The rise of Renaissance culture was predetermined by the assortment of disparate events and ideas surfacing during the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. The most important concept to come out of all the innovative developments of the late fourteenth century was a renewed belief in the power and the majesty of the human being. An interest to individuality was a line of demarcation between the medieval period, where God was the center, and the epoch of Renaissance.
The Renaissance is viewed as culmination of a general rebirth of humanistic pursuits and a freeing of the artist from the restrictive dogma of the medieval Church. The status of art and the artist shifted significantly and our contemporary views on both are based very much on certain assumptions about the role of art in culture that were first developed during the Renaissance. It was in the Renaissance that the role of artist went from simple maker to that of creator (with individual genius) – the appellation once reserved only to God.
As a consequence, art took on even greater significance becoming not only an expression of its age and its means of production but also the very embodiment of genius. Filippo Brunelleschi fairly takes the place of such a genius. It was he, the Italian architect and sculptor, who made revolutionary discoveries in architecture. This Florentine was the first and perhaps the most distinguished of the Renaissance architects. The best support for the veracity of this statement is Brunelleschi’s solution for the dome of Florence Cathedral, the building that made him most complete and representative Renaissance artist.
The story of Brunelleschi’s success begins with his failure. In 1401 the competition for a pair of bronze doors for Baptistery was announced (Web Gallery of Art). This was to be one of the greatest competitions at the age, and it pitted two of Florence’s most talented young artists against each other: Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The competition asked each artist to submit design of cast bronze around the subject of the sacrifice of Isaac. Brunelleschi lost the bid. But this perhaps initial loss was the Renaissance’s gain in that his later discoveries in architecture were to prove revolutionary.
At the time of competition the Florence Cathedral was still unfinished. The problem was how to successfully bridge the enormous area of central tower without the use of flying buttresses, which were out of question because of their obvious incompatibility with the beautiful Romanesque marble exterior. Brunelleschi studied many ancient building projects in Rome such a Parthenon and suggested that a dome could in fact be built without the visual distraction created by buttressing. His answer was the implementation of classical vaulting techniques.
Thus Brunelleschi’s innovative design provided further evidence of the new sensibility of Renaissance art. Brunelleschi understood that the principles of buttressing were useful in spreading the enormous weight of a dome over a greater expanse – thereby alleviating much of stress on the walls and foundation of the structure. He thus concluded that the tall supporting walls of the dome had to be constructed with tribunes, small offshooting extensions from the original walls, which would act as the original buttress, to disperse weight over a wider area.
In this way Brunelleschi manipulated the basic tenets of medieval cathedral construction to better serve the interests of the new church. Clearly, however, it was the dome itself that created such awe among the Florentines. No structure like it had been attempted in Europe since antiquity, and never before on such an immense scale. In 1420 he began to build the Cathedral dome, a vast octagonal structure crowned by an enormous lantern designed by Brunelleschi alone.
His solution was to create a dome within a dome, which would further support the exterior weight effectively while removing the need for interior armatures or any other superfluous accessories that would distract from the simplicity of the construction. The outer dome was thus constructed as a light skin or cover, exhibiting great visual authority over the Florence skyline. The use of “spiraling courses of herringbone brickwork, iron chains and sloping masonry rings to bind the dome together, and ribs joining the shells” (King, 87) are his inventions, although owe much to his studies of Roman structures.
Brunelleschi’s genius lay in his abilities to combine ancient and modern aesthetic, architectural, and engineering principles. The result was a resurgence in dome architecture, since now architects possessed both the skill and technical know-how to attempt structures which had only years before been thought impossible. In the words of Vasari, Brunelleschi “was sent by Heaven to invest architecture with new forms, after it had wandered astray for many centuries” (Vasari, 104).
The ‘new forms’ were those of Classical antiquity, which Brunelleschi applied to such building types as cathedrals and basilican churches for which there were no ancient precedents. In these schemes he was the first since antiquity to make use of the Classical orders; at the same time he employed a proportional system of his own invention, in which all units were related to a simple module, the mathematical characteristics of which informed the entire structure. Brunelleschi worked almost exclusively in Florence, and many features link his architecture with the Romanesque heritage of that city.
Nevertheless, he was beyond question responsible for initiating the rediscovery of ancient Roman architecture. He understood its inherent principles and he employed them in an original manner for the building tasks of his own day. So what we may conclude from Brunelleschi’s technical breakthrough that in the best way complied with Renaissance requirements? First, it must be remembered that had it not been for the renewed interest in Classical thought and culture, it is doubtful that artist like Brunelleschi would have sought inspiration from Roman architecture such as a Pantheon.
It was not that artists and architects had not been interested in such building solutions before Brunelleschi comes on the scene, but simply that most looked toward more spiritual and divine art forms. Brunelleschi’s dome is by design a stable and symmetrical structure. It possesses attributes that visually mimic the emerging Renaissance ideas of harmony and equilibrium over the obedience and superstition that had marked the previous age. In this way, the innovative dome construction situates itself as a vivid reminder of the greatest influences its creator had in his time. Works Cited Page
King, Ross Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, New York: Walker and Company, 2000 Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Transl. by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 “Brunelleschi’s Biography” from Web Gallery of Art Retrieved Nov 7, 2006 from http://www. wga. hu/frames-e. html? /bio/b/brunelle/biograph. html “Brunelleschi’s Cupola” from Florence Art Guide Retrieved Nov 7, 2006 from http://www. mega. it/eng/egui/monu/bdd. htm “Filippo Brunelleschi” from Wikipedia Retrieved Nov 7, 2006 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Filippo_Brunelleschi
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