Brunelleschi’s dome

February 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photograph by Dave Yoder for National Geographic

Photograph by Dave Yoder for National Geographic

IN CREATING THE MAGNIFICENT Duomo in Florence, a hot-tempered goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi had to contend with highly placed adversaries, led by the scheming Lorenzo Ghiberti. Brunelleschi was the project’s conceptual and operational leader from the start, yet he and Ghiberti received the same yearly wage of 36 florins.

Brunelleschi’s biographers tell an amusing tale about how he finally outmaneuvered Ghiberti. In the summer of 1423, just before a wooden tension ring was to be laid around the dome, Brunelleschi suddenly took to his bed, complaining of severe pains in his side. When the baffled carpenters and masons asked how they were to position the enormous chestnut beams that made up the ring, he essentially delegated the task to his rival. Ghiberti had installed only some of the beams when Brunelleschi, miraculously on the mend, returned to the work site and pronounced Ghiberti’s work so incompetent that it would have to be torn out and replaced.

Brunelleschi directed these repairs himself, complaining all the while to the overseers that his co-superintendent was earning a salary he didn’t deserve. Though this account may be tinged by hero worship, archival records at year’s end do name Brunelleschi the sole “inventor and director of the cupola,” and later his salary rose to a hundred florins a year, while Ghiberti continued at 36 florins.

Read more in National Geographic

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