The dome the covers the Florence cathedral (the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral) is known as Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome.

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When it to be designed, it was the biggest dome in the world.

This immediately created problems together its size prevented the traditional method of construction. Its structure is a double shell supported by sturdy pillars.

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Architectural problems

Imagine the thriving city that Florence in the year 1296. Proud of their city, the Florentines began to construct a glorious cathedral, reserving enough an are in its architecture for a huge dome. But there was one problem: no one knew exactly how to erect a dome that would be nearly 150 feet wide and also that would begin 180 feet over the ground, atop the present walls.

Other concerns plagued the cathedral overseers. Their structure plans eschewed the paris buttresses and also pointed arcs of the timeless Gothic layout then favored by rival northern cities choose Milan, Florence’s arch enemy. Yet these to be the only architectural solutions recognized to occupational in such a vast structure. Can a dome weighing 10s of thousands of lots stay up without them? to be there enough timber in Tuscany for the scaffolding and templates that would certainly be required to shape the dome’s masonry? and also could a dome be developed at all on the octagonal floor plan dictated through the currently walls—eight pie-shaped wedges—without collapsing inward together the masonry arched towards the apex? nobody knew.

When to be the dome of the Florence cathedral built?

In 1418 the Opera del Duomo announced a public competition because that the building and construction of the dome through a handsome prize of 200 yellow florins—and a shot at eternal fame—for the winner. Top architects of the time flocked to Florence to present their ideas.

After countless uncertainty the Opera del Duomo i agree to do Filippo Brunelleschi the superintendent that the cupola project and appointed Lorenzo Ghiberti, Brunelleschi’s fellow goldsmith, as a co-superintendent. The 2 men had actually been rivals because 1401, once they had vied for one more illustrious commission, the new bronze doors for the Florentine Baptistery. Ghiberti had actually won. Now Brunelleschi, whose architecture for the cupola had actually been accepted outright, was forced to occupational side by side with his gallingly successful rival.

The construction of the Dome began on 7 august 1420.


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The Brunelleschi’s project

The usual method to develop an arch or dome was to support it v scaffolding called “centring.” However, the open space in the cathedral was 42 metres wide, and the Florentines wanted a tall, soaring dome.All the hardwood in Tuscany would certainly not have sufficed to do the centring.Brunelleschi ended up structure the dome without scaffolding in such a way that it supported itself together the work-related progressed.

Brunelleschi’s services for the dome were ingenious, innovative, and expensive.

The an initial problem come be addressed was completely technical: no known lifting instrument at the time were qualified of raising and maneuvering the great heavy materials he had to work with, consisting of sandstone beams, so far off the ground. Below Brunelleschi outdid himself.

He created a three-speed hoist through an complex system that gears, pulleys, screws, and also driveshafts powered by a single yoke of oxen turning a wood tiller and also the castello, a 65-foot-tall crane v a series of counterweights and also hand screws to move loads laterally when they’d been elevated to the appropriate height.

The octagonal form of the dome is certainly inspired by the of the Baptistry.The whole structure the the dome is draft to it is in light and slim in both kind and substance. In fact, indigenous an octagonal north of the dome stand eight segments, the sails, arranged on two shells be separated by a space. Brunelleschi wove regular courses the herringbone brickwork, small known before his time, right into the texture of the cupola, providing the entire structure additional solidity.

Throughout the years of building and construction Brunelleschi spent an ext and an ext time top top the job-related site. He managed the manufacturing of bricks of miscellaneous dimensions and also attended come the it is provided of selection stone and marble native the quarries. The led an army of masons and stonecutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, command beaters, barrelmakers, water carriers, and other craftsmen.Chief among the elements that consist of the dome is its usage of the golden proportion, which was in vogue at the time. In contemplating this masterpiece, you notification that its contractors have made usage of balance and harmony in between each of its parts. Every architectural element contributes come the stability that the dome together it was standing without supporting structures.

Another the these crucial elements is the lantern, on top of i beg your pardon rests the bronze ball built by Verrocchio in 1472. To position the sphere they provided machines designed by Brunelleschi. The young Leonardo da Vinci figured amongst the apprentices that assisted in this difficult operation.

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The dome is a masterpiece the beauty and also engineering, a pioneering building for that time, and in many ways continues to be unmatched.As a grasp of illusions, Brunelleschi was recognized in Florence to have actually made people think in points that did not exist. The building and construction of that dome sparked years of debate on what was the “magic trick that listed the an outcome that lay in prior of everyone, i.e., just how the octagonal dome was able to stand!Even today, although comprehensive studies have been brought out and many brand-new discoveries have been made, over there is quiet a conflict on what was the ingenious solution found by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi.

On march 25, 1436, the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Eugenius IV and an assembly the cardinals and also bishops consecrated the perfect cathedral come the tolling that bells and also cheering that proud Florentines. A decade later, another illustrious group laid the cornerstone the the lantern, the decorate marble structure that Brunelleschi designed come crown his masterpiece.

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Soon after, top top April 15, 1446, Brunelleschi died, reportedly from a suddenly illness. He was hidden in the crypt that the cathedral; a memorial plaque nearby celebrated his “divine intellect. These to be high honors. Before Brunelleschi’s time, very couple of people, amongst them a saint, were enabled burial in the crypt.

A component of the dome continues to be unfinished as soon as Brunelleschi died: the upper part of the drum.The vain to build this ar was won by the Italian woodcarver, sculptor and architect Baccio d’Agnolo.Construction the the drum began but according to tradition, Baccio decided at some point to look for the opinion of the people of Florence.Michelangelo Buonarroti, who remained in town at the time, was of course asked the question. Looking in ~ the job-related he exclaimed: “It looks prefer a cricket cage! Offended, Baccio d’Agnolo left the drum unfinished, simply as we watch it today.

The dome ceiling

The painting of the dome top top the inside started in 1572 as soon as the Grand fight it out Cosimo ns de’ Medici i was delegated Giorgio Vasari to paint frescoes ~ above the dome. Vasari to be flanked by Vincenzo Borghini, who worked on the iconographic topics and included other themes taken from Dante’s divine ComedyThe dome is decorated with a splendid cycle the frescoes depicting the Last Judgement.

After the death of Giorgio Vasari in 1574, Federico Zuccaro, one artist from Urbino, perfect the frescoes about 1575-79.High increase on the fresco in the dome, roughly the cupola, hovers a holy place with the twenty-four elders the the Apocalypse; in ~ this, on terraced registers, monitor choirs the angels with the instruments of the Passion; groups of saints; personifications the the presents of the holy Spirit, the the virtues, and also of the beatitudes; and finally, the regions of hell with miscellaneous deadly sins. The ingredient of the fresco thus takes into account the architectonic type of the vault in that eight sections, difficult upon one another.

These frescoes have the right to be seen an extremely well top top the method up come the dome.

How Brunelleschi constructed the dome (video)

Here the nationwide Geographic video clip How an Amateur constructed the World’s biggest Dome, portraying how Filippo Brunelleschi built the Florence cathedral’s dome:


This short article was originally published top top November 18, 2013, and has to be updated and also enriched top top September 19, 2016, and on June 26, 2019.

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Pictures:Firenze by Olatz eta Leire (CC BY-SA 2.0)Leonardo da Vinci drawing: winch designed by Brunelleschi (Public domain)Florence’s Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) and also Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) by doc 1.0 (CC BY-NC 2.0).