Fillipo Brunelleschi (1377 - April 15, 1446)

Florentine Architect, Engineer, and Sculptor

For many years, Florence (to the left) was the cultural mecca of Europe. During the Early Renaissance, Fillipo Brunelleschi brought even more fame to the city as he designed and built some of the most beautiful architecture in all of Italy.

For Ser Brunellesco di Lippi Lapi, a respected Florentine notary, and his wife Giuliana Spini, Brunelleschi came as the second of their three sons. Brunelleschi learned goldsmithing and sculpting at an early age, and, in his early twenties, those skills landed him a position at the Arte della Seta. While a master at this school, Brunelleschi competed for a commision to sculpt reliefs for the door of the Baptistery of Florence, but he lost the bid. It is believed that this loss was a turning point for young Brunelleschi who then focused his energies solely on architecture and on engineering.

Early in his career as an architect, Brunelleshi came forward as a mover and a shaker. He discovered, or rather, rediscovered the lost Greek and Roman rules of perspective, such as the principle of having a single vanishing point. His discovery of these rules had a profound influence on the artists of his time : Renaissance art is strikingly realistic with its proper use of both diminuition and depth.

photo courtesy of Paul Duncan.

In 1420, the church awarded Brunelleschi the commision to design a dome to top the Florence Cathedral, which had been left, for many years, with a 140" diameter hole gaping atop. The problem was not a new one to the world of architecture: for decades architects had been trying to design the perfect dome to crown the Cathedral but had been defeated by the restrictive sturctural limitations inherent in the Cathedral's design. Brunelleschi, managed to succeed, however, were all others had failed, and by 1446, the dome (to the left) he designed was sitting almost in its entirety on the Cathedral. The only missing
photo courtesy of National Geographic

element was the huge lantern that he had designed to hang from the center of the dome. This support-giving lantern was built after his death and according to his specifications.

Though this dome is considered one of his greatest architectural achievements, the beauty of his architecture is manifest throughout Florence in the structures he built after 1420. Under the patronage of the Medici, he designed the Sacristy and the Basilica of San Lorenzo. With its combination of antique and contemporary design, the Basilica typifies the work of Brunelleschi which, by modern critics, is seen to represent the balance between Gothic form and humanist ideals.

One of his later works,the Santa Maria delgi Angeli, was built for the Comaldolese monastery in Florence. This building's intricate geometric design starts with a 16-sided exterior. The inside is octagonal, and each wall of the octagon leads to a chapel. In turn, each chapel ends in an apse, a semicircular projection at the end of a nave (the central aisle in the chapel). Modern critics laud the geometric elegance of the building for the atmosphere of harmony that it develops.

Brunelleschi did not limit his working environment to Florence alone. All of Italy is sprinkled with his work, and Brunelleschi was quite famous, regionally and internationally, by the time of his death in 1446.


Duncan, Paul. Traditional Houses of Rural Italy. London: Collins & Brown, 1993.

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