Guest Author - Christine MacNeil Sweet
Unlike the Gothic style of religious edifices which had a strong vertical movement, the Florence Cathedral emphasized a horizontal movement which was prevalent in Italy, particularly in the Renaissance. Work began on this religious building at the end of the Gothic period of the Middle Ages that led into the Renaissance. The campanile or bell tower was designed by Giotto; however he died after only finishing the first level. The remainder was completed by other architects and deviated from Giotto’s original design of topping the campanile with a spire. The dome of the cathedral was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. It measures 138 ˝ feet wide and 367 feet high and was the largest dome since the building of the Pantheon in Rome. Although the idea for the dome likely was influenced by Brunelleschi’s trips to Rome to study the antique, particularly the Pantheon; his dome was octagonal buttressed with three half domes and had less of an “outward thrust than a hemispherical one” like that of the Pantheon. The dome is created from stone and brick, with the heavier of the two at the bottom that created a self-buttressing system like that seen in the Pantheon. However, unlike the concrete dome of the Pantheon, the Florence Cathedral was a dome within a dome that made it much lighter. There are eight major ribs on the outside and three minor between every two major on the interior. A lantern was added on the top by Michelozzo to stabilize the dome with downward pressure that kept the ribs from spreading apart at the top.
The dome represents Renaissance culture because it was very visible and a cause for civic pride. Residents of Florence would say that they came from the city with the dome. It is also representative of the talent of Brunelleschi who designed the dome on a drum construction which was to be the model for all domes from that time forward.
A great book to read that ties all the trials and tribulations together regarding the building of the dome is Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome. King bring Renaissance Florence alive in is telling of the building of one of the most well-known features of the Florentian landscape. Heavily annotated with historical references to other works and original documents located in the Italian archives, it is well worth a read for both the art history student and anyone with an interest in this time period.