August 19: waiting for Filippo

2016/08/19 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1418 a public competition for the dome of Florence Cathedral was announced.

The Cathedral project was begun in the late thirteenth century and  passed through the hands of several masters.  Most prominent among them was Francesco Talenti, a great Florentine architect who was, however, not up to the challenge of roofing the wide crossing that he planned in the mid-fourteenth century.  No one was, actually, but we credit Talenti with the dream of a huge cupola that would rival the Pantheon in grandeur and surpass it in scale.  The problem of designing a dome that could live up to that ideal and that would be light enough to rest on the extant structure and that was constructible without an insane quantity of centering was solved by genio gigantesco Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), born in the decade following Talenti’s death.  Drawing from his studies in both ancient and medieval architecture and from his training as a sculptor and Humanist, Brunelleschi devised the tapering double-shelled dome–and successfully persuaded the Opera del Duomo to adopt his plans and convinced conservative builders to follow his lead.

As extraordinary as Brunelleschi’s solution was, it is no less amazing to think of Talenti proposing a building design for which neither master nor technology yet existed to realize it.  It may put one in mind of a more recent gamble on the future, whereby rocket scientists launched a Mazda-sized gizmo at Mars, expecting a robot to land it in a specific place after a journey of nine months–although they had the distinct advantage of being much more in control of the unfolding parameters.  The two great events illustrate enduring human optimism in the future, but also reveal a certain shift in the place and power in which faith may reside.

Image: Brunelleschi’s dome (Clio’s)

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You are currently reading August 19: waiting for Filippo at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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