The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Early Renaissance in Italy

How did Brunelleschi build the dome of the Florence Cathedral?

As civic projects boomed in the wealthy city of Florence, architects imagined building a huge dome on top of the Florence Cathedral as a way of glorifying their city. Though he had lost the Baptistery doors design competition earlier, Filippo Brunelleschi was hired to build the dome, which needed to be 138 feet across, bigger than the Pantheon in Rome. It was not an easy task and Brunelleschi was only twenty-four years old at the time. After studying Roman ruins, including the Pantheon, Brunelleschi built an octagonal double-shell dome. The inner layer of bricks was arranged in ever-tapering circular rows, which allowed each row of bricks to support the next. The bricks of the outer shell were arranged in a strong herringbone pattern. The eight sides of the dome were further supported by ribs and metal bands.

Brunelleschi faced another significant challenge: how were the workers going to build this thing? Usually, a dome would be constructed with the aid of scaffolding, but the space to be covered was so big that no trees were long enough. Instead, Brunelleschi devised a system of smaller scaffolds and platforms for workers, along with hoisting systems, and even elevated canteens so that workers could take their lunch break without climbing back down to the ground! It is no wonder that Brunelleschi is considered to be the father of Renaissance architecture.


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