B = Brunelleschi


brunelleschiRemember to click on the artwork to see it clearly in an enlarged format!

I would bet money that many would have chosen Botticelli, the grace of whose paintings such as Primavera and the Birth of Venus is so iconic.  I chose Brunelleschi because like Altichiero, he made a valuable contribution to the art of the Renaissance: his development of linear perspective, that is, the ability to show objects getting smaller as their distance from the observer increases.  He also considered the greatest architect and engineer of the Renaissance.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1436) was the child of a lawyer and was educated in literature and mathematics, so he could become a civil servant like his father. Instead, for reasons unknown, he enrolled in the silk merchants’ guild, which included goldsmiths, and metal- and bronze-workers, and became a master goldsmith.


Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence

Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence

His first commission was the design of the first phase of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, an orphanage, which demonstrates a clean sense of proportion based on Classical Roman, Italian Romanesque and late Gothic architecture.  In 1401, Brunelleschi entered a competition to design a new set of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery, the famous golden doors which are gilded.

Male cloister, Ospedale degli Innocenti

Male cloister, Ospedale degli Innocenti

Brunelleschi’s panel, depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, is one of only two to have survived. However, Ghiberti was announced the victor, largely because of his superior technical skill.

Early in his architectural career, Brunelleschi rediscovered the principles of linear perspective, known to ancient Greeks and Romans, but lost during the Middle Ages.  His rediscovery was shown in two painted panels (since lost) of Florentine streets and buildings.  With his perspective principles, artists of his generation were able to use two-dimensional canvases to create illusions of three-dimensional space.

DuomoBrunelleschi is best known for his design of the Duomo of Florence, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, an evocative outline of the cityscape of Florence.  At the time, it was unclear how a dome of that size could be constructed without it collapsing under its own weight, since the stresses of compression were not understood. Interestingly, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti competed for the commission, and in this case, Brunelleschi won. The building of the dome would occupy most of his life, and he was successful because of his genius in mathematics and engineering.  Remarkably, he built the Duomo without any formal training. He invented a hoist to bring the four million bricks used in the construction of the dome up to the work site.  He had food and drink brought up to his workers so they would not have to walk up and down hundreds of stairs, and he had a safety net erected to catch any workers that fell.

Santa Maria della Fiori

Santa Maria della Fiori

Statue of Brunelleschi looking up at his creation, the Duomo

Statue of Brunelleschi looking up at his creation, the Duomo

Brunelleschi was supported by a sponsor, Cosimo de Medici, as were many other Florentine artists of the time.  When he died in 1436, he was buried beneath his greatest achievement.


10 thoughts on “B = Brunelleschi

    • Yes, but they were pretty demanding and told you exactly what they wanted. The Medicis had lots of money but also some clear ideas about art. I guess it was sort of like our scientific grant system today.

  1. Hop in anytime! Would you be surprised to know that I have never been to Florence or Tuscany? And yet from my coursework and several seminars and now this, I feel like I know all the nooks and crannies, Can’t say I would have liked to live in that time, except to see the art being created and of course, have dinner with Leonardo!

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