Filippo Brunelleschi (Italian: [fiˈlippo brunelˈleski]; 1377
– April 15, 1446) was an Italian designer and a key figure in
architecture, recognised to be the first modern engineer, planner and
sole construction supervisor. He was one of the founding fathers of
the Renaissance. He is generally well known for developing a technique
for linear perspective in art and for building the dome of the
Florence Cathedral. Heavily dependent on mirrors and geometry, to
"reinforce Christian spiritual reality", his formulation of linear
perspective governed pictorial depiction of space until the late 19th
century. It also had the most profound – and quite
unanticipated – influence on the rise of modern science. His
accomplishments also include other architectural works, sculpture,
mathematics, engineering, and ship design. His principal surviving
works are to be found in Florence, Italy; however his two original
linear perspective panels have been lost.
1 Early life
2 Emergence of Humanism
5 Other work
5.1 Discovery of linear perspective
5.2 Theatrical machinery
6 Fictional depictions
7 Principal works
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Brunelleschi was born in Florence, Italy. Little is known about his
early life, the only sources being
Antonio Manetti and Giorgio
Vasari. According to these sources, Filippo's father was
Brunellesco di Lippo, a notary, and his mother was Giuliana Spini.
Filippo was the middle of their three children. The young Filippo was
given a literary and mathematical education intended to enable him to
follow in the footsteps of his father, a civil servant. Being
artistically inclined, however, Filippo enrolled in the Arte della
Seta, the silk merchants' Guild, which also included goldsmiths,
metalworkers, and bronze workers. He became a master goldsmith in
1398. It was thus not a coincidence that his first important building
commission, the Ospedale degli Innocenti, came from the guild to which
In 1401 Brunelleschi entered a competition to design a new set of
bronze doors for the
Florence Baptistery. Seven competitors each
produced a gilded bronze panel, depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac.
Brunelleschi's entry, which, with that of Lorenzo Ghiberti, is one of
only two to have survived, made reference to the Greco-Roman Boy with
Thorn. Brunelleschi's panel consists of several pieces bolted to the
Emergence of Humanism
Section of the dome
Brunelleschi is considered a seminal figure of the Renaissance. Little
biographical information about Brunelleschi's life exists to explain
his transition from goldsmith to architect, or his training in the
gothic or medieval manner, or his transition to classicism in
architecture and urbanism. Around 1400, there emerged a cultural
interest in "humanitas," or humanism, which idealised the art of
Greco-Roman antiquity over the formal and less lifelike style of the
medieval period. However, this interest was restricted to a few
scholars, writers, and philosophers before it began to influence the
visual arts. It was in this period (1402–1404) that Brunelleschi and
Donatello visited Rome to study its ancient ruins.
Donatello, like Brunelleschi, was trained as a goldsmith, though he
later worked in the studio of contemporarily well-known painter
Ghiberti. Although the glories of
Ancient Rome were a matter of
popular discourse at the time, it seems that no one had studied the
physical fabric of its ruins in any detail until Brunelleschi and
Brunelleschi's first architectural commission was the Ospedale degli
Innocenti (1419–ca.1445), or Foundling Hospital. Its long loggia
would have been a rare sight in the tight and curving streets of
Florence, not to mention its impressive arches, each about 8 meters
high. The building was dignified and sober; there were no displays of
fine marble or decorative inlays. It was also the first building
Florence to make clear reference—in its columns and capitals—to
Soon other commissions came, such as the Ridolfi Chapel in the church
of San Jacopo sopr'Arno, now lost, and the
Barbadori Chapel in Santa
Felicita, also modified since its building. For both, Brunelleschi
devised elements already used in the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and
which would also be used in the
Pazzi Chapel and the Sagrestia
Vecchia. At the same time he was using such smaller works as a sort of
feasibility study for his most famous work, the dome of the Cathedral
Sculpture of Brunelleschi looking at his cathedral dome
Santa Maria del Fiore
Santa Maria del Fiore was the new cathedral of the city, and by 1418
the dome had yet to be defined. When the building was designed in the
previous century, no one had any idea how such a dome was to be built,
given that it was to be even larger than the Pantheon's dome in Rome
and that no dome of that size had been built since antiquity. Because
buttresses were forbidden by the city fathers, and because it was
impossible to obtain rafters for scaffolding long and strong enough
(and in sufficient quantity) for the task, it was unclear how a dome
of that size could be constructed without it collapsing under its own
weight. Furthermore, the stresses of compression were not clearly
understood, and the mortars used in the period would set only after
several days, keeping the strain on the scaffolding for a very long
In 1418, the Arte della Lana, the wool merchants' guild, held a
competition to solve the problem. The two main competitors were
Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, with Brunelleschi winning and receiving the
commission. The competition consisted of the great architects
attempting to stand an egg upright on a piece of marble. None could do
it but Brunelleschi, who, according to Vasari: "... giving one end
a blow on the flat piece of marble, made it stand upright ...The
architects protested that they could have done the same; but Filippo
answered, laughing, that they could have made the dome, if they had
seen his design." (This solution was also attributed to Columbus; see
Egg of Columbus.)
The dome, the lantern (built 1446–ca.1461) and the exedra (built
1439–1445) would occupy most of Brunelleschi's life.
Brunelleschi's success can be attributed, in no small degree, to his
technical and mathematical genius. Brunelleschi used more than
four million bricks in the construction of the octagonal dome.
Notably, Brunelleschi left behind no building plans or diagrams
detailing the dome's structure; scholars surmise that he constructed
the dome as though it were hemispherical, which would have allowed the
dome to support itself. He invented a new hoisting machine for
raising the masonry needed for the dome, a task no doubt inspired by
republication of Vitruvius' De Architectura, which describes Roman
machines used in the 1st century AD to build large structures such as
the Pantheon and the Baths of Diocletian, structures still standing
which he would have seen for himself. He also issued one of the first
patents for the hoist in an attempt to prevent the theft of his ideas.
Brunelleschi was granted the first modern patent for his invention of
a river transport vessel.
Brunelleschi kept his workers up in the building during their breaks
and brought food and diluted wine, similar to that given to pregnant
women at the time, up to them. He felt the trip up and down the
hundreds of stairs would exhaust them and reduce their
Nave of the Santo Spirito, Florence, 1441–1481
Chapel of the Pazzi family, one of his last works
Brunelleschi's interests extended to mathematics and engineering and
the study of ancient monuments. He invented hydraulic machinery and
elaborate clockwork, none of which survives.
Brunelleschi also designed fortifications used by
Florence in its
military struggles against Pisa and Siena. In 1424, he was working in
Lastra a Signa, a village protecting the route to Pisa, and in 1431 in
the south of Italy on the walls of the village of Staggia. These walls
are still preserved, but whether they are specifically by Brunelleschi
He also was active briefly in the world of shipmaking, when, in 1427,
he built an enormous ship named Il Badalone to transport marble to
Florence from Pisa up the River Arno. The ship sank on its maiden
voyage, along with a sizable chunk of Brunelleschi's personal
fortune. Besides his accomplishments in architecture, Brunelleschi
is also credited with inventing one-point linear perspective which
revolutionised painting and paved the way for naturalistic styles to
develop as the
Renaissance digressed from the stylised figures of
medieval art. In addition, he was somewhat involved in urban planning:
he strategically positioned several of his buildings in relation to
the nearby squares and streets for "maximum visibility". For example,
demolitions in front of San Lorenzo were approved in 1433 in order to
create a piazza facing the church. At Santo Spirito, he suggested that
the façade be turned either towards the
Arno so travelers would see
it, or to the north, to face a large, prospective piazza.
Discovery of linear perspective
diagram of Brunelleschi's experiment
Brunelleschi is famous for two panel paintings illustrating geometric
optical linear perspective made in the early 15th century. His
biographer, Antonio Manetti, described this famous experiment in which
Brunelleschi painted two panels: the first being the Florentine
Baptistery as viewed frontally from the western portal of the
unfinished cathedral, the other one is the Palazzo Vecchio seen
obliquely from its northwest corner. These were not, however, the
first paintings with accurate linear perspective, for Ambrogio
Lorenzetti employed this in his Presentation at the Temple in 1342.
The first Baptistery panel was constructed with a hole drilled through
the centric vanishing point. Curiously, Brunelleschi intended that it
only be observed by the viewer facing the Baptistery, looking through
the hole in the panel, from the unpainted backside. As a mirror was
moved into and out of view, the observer saw the striking similarity
between the actual view of the Baptistery, and the reflected view of
the painted Baptistery image. Brunelleschi wanted his new perspective
"realism" to be tested not by comparing the painted image to the
actual Baptistery but to its reflection in a mirror according to the
Euclidean laws of geometric optics. This feat showed artists vividly
how they might paint their images, not merely as flat two-dimensional
shapes, but looking more like three-dimensional structures, just as
mirrors reflect them. Both panels have since been lost.
Around this time linear perspective, as a novel artistic tool, spread
not only in Italy but throughout Western Europe. It quickly became,
and remains, standard studio practice.
Brunelleschi also 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
Brunelleschi designed, but at least one, for the church of San Felice,
is confirmed in the records.
Brunelleschi's body lies in the crypt of the Cathedral of Florence. As
explained by Antonio Manetti, who knew Brunelleschi and who wrote his
biography, Brunelleschi "was granted such honours as to be buried in
the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and with a marble bust, which
was said to be carved from life, and placed there in perpetual memory
with such a splendid epitaph." Inside the cathedral entrance is
this epitaph: "Both the magnificent dome of this famous church and
many other devices invented by Filippo the architect, bear witness to
his superb skill. Therefore, in tribute to his exceptional talents, a
grateful country that will always remember him buries him here in the
Brunelleschi is portrayed by
Alessandro Preziosi in the 2016
television series Medici: Masters of Florence.
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
Ospedale degli Innocenti (1419–ca.1445)
The Basilica of San Lorenzo (1419–1480s)
Meeting Hall of the
Palazzo di Parte Guelfa
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)
Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli
^ Walker, Paul Robert (2003). The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance:
How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World. HarperCollins.
p. 5. ISBN 0-380-97787-7.
^ "The Duomo of
Florence Tripleman". tripleman.com. Retrieved
^ "brunelleschi's dome – Brunelleschi's Dome".
Brunelleschisdome.com. Archived from the original on April 16, 2010.
^ Bodart, Diane (2008).
Renaissance & Mannerism. New York:
Sterling. ISBN 978-1402759222.
^ "Filippo Brunelleschi". Encyclopedia.com.
^ a b Edgerton, Samuel. "Brunelleschi's mirror, Alberti's window, and
Galileo's 'perspective tube'".
^ For an English version of Vasari's description of the life and work
of Brunelleschi, see:
^ a b Battisti, Eugenio (1981). Filippo Brunelleschi. New York:
Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-5015-3.
^ Walker, Paul Robert (2002). The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance:
How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World. New York: William
Morrow. ISBN 0-380-97787-7.
^ Klotz, Heinrich (1990). Filippo Brunelleschi: the Early Works and
the Medieval Tradition. Translated by Hugh Keith. London: Academy
Editions. ISBN 0-85670-986-7.
^ King, Ross (2001). Brunelleschi's Dome: The Story of the great
Cathedral of Florence. New York: Penguin.
^ From Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects,
published 1500. Quoted from 'Italian Renaissance', Martin Roberts for
^ Saalman, Howard (1980). Filippo Brunelleschi: The Cupola of Santa
Maria del Fiore. London: A. Zwemmer. ISBN 0-302-02784-X.
^ Prager, Frank (1970). Brunelleschi: Studies of his Technology and
Inventions. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-16031-5.
^ Jones, Barry; Sereni, Andrea; Ricci, Massimo (2008-01-01). "Building
Brunelleschi's Dome: A practical methodology verified by experiment".
Construction History. 23: 3–31.
^ The origins of the industrial property right. See:
http://www.european-patent-office.org/wbt/pi-tour/tour.php Step 3.
Medici Popes". Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance. February
18, 2004. PBS. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
^ Brunelleschi's Monster Patent: Il Badalone Archived July 29, 2012,
at the Wayback Machine.
^ For proposed reconstructions of Brunelleschi's demonstration, see
Edgerton, Samuel Y. (2009). The Mirror, the Window & the
Renaissance Linear Perspective Changed Our Vision of
the Universe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
ISBN 978-0-8014-4758-7. And István Orosz, "Archived copy".
Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved March 12,
^ Manetti, Antonio (1970). The Life of Brunelleschi. English
translation of the Italian text by Catherine Enggass. University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-00075-9.
^ "Medici: Masters of Florence". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 24
Argan, Giulio Carlo; Robb, Nesca A (1946). "The
Brunelleschi and the Origins of Perspective Theory in the Fifteenth
Century". J. Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 9: 96–121.
doi:10.2307/750311. JSTOR 750311.
Fanelli, Giovanni (2004). Brunelleschi's Cupola: Past and Present of
an Architectural Masterpiece. Florence: Mandragora.
Heydenreich, Ludwig H. (1996).
Architecture in Italy, 1400–1500. New
Haven/London: Yale University Press.
Hyman, Isabelle (1974). Brunelleschi in perspective.
Kemp, Martin (1978). "Science, Non-science and Nonsense: The
Interpretation of Brunelleschi's Perspective". Art History. 1 (2):
Prager, F. D. (1950). "Brunelleschi's Inventions and the 'Renewal of
Roman Masonry Work'". Osiris. 9: 457–554. doi:10.1086/368537.
Millon, Henry A.; Lampugnani, Vittorio Magnago, eds. (1994). The
Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo: the Representation of
Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.
Trachtenberg, Marvin (1988). What Brunelleschi Saw: Monument and Site
at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. New York.
King, Ross (2000). Brunelleschi's Dome: How a
Reinvented Architecture. New York: Walker.
Devémy, Jean-François (2013). Sur les traces de Filippo
Brunelleschi, l'invention de la coupole de
Santa Maria del Fiore
Santa Maria del Fiore à
Florence. Suresnes: Les Editions du Net.
ISBN 978-2-312-01329-9. (in line presentation)
Saalman, Howard (1993). Filippo Brunelleschi: The Buildings. Penn
Vereycken, Karel, "The Secrets of the Florentine Dome", Schiller
Institute, 2013. (Translation from the French, "Les secrets du dôme
de Florence", la revue Fusion, n° 96, Mai, Juin 2003)
"The Great Cathedral Mystery",
PBS Nova TV documentary, February 12,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Filippo Brunelleschi.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Free audio guide of Brunelleschi's Dome
O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Filippo Brunelleschi",
MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St
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