Sunday, April 06, 2008

Yesterday I finished Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King, about the construction of the dome on top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

A few interesting things jumped out at me. First, how patient people used to be. It took over 50 years to build Santa Maria del Fiore, and at the start, no one knew how to construct the proposed dome. Second, how small Florence was. People today seem to think that nothing important can happen in small towns or cities, but during the Renaissance, Florence's population varied widely (due to recurrence's of the Black Death) but was less than a hundred thousand.

Florence was one of my favourite places in Italy, the other being Vernazza, and one I would like to go back to since we only spent one night there. On reading this book, it was nice to have seen some of the things it describes, like Brunelleschi's dome and the bronze doors of the Baptistery, made by Brunelleschi's chief rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Well, the patience certainly is remarkable. But Florence was still a major population (and economic) centre relative to the other noteworthy cities, right?

Amsterdam's nominal population today is 750,000, but it's still one of the great cities of the world, and key to several global markets (flowers, diamonds, wooden clogs...)

And Duncan, pop. 5032, has the world's largest hockey stick.

I kid!

The audacity of building such a structure (however slowly) must be admired. But the open span of the dome is no longer impressive in a world where virtually every hockey rink has a similarly impressive roof.

What endures, aside from Brunelleschi's massive achievement of reinventing the construction techniques, is the nearly irreproducible hand-crafting of the entire structure, though it of course shares that with virtually every cathedral of the period.