Author: Ross King
Publication Date: 11/1/01
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR for ages
Date Completed: 2/21/16
Summary: 15th century Florence was consumed by a singular task: completing construction on Il Duomo di Firenze, also know as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral had been designed with a massive, record-setting dome on top. Yet, no one knew just how to accomplish that. Enter Filippo Brunelleschi.
What I Thought: You may not know that I teach a Humanities course. I am in my sixth year now. It's a bit of art history, a bit of music history, a bit of philosophy. I love it. Upon college graduation, I knew little about visual art. Music majors really miss out on that element; some cross-medium instruction would have been nice. Through teaching the course, however, I have learned so much. I am particularly fascinated by and in awe of the cathedrals of Europe. The way their architectural and artistic elements pointed the contemporary worshiper toward an almighty God amazes me; it's such a beautiful expression and I wish modern churches offered more of that element. We Protestants sort of fell off that wagon back when John Calvin banned decoration of any sort from church buildings.
Now, when the Florentines built the Santa Maria del Fiore, I do not think they were exclusively considering the best ways to emulate the glory of God. That was where the process of building immense, impressive cathedrals began, but the whole thing became more of a status symbol as time went on. I am sure there were some devout, sincere men involved, but by the time Brunelleschi won a design contest and got involved....well, I think it's a safe bet that the majority found architectural dominance of greater value than glorifying God.
King's book gives a step by step account of the dome's construction and Brunelleschi's involvement with the cathedral. Though at times he gets a bit weighty with architectural details for my taste, I still found the book quite interesting. Even someone like me, the virtual antithesis of an engineer, can stand amazed at the construction techniques of the era. Of course, you know how the story is going to end; the cathedral still stands as one of the architectural wonders of Europe. Yet, the journey is more fascinating that you may anticipate.
I am fully aware that most people, probably even most of you, would be completely bored by this book. When I told Kevin I was ready a book about early Renaissance Italian architecture, I was met with an odd look and an incredulous, "Why?" I get it. This is a niche topic for me. I teach this stuff. I hope to one day be in Florence, climbing to the lantern at the dome's peak and regaling Kevin or perhaps some students with the story of how it all came to be. I love this stuff. Most people don't. If nothing else, though, any reader could be appreciative of the process and work which went into creating such a monument. What I enjoy as a story of art, architecture, and history, others could well delight in as a story of human reasoning and determination.
Quote I Loved: "Today a patron who hires an engineer takes it for granted that the end product will stand, even through earthquakes and hurricanes. But in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, before the science of statics was developed, a patron enjoyed no such assurance, and it was not uncommon for buildings to fall down soon after completion, or even during the building process itself."
Will I Re-Read: Maybe - if I ever lead a class of students to Florence and Brunelleschi's dome.
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A Reduced Review: This in-depth look at the Florentine cathedral and how it came to be is most certainly not for everyone, but this Humanities teacher found it fascinating.