Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence

Brunelleschi’s Dome

Brunelleschi built the largest and highest dome of his time.
This definitely underlined and consacrated the majesty of Florence all over Europe in the 15th century when the city was at the highest peak of its splendour.
But why is the “Cupola” so famous? Brunelleschi’s dome is a feat of engineering, an astonishing project, nothing similar could be envisaged at that time.

The project and the technique

Brunelleschi, sculptor, goldsmith, architect and engineer, won the competition held for the construction of the dome. He began working in 1420 and his most famous masterpiece was completed in 1436. The lantern was in its place by 1461 after the death of Brunelleschi, and the bronze sphere on its top was added by Andrea del Verrocchio some years later.
The innovation in the construction was the technique he used to build it.
In fact, the cupola is a feat of engineering skill. It was the first dome constructed without the need for a wooden supporting frame to sustain the vault.
This was possible because:

Brunelleschi used bricks instead of the heavier sandstones

Bricks were bonded together in a vertical herringbone pattern
The construction was simultaneus, ring by ring thanks to aereal scaffoldings he devised
The dome has two shells: an inner shell, thicker, and an outer shell, thinner to protect the other one from the elements. This facilitated the construction and reduced the weight. When we climb the 464 step stairway, we walk in between the two shells.

However the exact construction technique has never been entirely explained.
Some of the machines invented and used by Brunelleschi for the construction are hosted in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Nowadays the dome is constantly monitored in order to keep under control its stability.

Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect of Renaissance

The architect of the Dome (or “Cupola” as it’s called in Italian) Filippo Brunelleschi is also responsible for many other Renaissance buildings in Florence like the loggia of the Innocenti’s Hospital, the church of San Lorenzo and the church of Santo Spirito, just to name a few.
He is considered one of the three founders of the florentine Renaissance: Brunelleschi for architecture, Masaccio for painting, Donatello for sculpture.

Brunelleschi’s most important discovery: perspective

He’s considered the father of modern art as he discovered the exact rules of perspective, that is the way to represent the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional surface.
He studied hard for this, constructing all the instruments he needed for his experiments and finally he found the exact geometrical rules to obtain the illusion of depth. Leon Battista Alberti later explained all Brunelleschi’s principles in his essay “Della Pittura” in 1436.
Since then perspective rules have been largely used for sculpture and painting, hence the origin of Renaissance in Florence. Here are some of the masterpieces you can admire in Florence which accurately use this great innovation:

  • The Gate to Paradise (Porta del Paradiso) by Lorenzo Ghiberti (Museum of the Duomo)
  • The portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife Battista Sforza by Piero della Francesca (Uffizi Gallery)
  • The Annonciation by Leonardo da Vinci (Uffizi Gallery)
  • Isaac’s sacrifice tiles by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi (Bargello Museum)
  • The pulpit of Crucifixion and the pulpit of Resurrection by Donatello (San Lorenzo Church)
  • The last supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio (San Marco convent)

.. just to name a few!


The Duomo Complex
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
San Marco convent
San Lorenzo complex
Bargello Museum
Uffizi Gallery