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Brunelleschi's Dome [Paperback]

Ross King
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 24 2001
Even in an age of skyscrapers and sports stadiums, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, with its immense dome, retains a rare power to astonish. Yet, for more than a century after work began on the cathedral in 1296, the proposed dome was regarded as impossible to build. It became the greatest architectural puzzle of the age, and when finally complete in 1436, was hailed as one of the wonders of the world. Ross King tells the full story of how the cupola was raised, from conception to consecration. He also tells the story of the dome's architect, the brilliant and volatile Filippo Brunelleschi. His ambition, ingenuity and rivalries are set in the context of the plagues, wars and political feuds of Renaissance Florence. It is a fascinating story.

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From Amazon

Filippo Brunelleschi's design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of more than 140 feet exceeds St Paul's in London and St Peter's in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington, D.C., making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but "hot-tempered" creator is told in Ross King's delightful Brunelleschi's Dome.

Both dome and architect offer King plenty of rich material. The story of the dome goes back to 1296, when work began on the cathedral, but it was only in 1420, when Brunelleschi won a competition over his bitter rival Lorenzo Ghiberti to design the daunting cupola, that work began in earnest. King weaves an engrossing tale from the political intrigue, personal jealousies, dramatic setbacks, and sheer inventive brilliance that led to the paranoid Filippo, "who was so proud of his inventions and so fearful of plagiarism," finally seeing his dome completed only months before his death. King argues that it was Brunelleschi's improvised brilliance in solving the problem of suspending the enormous cupola in bricks and mortar (painstakingly detailed with precise illustrations) that led him to "succeed in performing an engineering feat whose structural daring was without parallel." He tells a compelling, informed story, ranging from discussions of the construction of the bricks, mortar, and marble that made up the dome, to its subsequent use as a scientific instrument by the Florentine astronomer Paolo Toscanelli. --Jerry Brotton, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Walker was the hardcover publisher of Dava Sobel's sleeper smash, Longitude, and Mark Kurlansky's steady-seller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. This brief, secondary source-based account is clearly aimed at the same lay science-cum-adventure readership. British novelist King (previously unpublished in the U.S.) compiles an elementary introduction to the story of how and why Renaissance Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed and oversaw the construction of the enormous dome of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedralAdesigning its curves so that they needed no supporting framework during construction: a major Renaissance architectural innovation. Illustrated with 26 b&w period prints, the book contains 19 chapters, some very brief. Although the result is fast moving and accessible, King overdoes the simplicity to the point that the book appears unwittingly as if it was intended for young adults. (Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo, for example, "took a dim view of marriage and women.") This book feels miles away from its actual characters, lacking the kind of dramatic flourish that would bring it fully to life. Despite direct quotes from letters and period accounts, the "would have," "may have" and "must have" sentences pile up. Still, the focus on the dome, its attendant social and architectural problems, and the solutions improvised by Brunelleschi provide enough inherent tension to carry readers along. (Oct. 23)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Architect of Glory (God's & His Own) July 2 2004
I looked for this book after reading and enjoying Ross King's book on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling. Now, I just wish I had read this before visiting the Duomo in Florence some years ago. This is an excellent description of the raising of the dome over the cathedral in Florence at the beginning of the fifteenth century led by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi.
There are three things that I particularly like about this book: first, it is an excellent description of the tremendous work invested by literally entire communities to raise a structure like a mediaeval cathedral. Yes, Brunelleschi was the genius behind the dome but it took thousands of workers decades to make his vision a reality. Thinking of the skyscrapers we raise today with the help of modern machines, raising these churches was an incredible achievement.
Second, this book shows how scientific and engineering discoveries are often lost and rediscovered. The Roman methods of building aqueducts, arches and domes (like the Pantheon in Rome) had long been lost and many of their methods are still only vaguely understood. Still, Brunelleschi was able to study these structures (much as his work is studied now), rediscover old methods and invent even better ones to produce his work. This is something seen over and over again in the sciences: a discovery is made and, because it is not understood at the time or the explanation is lost somehow, it is forgotten, only to be rediscovered later.
Third, this book shows how difficult it is to understand some of the amazing achievements of antiquity. Even today, though the dome stands as a monument to his genius, we don't fully understand how Brunelleschi was able to make it work.
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3.0 out of 5 stars short straightforward narrative June 24 2003
I read the book as part of an online book discussion group. For this purpose it is excellent. for it doesn't require a degree in engineering or architecture to understand, is a short and straightforward narrative where the author avoids the problems associated with trying to tell to large a tale in too small a space.
It is a quick biography of the man responsible for the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. There were several fact filled sentences i read to my wife but other than these few it was a quick breeze, painless read to acquire a simple knowledge of the times and tribulations involved in building what is still the large masonary dome in the world(according to the book).
I would have appreciated more diagrams of the dome as the text describes it. More sketches of the equipment and physical maps as the character travels. The word pictures at these points are not sufficent to fully disclose to the Italian-free unknowledgable among the readers what he is talking about.
A mildly interesting book although if i didn't already have an interest in architecture i don't believe it would have particularly stimulated one.
So overall a C+ book, but a rather good choice for a book group for dynamics of the group, not for the material.
thanks for reading this review
richard williams
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4.0 out of 5 stars Slow start, resounding finish Dec 19 2002
It took me several months to really get into this book. Usually I know right away whether a book will grip my imagination and draw me in. "Brunelleschi's Dome" did, however, turn out to be one of the true literary surprises of the year for me. I wrote a term paper about Brunelleschi and the Florence Cathedral waaay back in high school for a technical drafting class. It was that experience, many years ago, that led me to buy the book. Now an architect in private practice, I have the technical and artistic background to appreciate what then was bewildering and rather foreign to me. This book very slowly grew on me, until one evening I couldn't put it down. Once the initial history, setup and definitions were safely read and out of the way, this book really got interesting in a hurry. The portrayal of the unintentional designer who, 500 years later, has come to be one of the recognized geniuses of the Renaissance and a founding father of Western architectural thought is fascinating, surprising and at times downright strange. Brunelleschi's time half a millenium ago is brought to life vividly. The technical descriptions of what are still today considered amazing breakthroughs are well written, informative and enlightening without being unwieldy, self indulgent or too long. This alone is a skill many architectural writers are abysmally deficient in, preferring to fill pages with their own blather and pseudo-language ostensibly designed to make the "rest of us" hold them in awe. Ross King's departure from the language of architecture's current flirtation with trendy academia is refreshing, readable and understandable by those not in the professions of architecture, engineering or building. It is revealing that my 14 year old cousin, a young man with sharp interests in astronomy and rock music, enjoyed this book immensely.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "il Duomo" as icon of an age April 14 2002
A possible reason why reviews of this book are so divergent is that BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME is so much more than an architectural triumph that for some it seems unlikely that such a slim book by a journalist could do it full justice. Ross King however fully recognizes the significance of the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and the mastery of it's creator Filippo Brunelleschi. He pays tribute to how both the man and his creation were symbolic of the great creative genius that we have come to see as typifying the golden age of the Renaissance. King also clearly shows how such individuals and their work were a boon to the continuing growth and influence of the Renaissance as a whole. Not only is the dome a wonderful architectural triumph - at 143 feet in diameter it is still the largest dome in existence - the very act of creating it spurred other developments. Construction techniques, machines and tools, methods of organizing work, architectural design and drafting; all had to be modified, improved, and in some cases newly invented to accomplish the goal.
Any reading you do on the Renaissance will be sure to mention southern Italy and the pioneering role Florence had in the movement. With Florence you're dealing with the finest sculpture, painting, and architecture, and with Brunelleschi's dome you've got distilled into one creation all that the Renaissance stood for.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The maker of machines
In 1418 Filippo Brunelleschi was 41 years old. He had an uncanny ability to solve mechanical problems. He was a goldsmith. Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2003 by Mary E. Sibley
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and Interesting View of Renaissance Firenze
This is a fascinating read that brings together Firenze in the renaissance and the birth of modern architecture. The curious and funny anecdotal material keeps the story moving. Read more
Published on May 15 2002 by Ray Santora
4.0 out of 5 stars More pictures!
An excellent and quick read (only 194 pages including the index). The only problem that I had with the book is that it would be greatly improved by additional pictures and... Read more
Published on April 21 2002 by Stephen Sarrica
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius is in the details...
Ross King can take the story of a small, seemingly insurmountable problem and turn it into an intriguing bit of drama: how to build a dome without a frame to lean it on? Read more
Published on March 24 2002 by bensmomma
3.0 out of 5 stars Want to join the Brunelleschi fan club?
I bought the book having visited Florence and possessing some rudimentary knowledge of the dome and its importance in architectural history. Read more
Published on March 13 2002 by deedub
2.0 out of 5 stars The Structural Skeleton of the Dome
This book gives due credit to one of the world's greatest and lasting architectural achievements. However, it provides very little useful insight into the structural skeleton and... Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2002 by Eidophor
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising, but unfocused and poorly researched
By all means borrow this book and read it, but don't waste your money to buy it. Mr. King frequently hints at interesting avenues which would further explain Brunelleschi, the... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2002 by Michael McGovern
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings Florence's Dome to life, with gusto!
This is the story of genius, sweat, and emotion that went into the construction of the dome of Il Duomo, Florence's most visible landmark. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2002 by Peter Lorenzi
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational!!
I highly recommend this book to all aspiring architects and those who have an interest in architecture, history, and Italy. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2002 by jeannie
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