Brunelleschi’s dome of Santa Maria Del Fiore, Florence
Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the majestic dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a monument to the achievements of the Florentine Renaissance—and to the architect whose ingenuity transformed a near-impossible feat of construction into a reality.
Begun in 1296, Florence’s cathedral was from the start conceived to be the largest in all Tuscany, and for two centuries was the largest in Christendom. When after 120 years of work the builders finally reached the great crossing space of the church, there was no choice but to finally confront the massive void and just how to cover it.
A competition to design and build the dome and develop the necessary machinery to make it possible was announced, and goldsmith-turned-architect Filippo Brunelleschi was assigned the contract—even though he allegedly had never provided the city’s building committee with a design or model.
Over a mere decade and a half, he would construct what is still the largest dome structure in the world, spanning an octagonal space of 143 1/2 feet and reaching the approximate height of a 32-story building. He would also invent many hoisting machines, safety measures, and building techniques that continue to serve modern builders today.
Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, investigates the question that architectural historians are still trying to answer: How was Brunelleschi able to build his dome when the era’s technology simply should not have permitted its realization? He examines the epic story of the design and construction of one of the greatest engineering marvels in history and the innovations that made its realization possible.
Ruggiero, who divides his time between Italy and the United States, has lectured on Italian art and architecture for American university programs in Italy for the past 20 years, including those of Syracuse, Kent State, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit