Brunelleschi’s Dome

The architecture book is done.  While I was working on it, I wouldn’t have said it was fun. (My Own True Love will corroborate this.) I put in a lot of late nights.  I struggled to find a simple way to describe how an arch works.*  But along the way I re-read some old favorites, I looked at some gorgeous pictures, I learned some new stuff,  and found a book that I want to share with you.


Brunelleschi’s Dome: How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King combines biography, art history, and clear writing about thorny technological issues to tell the story of how Fillipo Brunelleschi solved a long standing architectural conundrum.

Begun in 1296 by Arnolfo de Cambio, Florence’s cathedral was under construction for 150 years. It was 1418 before the council responsible for constructing the cathedral approved a plan for completing the huge dome that tops the cathedral. The original design called for an enormous dome built using stone rings buried in its masonry rather than external buttresses. The ideal was a dome that would rise above the cathedral with no visible means of support, like the Roman Pantheon.

The man who won the competition, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), was a goldsmith by training, like many other Renaissance artists and architects, including Michelangelo. Brunelleschi had spent years measuring classical Greek and Roman monuments; he used those lessons in designing the Duomo.**  Renaissance Florence being what it was,*** he also got in pissing matches with other Florentine architects and the powerful mason’s guild, which had him arrested for not paying his annual dues.

Whether you’re interested in architecture, the Renaissance, geniuses, or just a well-told story, I recommend Brunelleschi’s Dome.  In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I intend to take it on our trip to Florence this fall and re-read it, without the pressure of writing 250 words about building the Duomo.

*Actually, how an arch works wasn’t so bad.  How a solar panel works?  Yikes!
**In addition to his work on the Duomo, Brunelleschi is known for rediscovering the science of perspective, which allows artists to draw three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional page.
***That is to say, genius, scandals, corruption, politics and poisons–not to mention the Medici.

Photo courtesy of Fczarnowski  via a Creative Commons license on Wikipedia.




  1. Iris Seefeldt on July 23, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for this topic. You can leave the book at home you will have no time to read. By looking and looking you will get the gist by osmosis. This is an amazing Duomo in an amazing town. When you get into Florence this is what you want to see along with all the other fabulous art and architecture. It held me spellbound and I was there only three days. If you have no other destination in Italy to see, for me it is this place. I would say if you can go visit over and over. Brunelleschi was so gifted, so ahead of his time that the Renaissance cannot be mentioned without him in it.

    • pamela on July 25, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Got to have something to read on the plane and at the end of the day. But you’re right, seeing the thing itself will be amazing!

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