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The Santa Maria

The Basilica of the Santa Maria del Fiore is the main cathedral in Florence. The Basilica rests on the former spot of the Santa Resparata, the previous. Due to a need for expansion and the general state of Santa Resparata, a new Cathedral needed to be built. The current prosperity of the time also dictated a new cathedral as Florence was the fashion capital of Italy and felt the need to have a grander and larger Basilica then St. Peters in the Vatican, the Milan Cathedral, the Seville Cathedral and St. Paul’s Basilica in London. This new cathedral would be the symbol of Florence.

In 1296 Arnolfo di Cambio designed the new Basilica. Cambio also designed the Palazzo Vecchio and the Santa Croce church also in Florence. After his death in 1302 work on the cathedral slowed. Giotto overtook the building of the Basilica but died in 1337. His major contribution was the building of the bell tower or campanile. Andrea Pisano then continued on overseeing the work but he too died in 1348 at the occurrence of the black plague. By 1418 the church was finished except fro the dome. A competition was held in 1419 to select an architect to design the dome.

Lorenzo Ghiberti and Fillipo Brunelleschi were the main competitors. Brunelleschi eventually won and designed the dome (figure 1)(King 2000). The inspiration for the dome was taken from the Pantheon in Rome and possibly the Domus Aurea or Golden House of Nero (Hyman, I. , 1974). The dome of the Pantheon is made of concrete with a central opening. Figure 1 – The dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore The weight of the concrete dome is carried by eight-barrel vaults and from a ring of voussoirs that form the central opening. A voussoir is a wedge shaped stone typically used when building an arch.

Unlike in an arch the voussoir of the dome does not contain a keystone. (Roth 1992) There is a room in the Domus Aurea that is octagonal and then covered by a dome. This was most likely his inspiration for the shape of the dome at Santa Maria del Fiore (Hyman, I. , 1974). Though Brunelleschi was highly influenced by the Pantheon concrete was no longer being used. Brunelleschi created a model of his dome that conveyed what the dome would look like but was incomplete so he could maintain his control over the building. Work started on the dome in 1420 and was completed in 1436.

Brunelleschi had to undergo another competition to crown the dome with a ‘lantern’. The design included eight radiating buttresses and eight high arched windows. The lantern was started a few months before his death and completed by his friend Michelozzo. While the finished structure by today’s standard is the epitome of the Renaissance. At the time of its building, a work like it had not been done. It was largest dome to have been constructed yet and there were no supporting features used when it was built. Brunelleschi devised many ingenious solutions to the support of the dome.

The design of the dome was a double shell, which allowed the outer shell to be very thin, and the inner shell to be heavier. The design of the Pantheon dome was demonstrated in the double shell structure. The Pantheon dome had massive stones at the base of the dome as support with more lightweight material being used towards the top of the dome. The inner dome can be looked at as the heavy supporting stone and the outer dome as the lighter stone that would be used towards the top of the dome. This is the first octagonal dome built known in history, the Pantheon being round, to be built without any supporting frame.

Figure two demonstrates the rib system used by Brunelleschi so that no internal support would be needed. It was also the largest dome of its time. Brunelleschi achieved his goal by having the dome rest on a drum and not the roof. He used horizontal tension chains of wood and iron to set the base of the doom. The shape of the dome is more gothic than roman. This conical shape of the dome allows for a greater height than of a dome that equals height and width. As the structure gets taller the thrust that is projected horizontally lessens creating a more sound structure (Hyman, I. , 1974).

Another important new factor was the herringbone design of the cupola. This design was actually critical to the structure of the dome. In the herringbone pattern bricks are laid in Figure 2 – Interior design of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore demonstrating the support structure of the dome (Fillipo Brunelleschi). a horizontal pattern with larger bricks placed at right angles. These bricks formed a diagonal zigzag and prevented the bricks from naturally wanting to fall away from the structure. Once the mortar had dried there was no need for an internal support system (Saalman, H.

, 1980). Brunelleschi also developed some of the main points of renaissance architecture. The dome is an excellent example of his attention to proportion symmetry and the classical style. The influence of the dome and its importance to a building in displaying power and prestige is found throughout history. Many buildings that arise in the next centuries show some influence of Brunelleschi’s domes. Many of these buildings also connect the dome to a spiritual affiliation like St. Paul’s in London and the Invalides in Paris.

But the dome is not always secular; this is most notably demonstrated in the White House in the United States. Despite the undertaking of this great project Brunelleschi’s invented many new methods in order to undertake the building of such a masterpiece. He invented an ox hoist in which material could be lifted and lowered by a reversible gear. Without many of his inventions the dome would not have been able to be built. Other architects said that the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore could not be built in the style that Brunelleschi desired but he did prove them wrong. (King, R. , 2000).

` The new building methods developed to erect the dome actually embodies what the renaissance was all about. The rebirth of classical antiquity included ancient building form. The dome was designed based on the dome of the Pantheon. It should also be noted that Brunelleschi and the cathedrals main architect designed many of the buildings in Florence, Church of San Spirito, Ospedale dei Innocenti, Pazzi chapel and Santa Croce. Brunelleschi is not considered the father of the renaissance but he was one of the renaissance’s major contributor and responsible for a lot of the stylistic changes of that era.His influence and genius can still be felt in modern architecture and art.


Fillipo Brunellleschi and the Birth of the Renaissance, http://intranet. arc. miami. edu/rjohn/ARC267_2007/Brunelleschi_2007. htm, accessed May 4, 2008 Hyman, I. , Brunelleschi in Perspective, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. , Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1974 King, R. , Brunelleschi’s Dome, Penguin Books 2000 Roth, L. M. , Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, And Meaning, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1992 Saalman, H. , Filippo Brunelleschi: The Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore, London, A. Zwemmer Ltd. , 1980

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