Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)

Filippo Brunelleschi was an Italian architect, sculptor and goldsmith. Also known as the first Renaissance architect, he formulated the principles of linear perspective which governed pictorial depiction of space until the late 19th century.

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Filippo Brunelleschi, old picture

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About his Life

Born in 1377 in Florence, his early life is mostly mystery. it is known that he was the second of three sons and that his father was a distinguished notary in Florence. Brunelleschi initially trained as a goldsmith and sculptor and enrolled in the Arte della Seta. It’s not clear his transition to architecture. Also unexplained is Brunelleschi’s  transition from his training in the Gothic or medieval manner to the new architectural classicism. Brunelleschi is also known for building or rebuilding military fortifications in several Italian cities. He died in Florence on April 15, 1446, and is entombed in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Statue sculpture of Brunelleschi, Luigi Pampaloni, 1830

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What are His Major Works?

His most important architectural project was the dome that covers the Florence cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), also known as Brunelleschi’s dome. When it was designed, it was the largest dome in the world. Here Brunelleschi outdid himself, in fact each architectural element contributes to the stability of the dome as it stands without supporting structures. The dome is a masterpiece of beauty and engineering, a pioneering construction for its time, and in many ways remains unmatched. The cathedral was completed and consecrated in 1436, but a part of the dome remained unfinished when Brunelleschi died: the upper part of the drum.

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Brunelleschi’s dome, Santa maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy

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Another of his first major architectural commission was Hospital of the Innocents, also known as Foundling Hospital. The Innocenti facade offered a new look in Florentine architecture and a marked contrast to the medieval buildings that preceded it.

Hospital of the Innocents, Brunelleschi, Florence, Italy

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Among his Florentine architectures there are also the sacristy of San Lorenzo and the Basilica of San Lorenzo, commissioned by Medici family in 1420, the Pazzi Chapel commissioned by Pazzi family in 1429, Santa Maria degli Angeli, that was begun in 1434 but left incomplete in 1437 and Church of Santo Spirito that was begun in 1436. Most of this architectures are considered keystones of the early Renaissance Style.

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Basilica of San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi, Florence, Italy

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As a goldsmith, in 1401, he competed for the commission to make the bronze reliefs for the door of the Florence baptistery. He produced a gilded bronze panel, together with that made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, both depicting the sacrifice of Isaac. Ghiberti won the commission because the lyrical elegance of his version undoubtedly expressed more coherently the famous Biblical episode.

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Sacrifice of Isaac, Brunelleschi, 1401

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How can we recognize Brunelleschi’s Style?

His architectural style is of a very refined classicism and was inspired as much by the Tuscan Romanesque or proto-Renaissance style of the 12th century as by ancient Roman architecture. He used the Corinthian Order, the most decorative of the Classical Orders, almost exclusively, and he made sure that all the decorative elements of his architecture were cut in a very crisp style.

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Corinthian capital of lesenes in the Old Sacristy

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The Importance of Brunelleschi’s Studies

Filippo Brunelleschi “rediscovered” the principles of linear perspective. With the foundation of these principles, one can paint or draw using a single vanishing point, toward which all lines on the same plane appear to converge, and objects appear smaller as they recede into the distance. Later this is documented by architect and writer Leon Battista Alberti in Della Pittura in 1435, and then Florentine painters and sculptors became obsessed with it.

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Diagram of Brunelleschi’s experiment with linear perspective

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