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Filippo Brunelleschi

The Origins

Filippo Brunelleschi was born in Florence in 1377 AD. His father, Ser Filippo Brunelleschi Lapi, namesake of another famous, Brunelleschi in Florence, was a respected and prosperous notary, his mother was Giuliana di Giovanni Spinelli.

Training and apprenticeship

Philip studied mathematics, geometry, perspective, classical literature, and all other academic disciplines generally taught to the young bourgeoises in those times. Meanwhile, the passion for drawing and painting led him not to take his legal studies, for which he was prepared. Once finished his apprenticeship, Filippo enrolled in the Arte della Seta (Guild of Silk), in 1398 AD.

Early Works

In 1400 AD, he followed two Masters: Lunardo of Mazzeo and Piero di Giovanni, to work on the completion of the altar of St. James in the Cathedral of San Zeno. He carved the statues of St. Augustine and St. John the Evangelist and two busts of the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, with great grace and proportion. In 1401 AD Philip took part in the competition for the construction of the second bronze door of the Baptistery of Florence. The theme of the competition was the construction of a panel in which the sacrifice of Isaac was to be represented. Philip won, on par with the architect Lorenzo Ghiberti to which, however, the job was assigned.

Trip to Rome

Saddened by the outcome of the competition Filippo left for Rome to study the ancient art and architecture. In Rome, he befriended another great artist of that time: Donatello. The two boys were having fun strolling around the City, and studying the Ancient Roman Ruins (columns, capitals, bases, frames, etc …). The curiosity of Philip was focused on the architecture of Roman buildings, their structural details, construction techniques and proportions.

Return to Florence

In 1404 AD, he returned to Florence and was involved in the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, as a consultant technical and artistic. While developing his great ability to architect, Philip continued to sculpt with great pleasure and mastery. One of his most famous sculptures was the Crucifix, carved between 1410 AD and 1415 AD. Her crucifix, perfectly proportioned, was the answer to that previously carved by his friend Donatello. Donatello and Brunelleschi found themselves to compete, once again, in the creation of two statues for the Church of Orsanmichele. Philip carved the statue of St. Peter, while that of Donatello was the statue of San Marco. Both Donatello and Brunelleschi were often called in to give advice about art and design in relation to buildings and sculptures.

The construction of Santa Maria del Fiore

In August 1418 AD a public competition was held, to address the problem of the covering of Santa Maria del Fiore, which had to be done through the creation of a large dome. Brunelleschi built a wooden model that proved the feasibility of a dome without armor. His demonstrations were a total success, and in 1420 AD the works for the construction of the Dome were assigned to him and Ghiberti together, both of them appointed as Superintendents of the Cathedral. During the work, Brunelleschi, with tenacity and perseverance, overcame the many concerns of the workers of the Cathedral. Its Dome had a double shell, with walkways in the cavity. He had rods, but only a self-supporting scaffolding. The dome was made in stone up to a height of about seven meters, then bricks, positioned in a herringbone pattern (this technique consist in placing a brick at regular intervals, arranged perpendicularly among the horizontal ones. In this way, the protruding part of the bricks arranged perpendicularly created a support for the next ring. The shape of the dome was a pointed arch, if it had been semi-spherical, it probably would not hold, because of its enormous size. The double-shell (two domes, one internal and one external) was vertically divided by 8 ribbed vaults and topped with a big lantern. The scaffold, designed by Philip, has gradually grown, starting from a wooden platform at the height of the drum and fixed to the wall. In the last part of it, where the vaults converge towards the center, a suspended scaffold was placed in the central space, probably supported by platforms, probably fixed to the walls by means of long beams. The exterior Dome is covered with red brick interspersed with 8 white ribs and leans on 24 supports, protruding from the inner dome, smaller and stronger. On the outside, Philip also designed a drainage system of rainwater. The construction of the cathedral was proceeding smoothly, so as to assign a ribbed vault to each team of workers. Brunelleschi, in those days, spent almost all his time in the Cathedral, to design machines and devices, choose the materials carefully and deal with union organizers during the strikes of workers. The relationship with the other architect, Ghiberti was not always idyllic and, in the end, Brunelleschi, working hard, was able to significantly reduce the duties of the rival. The inauguration of the Cathedral of Florence, took place on March 1436 AD, and only later Philip was also designated for the construction of the Lantern. The Lantern is an octagonal building with some buttresses, tall windows and a roof in the shape of an inverted cone. Brunelleschi he planned and began construction in 1446 AD, but did not have time to see it completed.

The Spedale degli Innocenti

n 1419 AD, during the same period of the construction of the famous Dome, Philip began to work, commissioned by the Arte della Seta, at an orphanage, called the Spedale degli Innocenti (Hospital for abandoned children). The building had classical canons, a large porch which adorned the facade, from which people entered a large square courtyard, with two buildings, with a rectangular base, overlooking the courtyard (the Church and the dormitory). The complex was built sparingly, using Serena stone and white plaster (a two-tone appearance that later spread, during the whole Renaissance). The distances among the various parts of the complex were continuously repeated, giving rise to a regular and harmonious appearance. The Spedale degli Innocenti was inaugurated only in 1445 AD.

Other important Works

During this period (1420 AD) Brunelleschi worked at: 1. The renovation of the Palagio di Parte Guelfa (Palace of Guelph part), where he reorganized the first floor, consisting of offices, and renovated the outside, clearly influenced by the tradition of medieval Florence. 2. The redevelopment of the courtyard of the Palazzo Bardi-Busini, with the creation of an open porch, which outlined all four sides of a large central space, on the model of the Roman Domus. 3. The renovation of the Chapel Barbadori (later Capponi Chapel), located in the Church of Santa Felicita in Florence. The Chapel is hemisphere shaped, with round arches resting on pillars in classic Gothic style. The Cathedral leans against on semi-double columns in the Ionic style, which are located at the corners, and is flanked by corner pillars in the Corinthian style. This style was resumed later also in the Old Sacristy and in the Cappella de’ Pazzi (Pazzi’s Chapel). Inside this beautiful Chapel, there are scenes depicting the Evangelists, painted by the painters Pontormo and Bronzino

Old Sacristy

In 1420 AD, commissioned by Giovanni de’ Medici, Brunelleschi designed and built a wonderful Sacristy with a chapel next door. The Chapel of the Medici family in the great church of San Lorenzo in Florence. The Sacristy, now called the Old Sacristy, is a square building on which rests a Dome by umbrella shaped, surmounted by a Lantern and divided into some segments separated by ribs, each of which has an opening at the base to illuminate the interior. The smaller Chapel, belonging to the Medici family, has a blind Dome and frescoed walls resting on arches, with the top corners open in 4 ribbed vaults that house beautiful medallions by Donatello and the coats of arms of the family. In this wonderful building Brunelleschi made use of some elements from the Florentine medieval tradition, mixing them with elements from the rigorous Romanesque style (straight lines and circles), and also taking a cue from the Gothic style. The building is very simple and not twisted.

The renovation of the Church of San Lorenzo

In 1421 AD, Filippo Brunelleschi began the renovation and reconstruction of the whole Church of San Lorenzo, with the introduction of a square module, with a side equal to 11 Florentine arms (units), surmounted by hemispherical domes, which reproduced many times mathematically , in both the lateral naves, creating a spectacular effect of perspective and geometry.

A growing reputation

The Brunelleschi’s reputation was already very good in those days. Many orders also came from other Cities: Pisa, Lastra Signa and Signa commissioned him to design some blueprints on their fortifications and walls and Volterra asked an opinion about the Dome of its Baptistery.

The reconstruction of the Pazzi’s Chapel

n 1433 AD Brunelleschi began the reconstruction of the Pazzi’s Chapel, commissioned by the noble Florentine Andrea de’ Pazzi. The work lasted for about 37 years and was finished by another architect (Giuliano da Maiano). The module used in this blueprint was that of the 20 Florentine arms (11.6 meters wide ). The Chapel has two lateral extensions (arms) and a small Apse on the rear. The use of stone is here, as in many other works of Brunelleschi, copious. the Cathedral, once again umbrella shaped, is segmented by ribs and the Lantern stands above the “slices” of the roof. The style is simple and regular, as often happens in the works of Brunelleschi, with the usual medallions representing the Apostles, the Evangelists and other sacred images.

The dead Stands

In 1438 AD Brunelleschi designed an Apse without openings, located on the back of the Cathedral, where, on the outside, there are five empty niches: tiny temples free from statues. The structure also has a static function in pushing back and better support the back of the Cathedral.

Pitti’s Palace

Legend has it that Cosimo de’ Medici the old granted to Brunelleschi to design a Mansion for him. However, this project had been considered too dangerous for its sumptuousness and the related envy that it could have generated among the people. So, Cosimo had it built by the architect Michelozzo. However the project by Brunelleschi was not lost, but taken after his death, in 1458 AD, by the banker Luca Pitti. The original and very beautiful building was built according to the design, with large windows and a large courtyard.

Santa Maria Novella’s Pulpit

In 1443 AD Brunelleschi designed and built a wooden model of the Pulpit for the Church of Santa Maria Novella, later it was built by Buggiano, his adopted son.

The renovation of the Basilica of the Holy Spirit

In 1446 AD Brunelleschi began the complete restoration of the Basilica of the Holy Spirit. The architect has here thought to a Latin cross plant. inside, the Church is completely surrounded by a colonnade consisting of square modules (containing small chapels) as wide as 11 Florentine arms and surmounted by ribbed vaults. The 40 chapels, one after the other, are combined to achieve a great visual effect. The regularity and the perspective effect make this building a true masterpiece.

The death of the great architect

Filippo Brunelleschi died on April 15t, 1446 AD and was buried in the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral), and subsequently transferred in the main edifice of the same Cathedral, an honor reserved for few famous people at that time.

Personality of Brunelleschi

Among the architects of all time, Filippo Brunelleschi, it is definitely one of the best if not the best. Architect, sculptor, draughtsman, inventor of machines used on construction sites or in the theaters … all this was Brunelleschi. A man who perhaps was not particularly strong, from what the chronicles tell us, but a man who was certainly a genius of all time in his field and that gave to our country some of the best edifices ever built. He wrote the rules of linear perspective to represent geometric figures on a plane, projecting their image from a point situated at a finite distance. He set up numerous sacred performances using machines, winches and devices of his own invention for creating special theatrical effects.