Filippo Brunelleschi was born in 1377 to Brunellesco Di Lippo Lapi and Giuliana Spini. He accomplished many things in life, but was most notably a genius for his creation of the dome at the Florence Cathedral in Italy.
Man of Excellence
According to his biographer, Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, he was born into a distinguished family and had two brothers. It was customary for sons to follow the career paths of their fathers, but early on Ser Brunellesco recognized that his son would make a better artist than notary. He then placed Filippo under the guidance of a goldsmith, believed to be Benincasa Lotti (McClelland).
Becoming a respected artist and architect did not come without a struggle, however.
Filippo was not instantly a favorite in the art world and although he would end up creating many masterpieces in architecture, he did take many blows to his ego in the beginning. Even later he would be described as a madman when he spoke of creating a dome “without much wood, without pillars or supports, and with little expense of arches (Vasari, Halsall).”
Filippo had many contemporaries that were also artists, especially his good friend Donatello, who remained loyal, despite their occasional tiffs. When Donatello asked Filippo to view his sculpture of Jesus on the Cross, Filippo said that it looked like a peasant. Donatello was understandably furious and replied that Filippo should get a piece of wood and do it himself (McClelland). This was probably not meant as a serious request, but Filippo did just that. He took a piece of wood and created his own crucifix with Jesus in three months. One day, when Filippo and Donatello were planning to have dinner, Vasari writes, “ Donatello paused to study Filippo's crucifix and found it so perfect that he was completely overwhelmed and dropped his hands in astonishment; whereupon his apron fell and the eggs, cheeses and the rest of the shopping tumbled to the floor and everything was broken into pieces. Their friendship survived these moments, which was more than could be said for Filippo’s relationship to Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Conflict and Competition Donatello’s Crucifix Brunelleschi’s Crucifix
Defeat Lorenzo Ghiberti, 23 at the time, was Filippo’s mentor and adversary, and they both entered a very prestigious competition in 1401, to create the panel doors of the San Giovanni Baptistery. The competition would solidify any artist’s career, and Filippo was determined to win. Unfortunately, he did not, and lost to Ghiberti. It is speculated that the win was only because Ghiberti had political friends (McClelland). When viewing the two panels, it is clear that Filippo ventured out into a new expression of humanism, whereas Ghiberti played it safe and conservative. Simply the way that Abraham is gripping Isaac’s throat, the imminent sacrifice, and the angels with God intervening, is both brutal and moving in Filippo’s piece. This same emotion is not as present in Ghiberti’s work. Ghiberti’s Panel Brunelleschi’s Panel
After his great loss, twenty-five year old Filippo and his trusted friend Donatello, set off for Rome to spend many years studying and working as goldsmiths to support themselves. He stayed in Rome until 1417, periodically returning to Florence to consult on various projects. These years would prove to be very fruitful for Filippo, as he secretly perfected his ideas in architecture and engineering (McClelland) .
A Second Chance A new competition was on the horizon, and Filippo wanted to win. He wasn’t going to take any chances this time, however, so he was careful in presenting his ideas to the judging committee; officially known as the Opera. The construction of the dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) was the prize, and Filippo knew that the Opera had also consulted with Ghiberti, his rival (McClelland). Filippo knew exactly how he would erect such a dome, and came up with the eight-sided brick-herringbone tambour, with a round window in each panel (Brown). When the Opera requested to see his plans, Filippo refused and they abruptly dismissed him as a candidate. Eventually, with the aid of Cosimo de’ Medici, a confident to Donatello and powerful political player, Filippo was again consulted and brought onto the project. The only problem was that Ghiberti was hired too (McClelland).
During construction of the dome, Filippo kept his distance from Ghiberti, and remained secret about his plans. While Ghiberti bragged about the project, Filippo came up with the ideas and was a genius to develop a moving, lift-able scaffolding to raise materials and cut down on worker fatigue and injuries. Filippo was a strict leader, and watered down their wine to prevent drunkenness on the job. He also fired the entire crew at one point, just because they wanted more money. He eventually hired them back when they relented (ItalyGuides.it).
San Spirito, Florence San Lorenzo nave, Florence His lifetime accomplishments included the Pazzi Chapel, an orphanage, a women’s cloister, governmental offices, and many churches and their structures. He was consulted to come in on many projects and fix what was blundered by others, because he was finally considered the expert in his field and was truly a genius at solving many of the constructive problems during the times (McClelland). Achievement
Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building Masaccio’s Holy Trinity Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building Santa Maria della Carceri Examples of how other architects and artists were influenced by Brunelleschi.
I am truly moved by this incredible story, because Filippo represents the truly talented people who are the underdogs.
It is an exciting story of how he went through such adversity to prove that he was a genius and in the process I wonder if he even realized the impact he would have on history.
He was an artistic and mathematical genius as evident in his great accomplishments, especially his techniques used in raising the dome.
Perhaps because of his personality he was unable to get the praise he so desperately wanted early on. He did eventually get it, and thankfully before his death.
He mastered everything he tried, even if he wasn’t recognized at the time. When he passed in 1477, he was 69 years old. He was buried under the beautiful dome that he so masterfully created.
Brown, Jennifer. "About Filippo Brunelleschi." Brunelleschi's Dome . 2002. University of Richmond. 20 Feb 2008 <http://www.obscure.org/~perky/uofr/fall2002/ISYS203U/Duomo_Site/ index.html>.
"Brunelleschi." Giorgio Vasari - The lives of the Artists . 2007. 20 Feb 2008 <http://search.freefind.com/find.html?id=9930783&w=0&p=0>.
"Brunelleschi, Filippo." Encyclopedia Britannica . 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 20 Feb. 2008 <http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9016777>.
"Filippo Brunelleschi." Web Gallery of Art . 2007. Web Gallery of Art. 21 Feb 2008 <http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/b/brunelle/abraham.html>.
Halsall, Paul. "Filippo di ser Brunellesco - Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists." Internet History Sourcebooks Project . 10 12 2006. Forndham University. 21 Feb 2008 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/vasari/vasari5.htm>.
McClelland, Aaron D., "Brunelleschi: The Mad Genius of Florence" Quattrocento Florence Project, 2007. 20 Feb. 2008<http://www3.telus.net/Quattrocento_Florence>.
"The Dome of Brunelleschi." Florence . 2008. ItalyGuides.it. 25 Feb 2008 <http://www.italyguides.it/us/florence/the_dome_of_brunelleschi.htm>.
"The Wernher Collection (Ranger House)." The Wernher Collection (Ranger House) . 2007. English Heritage. 20 Feb 2008 <http://www.englishheritage.org.uk/server/show/
"Filippo Brunelleschi." Art & Architecture . 2008. Courtauld Institute of Art. 23 Feb 2008 <http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/search/results.html?n=11&display=Brunelleschi%2c+ Filippo&_creators=%22ULAN5846%2>.
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