Bad Boys – Brunelleschi's Dome

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Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli

Brunelleschi, Florence Cathedral, 1418

Florence decided it needed a large cathedral, not to rival Rome, of course, who would do such a thing? Merely, to have a place in which its citizens could worship. It just so happened that the cathedral they were building required a dome with a 143 feet diameter and if it happened to be larger than the Pantheon, well, whose coming to Florence anyway? The only problem was no man was brave enough to complete the task without fear of his plan collapsing. So in 1418 a competition was held to decide who would put their name on the line to create one of the most monumental features in all of Florence. The winner was a cocky, irritable clock maker named Filippo Brunelleschi, whose arrogance was matched only by his skill.

Brunelleschi’s idea was to create a dome with an octagonal lantern with eight flying buttresses and eight arched windows. Brunelleschi invented numerous devices to even begin the construction, which involved hoisting over 70 million pounds of material hundreds of feet in the air. The most common way of building a dome in the 1400s was to support is with scaffolding called “centing,” but because of the large, open area inside the cathedral, the citizens wanted something large and noticeable. There was not enough wood in all of Northern Italy to build scaffolding large enough to support the dome the Florentines wanted. So, Brunelleschi decided to create a dome that supported itself as it was built. The dome would occupy most of Brunelleschi’s life, but also serve as his proudest achievement.

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