Dome of St Peters Basilica Essay

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Brunelleschi's Architecture




The religious architecture of Filippo Brunelleschi in Florence in the early 1400s established a new Renaissance aesthetic by blending religious symbolism with mathematical and classical principles that he drew from visits to ancient ruins of Rome as well as from Vitruvius' De Architectura. This paper will describe how Brunelleschi's unique blend inspired a new movement in Renaissance architecture -- a movement that began with the Dome of the Florence Cathedral and stretched through to the production of the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica under Michelangelo, whose plan was a kind of compromise between the Brunelleschi-inspired plan of Bramante and the more crux-like design of Raphael (Johnson). The Basilica's dome was meant to rival that of the wonder of Florence, created by Brunelleschi, which had essentially pushed the boundaries of Italian architecture into the next phase of greatness.



The phase of grandeur that Brunelleschi heralded with his Dome of Florence as well as other architectural feats was not coordinated by looking into the future -- but rather by looking into the past. Brunelleschi's conceptions of how to build the magnificent dome for the cathedral in Florence were based on the ideas which the ancient Romans had utilized more than millennium before -- ideas which clearly worked, as those same structures built in antiquity were still standing in Brunelleschi's time. Therefore, the question that he posed was -- how did they do it? For answers he turned to the text of Vitruvius, reading about the machines that the Romans built and employed in order to provide support for their projects while in the various production stages. He himself designed and built similar and new machines (such as hydraulic machinery) that could assist in the process of erecting the magnificent structures he envisioned. He examined the principles of line and developed the concept of linear perspective, which spread throughout Europe, becoming a staple in artistic thought and design (Hartt).



In other words, Brunelleschi blended the ancient schools of architecture, mathematics, and aesthetics with the magnificent school of medieval religious thought in order to produce works that were formalistic, humanistic and iconoclastic all at once. To see precisely how he accomplished this feat, it is necessary only to examine some of his most famous architectural works -- beginning of course with the Dome of the Florence Cathedral.



To create a dome that would mirror the purity and heavenliness of the Eternal Reward, which the Sacrifice of the Mass offered under the dome would make possible, Brunelleschi was required to create a structure that was unsupported by beams. The dome had to be self-supporting -- a reflection of the Heaven above which in effect domed all the world, and supported its own weight without joists. The dome of the cathedral in Florence had to be similar in effect -- and due to its size, architects were stumped as to how to create such a dome without it collapsing under its own weight (Mencher).




Brunelleschi turned, so the story goes, to an egg for inspiration: what Florence wanted was an egg-shaped dome atop its cathedral -- so the city asked its architects to show how they would make an egg stand up without any supports; none could do it, except Brunelleschi: to demonstrate how this would be possible, Brunelleschi took an egg, hammered the end of it against marble and thus stood it up. The story may be apocryphal but it gets to the heart of the matter: "The basic concept behind Brunneleschi's dome is using an egg like shape but also somewhat relates to the flying buttresses and the double dome construction" that Brunelleschi studied (Mencher) -- like the dome of the Pantheon, "which included pouring Roman concrete over a massive timber frame" (PBS). Brunelleschi created essentially a barrel-like structure, with nine rings serving as a frame going round the octagonal structure of the dome, itself supported by half domes at its base. He gave the main dome a skeleton that would then be layered over using a "herringbone pattern of masonry" (Mencher). Hoisting the materials up to workers required the invention of a ratchet-gear type of machine. The marvel of the dome is in its engineering: Brunelleschi managed to recreate the feeling of a vaulted Heaven within the Florence Cathedral -- a massive dome with no visible support structure. The religious symbolism of Heaven manifested in the Dome is thus combined with the classical principle of "hiding" the strings holding it up. Indeed, its appearance is wholly Gothic in appearance -- a style that had emerged out of France in the 12th century -- but its architectural design is synonymous with the designs of the classical period (Hartt). In this manner, Brunelleschi bridged the Gothic and the Classical or neo-classical within the Renaissance -- uniting two fronts under a single roof, which in and of itself symbolized the effect that Christendom and the Christian ethic had.



Brunelleschi would do more to blend the religious with the mathematical and classical principles to take the Renaissance in a new direction: the Basilica of San Lorenzo -- the Old Sacristy in particular -- would stand as a monument to the new and "modern" concept of proportion, unity and classical order/harmony. With its religious purpose firmly intact and at the center of the work -- this sacristy was designed to serve a as a side altar in the church. Brunelleschi designed the entire church and one of….....

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Works Cited


"Architecture in Renaissance Italy." The Met. Web. 10 Sep 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/itar/hd_itar.htm

Hartt, Fred. History of Italian Renaissance Art. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

Johnson, Paul. Art: A New History. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.

Mencher, Ken. "Florence Cathedral." Ken-Mencher. Web. 10 Sep 2016. http://www.kenney-mencher.com/pic_old/1300_1700/renaissance_architecture_2.htm

PBS. "Filippo Brunelleschi." The Renaissance. Web. 10 Sep 2016. http://www.pbs.org/empires/medici/renaissance/brunelleschi.html

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