Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)

Filippo Brunelleschi was an Italian architect, sculptor, and jeweler. Also known as the first architect of the Renaissance, he formulated the principles of linear perspective, which were applied in the pictorial depiction of space until the end of the 19th century.


Filippo Brunelleschi, old picture

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About his Life

He was born in Florence in 1377 in the family of a noble notary and was the second of three sons. Brunelleschi originally studied to be a goldsmith and sculptor, and he enrolled in Arte della Seta. It is unclear how he became an architect. Also, Brunelleschi’s transition from the Gothic medieval style to the new architectural Renaissance style remains a mystery. Brunelleschi is also known for military fortifications in several Italian cities. He died in Florence on April 15, 1446, and was buried in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Statue sculpture of Brunelleschi, Luigi Pampaloni, 1830

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His major works

His most important project was the dome that encloses the Cathedral of Florence (Santa Maria del Fiore), also known as the “Brunelleschi’s Dome“. Here the architect surpassed himself: at that time it was the largest dome in the world and it stands without supporting structures. Its stability is provided by the architectural elements of the cathedral. The dome is a masterpiece of beauty and engineering, an innovative structure for its time, and in many ways it is unmatched. The cathedral was completed and consecrated in 1436, but part of the dome remained unfinished after Brunelleschi’s death: the top of the drum.

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

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His other major architectural work was the Hospital of the Innocents, also known as the Foundling Hospital. The Innocenti façade was a new word in Florentine architecture, distinctly different from medieval buildings.

Hospital of the Innocents, Brunelleschi, Florence, Italy

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Many of the structures built by Brunneleschi are considered key early Renaissance structures. By order of the Medici family in 1420, the architect built the sacristy of San Lorenzo and the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence; The Pazzi Chapel, commissioned by the Pazzi family in 1429; Santa Maria degli Angeli, was started in 1434, but in 1437 it was left unfinished; the Church of Santo Spirito, the construction of which was begun in 1436.

Basilica of San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi, Florence, Italy

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As a jeweler, in 1401 he fought for the right to make bronze reliefs for the gates of the Baptistery of Florence. He made a gilded bronze panel that depicted the sacrifice of Isaac. But the committee chose the panel by Lorenzo Gilberti for a more personal and elegant depiction of the Biblical scene.

Sacrifice of Isaac, Brunelleschi, 1401

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How can we recognize Brunelleschi’s Style?

His architectural style is a very sophisticated classicism, which was inspired by the 12th century Tuscan Romanesque or Proto-Renaissance style, as well as ancient Roman architecture. To all Classic Style orders, he preferred  the Corinthian Order and decorative elements of his architecture, carved in a very clear style.

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. Based on these principles he could draw or paint using a single vanishing point to which all the lines on the same plane seem to converge and objects appear smaller as they are placed to a growing distance. It was later documented by the architect and writer Leon Battista Alberti at De Pitura in 1435, and then Florentine painters and sculptors became obsessed with it.

Diagram of Brunelleschi’s experiment with linear perspective

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