The Dome of Florence and Its Architect: Filippo Brunelleschi

  • Wealthiest families from the merchant guilds operated thie money into civic projects, public place- Palazzo Vecchio-, the new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the public grain market of Or San Michele, the city walls, and the bridges.
  • In late 14th century Florence, most public works used rounded arches, symmetrically placed bays and proportions based on whole numbers such as 1:1, 2:2, and 2:3. Florentines treated buildings as freestanding objects in proportional space.
  • Persperctive vision helped the development of the principal public space of the city, the L-shaped Piazza della Signoria that surrounded Palazzo Vecchio.

    Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
  • Arnolfo di Cambio proposed a simple Gothic style, with quadripartite ribbed vaults spanning the nave and two side aisles to the construction of Florence’s greatest civic project, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Later on,  Francesco Talenti extended the length of the nave an extra bay and outlined the area for a huge octagonal dome over th crossing, intented to surpass the domes of the rival cities of Pisa and Siena. Neri di Fioravanti produced a scale model showing the dome’s central octagon, which stepped down to three partial octagons, each of which contained five radial chapels.
  • The structural concept for Fioravanti’s dome dervied from that of the 12th century Baptistery of San Giovanni. Brunelleschi’s double-shelled structure lay in a combination of clever masonry techniques and a ribbed skeleton girded by nine horizontal supports concealed between the two layers. While adding all’antica motifs to the exterior Brunelleschi conserved the dome’s pointed arches and ribs from the Gothic Program.
  • Commisioned by the Medici family the dome of the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo was constructed in 1419 by Brunelleschi. The dome rose from the cubic volume on pendentives, assuming the shape of a hemispherical umbrella divided by  twelve round-arch ribs. A smaller hemispherical dome covered the altar.

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    Pazzi Chapel
  • The Pazzi Chapel served as the chapter house in one of the cloisters of the Franciscan onvent of Santa Croce, with a porch resembling a triumphal arch. Like the old Sacristy, the Pazzi Chapel has a curious flaw where the pilasters meet the corners. These flaws showed the struglle to reconcile mathematical correctness in proportions of the volume with the iconographic conventions derived from ancient classical elements
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    Church of San Lorenzo


  • The reconstruction of the oldest church in the city by Brunelleschi and Michelozzo,the church of San Lorenzo, resembled the early Christian basilicas of Rome, such as Santa Maria Maggiore. Over the nave they placed a flat coffered ceiling, while setting the side aisles behind arcades raised on slender Corithian columns. This invention acknowledged the correct placement of a linear entablature above  a row of classical columns. Brunelleschi and Michelozzo provided a new sense of rational clarity and luminosity for a sacred space, fulfilling in the interior of San Lorenzo the Florentine quest for an all’antica environment.

The Florentine Palazzo: Architecture as a Civic Duty

  • Wealthy Florentines commisioned magnificent stone-clad private palaces that infused the city with a new sense of material cohesion and scale. By 1500, Florence appeared the most orderly city in Europe, with well-paved and drained streets, monumental civic buildings, and a fabric of stately cubic palaces.
Palazzo Vecchio
  • The fortress like Palazzo Vecchio, with its rustication of rough blocks and regularly spaced biforuim windows, exerted a prime influence on the development of the Florentine merchant’s palace.The city outlawed the tall, anarchic tower houses of the feudal nobility, they encouraged the production of the palaces of Florence’s urban elite. A new ethic for architectural patronage took root:”serves hte glory of God, the honor of the city, and the commemoration of myself.”
  • Cosimo de Medici rebult his family palace in the 1440s and redefined the Florentine palazzo type for many generations. His architect, Michelozzo, clad the upper two stories in progressively smoother, drafted masonry, creating the illusion of greater height.
Palazzo Medici
  • Cosimo desired to build a residence more like an urban fortress. Classical details, such as the Corinthian colonnettes of the biforium windows, replaced military imagery. The grand classical cornice with its brackets, dentils, resembled fragments that one could find in the Roman forum. The perfectly square arcaded courtyard aspired to the impluvium court in the atrium of a domus.
  • Like Brunelleschi’s corner problem in the Old Sacristy, the courtyard of the Medici palace has an analogous dilemma, where the convergence of two planesrests on a single column. Most palaces for the next two centuries followed the plan of organization of Palazzo Medici: a series of interconnecting, enfilade, rooms set around a square arcaded court.
Palazzo Rucellai
  • Palazzo Rucellai included pilasters to create a more classical look. Th facade was partitioned into eight bays across three levels, using the pilasters to mark the coordinates of a proportional grid. At the base level above the stone benches they inserted an imitation of ancient opus reticulatum in a diagonal grid as an erudite all’antica reference.
  • The modest dimensions of Palazzo Rucellai ‘s courtyard was compensated by the creation of a triangular piazza in front of the palace, cleared at the intersection of converging streets. Opening toward the palace like a funnel, it allowed one to view the façade in perspective.