Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Bloomsbury Publishing USA
7
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On August 19, 1418, a competition concerning Florence's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore--already under construction for more than a century--was announced: "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome....shall do so before the end of the month of September." The proposed dome was regarded far and wide as all but impossible to build: not only would it be enormous, but its original and sacrosanct design shunned the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. The dome would literally need to be erected over thin air.

Of the many plans submitted, one stood out--a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting what is still the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clockmaker named Filippo Brunelleschi, who would dedicate the next twenty-eight years to solving the puzzles of the dome's construction. In the process, he did nothing less than reinvent the field of architecture.

Brunelleschi's Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder we continue to marvel at today. Denounced at first as a madman, Brunelleschi was celebrated at the end as a genius. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, built ingenious hoists and cranes to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air, and designed the workers' platforms and routines so carefully that only one man died during the decades of construction--all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and his own personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him.

Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish. Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance.
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About the author

Ross King is the highly praised author of Mad Enchantment, Leonardo and The Last Supper, Brunelleschi's Dome (the Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2000), Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, The Judgment of Paris, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, and two novels, Ex Libris and Domino. He lives outside Oxford in England.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing USA
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Published on
Aug 13, 2013
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9781620401941
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Language
English
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Genres
Architecture / Buildings / Religious
Architecture / General
Architecture / History / Renaissance
History / Europe / Italy
History / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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This is the first full-length study of the enigmatic Early Medieval chapel near the river Clitunno in central Umbria. Judson Emerick makes the Tempietto del Clitunno, a celebrated art-historical test case, the focus of a study that penetrates to the deep structure of the discipline.

For centuries scholars have puzzled over the chapel's lavish Corinthian column screens, the crosses surrounded by Neo-Attic vine scrolls in its pedimental reliefs, and the Christian Latin inscriptions in huge Neo-Augustan block capitals from its friezes. The sixteenth-century humanists who named the building the "Tempietto del Clitunno" treated it as an ancient Roman temple that the Christians later converted. But modern art historians, learning that the Tempietto had been built from the ground up as a chapel, declared it an anomaly, the product of a most startling and unexpected Early Christian and medieval classical revival.

Emerick intervenes by critiquing the notion of classical revival in medieval architecture. Impatient with the old Enlightenment historical plot that makes the Tempietto into a dark-age prodigy, Emerick boldly redescribes the architectural record to take away the Tempietto's strangeness. He shows conclusively that the chapel's orders, pedimental reliefs, and inscriptions conform to ancient Roman Imperial Corinthian standards, but then goes on to show that just this Corinthian decorative system was frequent, even normal in festive, public, Christian cult rooms from Constantine's day down through the twelfth century.

History of style as an end in itself yields here to style treated as political phenomenon. Emerick turns to the frescoes on the Tempietto's rear apse wall for clues to the builders' political goals. He explains how grandees from the medieval Lombardo-Frankish Duchy of Spoleto, full participants in a Christian theocratic state, set up an array of Mediterranean icons inside the Tempietto to enhance their social and political control. The chapel's Corinthian decorative system, he concludes, must be integral to this political program.

From the acclaimed author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Leonardo and the Last Supper, the riveting story of how Michelangelo, against all odds, created the masterpiece that has ever since adorned the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Despite having completed his masterful statue David four years earlier, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with challenging curved surfaces such as the Sistine ceiling's vaults. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant: He stormed away from Rome, incurring Julius's wrath, before he was eventually persuaded to begin.

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling recounts the fascinating story of the four extraordinary years he spent laboring over the twelve thousand square feet of the vast ceiling, while war and the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. A panorama of illustrious figures intersected during this time-the brilliant young painter Raphael, with whom Michelangelo formed a rivalry; the fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola and the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus; a youthful Martin Luther, who made his only trip to Rome at this time and was disgusted by the corruption all around him.

Ross King blends these figures into a magnificent tapestry of day-to-day life on the ingenious Sistine scaffolding and outside in the upheaval of early-sixteenth-century Italy, while also offering uncommon insight into the connection between art and history.
Early in 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began work in Milan on what would become one of history's most influential and beloved works of art--The Last Supper. After a dozen years at the court of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo was at a low point personally and professionally: at 43, in an era when he had almost reached the average life expectancy, he had failed, despite a number of prestigious commissions, to complete anything that truly fulfilled his astonishing promise. His latest failure was a giant bronze horse to honor Sforza's father: his 75 tons of bronze had been expropriated to be turned into cannon to help repel a French invasion of Italy. The commission to paint The Last Supper in the refectory of a Dominican convent was a small compensation, and his odds of completing it were not promising: Not only had he never worked on a painting of such a large size--15' high x 30' wide--but he had no experience in the extremely difficult medium of fresco.

In his compelling new book, Ross King explores how--amidst war and the political and religious turmoil around him, and beset by his own insecurities and frustrations--Leonardo created the masterpiece that would forever define him. King unveils dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting. Examining who served as the models for the Apostles, he makes a unique claim: that Leonardo modeled two of them on himself. Reviewing Leonardo's religious beliefs, King paints a much more complex picture than the received wisdom that he was a heretic. The food that Leonardo, a famous vegetarian, placed on the table reveals as much as do the numerous hand gestures of those at Christ's banquet.

As King explains, many of the myths that have grown up around The Last Supper are wrong, but its true story is ever more interesting. Bringing to life a fascinating period in European history, Ross King presents an original portrait of one of history's greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work.
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