Architects and engineers are investigating methods probably used by Renaissance artists to create the iconic dome—the Duomo—of Florence, Italy’s cathedral. (National Geographic/NOVA)
Use our resources to better understand the Duomo.
- Watch the terrific video above, about Filippo Brunelleschi’s magnificent ‘Duomo.’ Then read our equally terrific “media spotlight” on the Duomo. How else could Brunelleschi or other architects have designed the roof of the already-beautiful Florence Cathedral?
- The cathedral had a flat, wooden roof for more than a century, and it could have stayed like that. Most roofs in Florence are made of flat or gently sloping red tile. A roof constructed like this would have fit in with the city landscape.
- Architects could have built a soaring dome supported by flying buttresses. These ornate support structures were often used in medieval Gothic architecture to prop up buildings that would otherwise collapse under their own weight.
- Why do you think Brunelleschi and his Florentine bosses wanted a dome on their cathedral? (Reading our media spotlight on the Duomo might help.)
- According to the spotlight, “[a]rchitects and engineers of the budding Renaissance were determined not to use flamboyant Gothic style or flying buttresses—they wanted to look back to the simple, clean lines of their Roman past.”
- Brunelleschi (basing his plans on those of an earlier architect, Neri di Fioravante) could not use scaffolding or interior supports to construct his dome. Why?
- The cathedral was too big. There simply was not enough timber in Tuscany to provide the scaffolding necessary to construct the Duomo. Necessity is the mother of invention.
- The Renaissance is often associated with the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture. The Nat Geo/NOVA program on Brunelleschi’s dome is much more about engineering, however. Can you think of another Renaissance scholar who made contributions to both art and engineering?
- Leonardo da Vinci is the leading example, although Michelangelo, Rafael, and other artists were also innovators in engineering and design. Leonardo’s engineering blueprints for armored tanks, hydraulics, and even flying machines are well-known, if not entirely practical. Leonardo and his mentor, Andrea del Verrocchio, even engineered and designed the copper ball atop the Duomo itself—take a look at this link to get some scale on the Duomo, by the way. Oh, Leonardo wasn’t a half-bad painter, either.
Confession: I could talk about this stuff all. day. long.
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