1432 the city government set up a judicial panel called “The Office of the Night” exclusively to solicit and investigate charges of sodomy.
  • According to Michael Rocke’s book on Florentine homosexuality, “Forbidden Friendships”,  homosexuality really was pervasive in Florence.
  • In the small city of just 40,000 people, he estimates that 17,000 men were incriminated on charges of “sodomy” during the 70 year existence of the Office of the Night.
  • that’s a LOT of people taking it up the ass.
  • That amounts, he points out, to nearly half the male population of the city during two generations.
  • Rocke points to the city’s unusually late average age of marriage for men, roughly 30 to 31, and the large number of men who remained lifelong bachelors-approximately 12 percent of the male population.
  • These facts produced a large population of young, unrooted, sexually vigorous males in a city where many women were sheltered by their families or otherwise inaccessible.
  • This led many men to engage in sex with other males.
  • Unsurprisingly, most of those accused of sodomy, or who voluntarily confessed, were younger than 35 or unmarried older men.
  • Generally, the older partner in the sexual relationship was expected to penetrate the younger one, very much in the classical fashion; no doubt there was an expression of power or dominance in the arrangement.
  • However, there were also reports of older men who sought to be penetrated, and some who sought reciprocal relationships.
  • Even more, although historians routinely claim that fellatio was widely viewed with distaste in the Mediterranean area, it was a far from a rare activity.
  • It was specifically mentioned in 12 percent of the case reports and was likely unreported in others.
  • In 1512, a group of 30 young aristocrats staged history’s first gay rights demonstration by charging into City Hall, forcing a senior justice official to resign and demanding that the council revoke the sentences of all those who had been exiled or deprived of office for sodomy.
  • But more on that in later shows.
  • Was Bruno gay?
  • We don’t know.
  • Vasari is insistent that Brunelleschi and Donatello were inseparable.
  • And there’s good reason to think Donatello was gay.
  • So maybe Bruno was too.
  • Even though the Dome looks like a giant breast.
  • He didn’t design it, remember.
  • He just worked out how to build it.
  • His first biographer, Antonio Manetti, who actually knew him, describes him as amiable, never known to boast, and never angry except when provoked by the ‘most insulting or disrespectful acts’.
  • A century after his death Vasari jazzed him up, and turned into a bit of an asshole with an amazing intellect.
  • ANYWAY – let’s get onto building the fucking dome.
  • As we said in our first Bruno episode – In 1418 the Florence Cathedral announced an open competition for design-models to finally finish the dome for the cathedral.
  • The guild of wealthy Wool Merchants who were responsible for building and funding the cathedral, had selected a design for the cupola by Neri di Fioravanti.
  • We don’t know much about him.
  • He had redesigned Ponte Vecchio in 1345.
  • It’s the famous medieval stone arched bridge over the Arno which still has shops built along it, as was once common.
  • Originally Butchers – the present tenants are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
  • It is said that the economic concept of bankruptcy originated here: when a money-changer could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his wares (the “banco”) was physically broken (“rotto”) by soldiers, and this practice was called “bancorotto” (broken table; possibly it can come from “banca rotta” which means “broken bank”). Not having a table anymore, the merchant was not able to sell anything.
  • During World War II, the Ponte Vecchio was not destroyed by Germans during their retreat on the advance of the liberating British 8th Army on August 4, 1944, unlike all other bridges in Florence.
  • This was allegedly, according to many locals and tour guides, because of an express order by Hitler.
  • Say what you want about Hitler – but he liked a nice bridge.
  • Do you know what Vecchio means?
  • OLD.
  • OLD BRIDGE.
  • Anyway, dell’Opera del Duomo were so happy with Neri work on the Old Bridge that in 1367 – ten years before Bruno was born – they awarded the design of the dome to him.
  • Even though he had no idea how to build it.
  • Most gothic cathedrals of the time relied on flying buttresses – external structural supports that braced the outside of the basilica.
  • But Neri’s design did away with this external bracing that many in Italy considered ugly and burdensome.
  • They saw it as a hack.
  • This single aesthetic decision ushered in the Renaissance and marked the end to the Gothic age.
  • A concept model was in hand, but no one actually knew how to build it.
  • And the way domes and arches were built during the Gothic era was that you’d build a wooden frame first, then lay your bricks on top of the frame.
  • You’d place the lodestone in the top of the arch, wait for the mortar to dry and then out the frame – and run like hell.
  • Because the failure rate was about 50%.
  • But as we mentioned earlier
  • It was going to take a huge amount of timber to build a scaffold for this space, it was so huge.
  • 45m span
  • Largest dome in the world for 400 years
  • Would take 700 trees.
  • And this is in the days when you have to cut them by hand.
  • Would have been prohibitively expensive and taken years.
  • And even if they were prepared to deal with those – there were practical problems as well.
  • The size of the structure would have left very little room for the workers.
  • But everyone thought that some kind of ‘centering’ – as it was known, building a centre structure – would be required.
  • One of the people who entered the competition in 1418 suggested building a mound of dirt 300 feet high.
  • But Bruno had a new idea – let’s do away with centering altogether.
  • They said he was crazy. It couldn’t be done.
  • So he and Donatello built a 12 foot model out of bricks to prove it could be done.
  • When they were renovating the Cathedral Museum near the Duomo in 2012, they found a 9 foot buried hole in the ground that is the remains of this demo dome.
  • Of course, Vasari related the whole egg story, which is probably nonsense, like the Bible, but it’s a fun story.
  • And he wins the commission – but he has to work with Ghiberti as his co-project leader.
  • But work doesn’t start for 18 months.
  • It started with a bit of fanfare on The morning of August 7, 1420
  • After more than fifty years of planning and delay, construction of the great dome of the cathedral was ready to begin.

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