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Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377 - 1446, was the first great Florentine architect
of the Italian Renaissance. His most famous works are all in Florence.
His masterpiece is the high octagonal ribbed dome of the Duomo (cathedral of
Santa Maria del Fiore), completed in 1434, the first notable dome erected in
Italy since antiquity.
Brunelleschi was trained as a sculptor in a Florentine workshop and was a
member of the goldsmiths' guild. In the competition for the second set of
doors for the Florentine Baptistry, he virtually tied with Ghiberti, who
executed the famous "Doors of Paradise." He may have worked in Rome, with
his friend Donatello. His interests extended to mathematics and engineering
and the study of ancient monuments. He made early experiments with
perspective in painting, and invented hydraulic machinery and elaborate
clockwork, none of which survives. Above all Brunelleschi is remembered as
an architect, who established new classic canons of serene rhythms, clear
geometry, and symmetry, often using the simplest materials: gray pietra
serena and whitewashed plaster.
His career centered from 1409 onwards on the construction of the Duomo, and
especially on the famous problem of the "cupola", as the dome is generally
called, which attracted his engineering bent. His design, which offered to
build the cupola in spiralling courses of brickwork forming two light
shells, without a framework of scaffolding, won the competition in 1418, and
in 1423 he was put in complete charge of the Duomo's building works. Its
completion took most of his life. The main structure was finished by 1434
and then completed with Andrea del Verrocchio's lantern in 1436 and four
half-domed tribunes in the apse in 1438.
While construction was proceeding, Brunelleschi designed and built the Pazzi
Chapel in the cloister of the church of Santa Croce, begun in 1429; the
Hospital of the Innocents (Spedale degli Innocenti, 1421-24, with glazed
terracotta rondels by Andrea della Robbia; and the Church of San Lorenzo,
1421-40. Through Brunelleschi, the architectural character of Florence was
When he died he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore in a tomb so modest it
was lost for centuries and only rediscovered in 1972.
His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's "Vite".