11-04-2024 Art 71

Filippo Brunelleschi

Filippo Brunelleschi: The Architect Who Revolutionized the Renaissance

Filippo di ser Brunellesco di Lippo Lapi was an Italian architect, designer, goldsmith and sculptor. He is considered to be a founding father of Renaissance architecture. He is recognized as the first modern engineer, planner, and sole construction supervisor. In 1421, Brunelleschi became the first person to receive a patent in the Western world. He is most famous for designing the dome of the Florence Cathedral, and for the mathematical technique of linear perspective in art which governed pictorial depictions of space until the late 19th century and influenced the rise of modern science. His accomplishments also include other architectural works, sculpture, mathematics, engineering, and ship design. Most surviving works can be found in Florence.

Different activities

Brunelleschi's interests extended to mathematics and engineering and the study of ancient monuments. He designed hydraulic machinery and elaborate clockworks, none of which survive.

Model of the boat built by Brunelleschi in 1427 to transport marbleModel of the boat built by Brunelleschi in 1427 to transport marble

Brunelleschi designed machinery for use in churches during theatrical religious performances that re-enacted Biblical miracle stories. Contrivances were created by which characters and angels were made to fly through the air in the midst of spectacular explosions of light and fireworks. These events took place during state and ecclesiastical visits. It is not known for certain how many of these projects Brunelleschi designed, but at least one, for the church of San Felice, is confirmed in the records.

Brunelleschi also designed fortifications used by Florence in its military confrontations with Pisa and Siena. In 1424, he worked in Lastra a Signa, a village protecting the route to Pisa, and in 1431, in the south of Italy at the walls of the village of Staggia. These walls are still preserved, but their attribution to Brunelleschi is uncertain.

His works involved sometimes urban planning; he strategically positioned several of his buildings in relation to the nearby squares and streets to increase their visibility. For example, demolitions in front of San Lorenzo were approved in 1433 to create a piazza facing the church. At Santo Spirito, he suggested that the façade be turned either towards the Arno so travellers would see it, or to the north, to face a large piazza.

Linear perspective

Besides his accomplishments in architecture, Brunelleschi is also credited as the first person to describe a precise system of linear perspective. This revolutionized painting and opened the way for the naturalistic styles of Renaissance art. He systematically studied how and why objects, buildings, and landscapes changed and lines appeared to change shape when seen from a distance or from different angles. He produced drawings in perspective of the Baptistry in Florence, Place San Giovanni and other Florence landmarks.

According to his early biographers Giorgio Vasari and Antonio Manetti, Brunelleschi conducted experiments between 1415 and 1420, including making paintings with perspectives of the Florence Baptistery and the Palazzo Vecchio, seen obliquely from its northwest corner, as well as the buildings of Place San Giovanni. According to Manetti, he used a grid to guide the drawing of the scene square by square and produced a reverse image. He mathematically calculated a scale for the objects in the drawing to make them appear more accurately, thus discovering a system to represent three dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. The results were compositions with accurate perspective, as seen through a mirror. To compare the accuracy of his image with the real object, he made a small hole in his painting, and had an observer look through the back of his painting to observe the scene. A mirror was then raised, reflecting Brunelleschi's composition, and the observer saw the striking similarity between the reality and painting. Both panels have since been lost.

Brunelleschi's studies on perspective were extended by Leon Battista Alberti, Piero della Francesca and Leonardo da Vinci. Following the rules of perspective studied by Brunelleschi and the others, artists could paint imaginary landscapes and scenes with accurate three-dimensional perspective and realism. The most important treatise on painting of the Renaissance, Della Pittura libri tre by Alberti, with a description of Brunelleschi's experiment, was published in 1436 and was dedicated to Brunelleschi. This technical innovation by Brunelleschi enabled to reproduce in paintings accurate three-dimensional views of the world. The painting The Holy Trinity by Masaccio (1425–1427) in the Santa Maria Novella, Florence, is a renowned example of the new technique, which accurately created the illusion of a three-dimensional representation and also recreated, in painting, Brunelleschi's architectural style. This development established the standard method of painting studied by artists until the 19th century.

Principal works

The principal buildings and works designed by Brunelleschi or which included his involvement, all situated in Florence:

  • Dome of the Florence Cathedral (1419–1436)
  • Ospedale degli Innocenti (1419–ca.1445)
  • The Basilica of San Lorenzo (1419–1480s)
  • Meeting Hall of the Palazzo di Parte Guelfa (1420s–1445)
  • Sagrestia Vecchia, or Old Sacristy of S. Lorenzo (1421–1440)
  • Santa Maria degli Angeli: unfinished, (begun 1434)
  • The lantern of Florence Cathedral (1436–ca.1450)
  • The exedrae of Florence Cathedral (1439–1445)
  • The church of Santo Spirito (1441–1481)
  • Pazzi Chapel (1441–1460s)

The Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral The Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence possesses the largest brick dome in the world, and is considered a masterpiece of European architecture.

The Sacrifice of IsaacThe Sacrifice of Isaac, Brunelleschi's competition project for a door panel of the Baptistry of Florence (1401)

Ospedale degli InnocentiOspedale degli Innocenti, Hospital of the Innocents

Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.

The church of Santo Spirito The church of Santo Spirito

Pazzi ChapelPazzi Chapel


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