Fillipo Brunelleschi: Classical Architect and Visionary
Fillipo Brunelleschi might be known as a famous Italian architect, but in reality, the work that he does is so much more comprehensive than that. In reality, Brunelleschi is really more of a visionary than just an architect. "He was the first modern engineer and a problem-solver with unorthodox methods. He solved one of the greatest architectural puzzles and invented his way to success. Only now is he receiving deserved recognition as the greatest architect and engineer of the Renaissance" (pbs.org, 2014). Scholars are aware of the indelible impact that he had on the Italian Renaissance and how important it was, many seeing him as the father of the Italian Renaissance.
A famous architect during his lifetime, Brunelleschi was born in Florence in 1377 and studied goldsmithing with Benincasa Lotti, an experience which taught him the essential skills of mounting, engraving and embossing. Lotti also studied the mechanics behind motion and how wheels, gears, cogs and weights all had an impact on the way in which things moved. Later on, Brunelleschi was one who completed an apprenticeship at the Arte della Seta: an experience which truly marked him, as he was able to evolve a strong passion for mathematics and architecture. One of the elements which impacted the development of his own aesthetic was the friendship that he developed with Donatello: together, the two artists traveled to Rome into order to study the sculptures and the classical buildings that abounded in that remarkable city. The lost methods of Greek and Roman design made a big impression on Brunelleschi and were elements which continued to impact his thoughts and impressions on artistry and his aesthetic.
Use of Linear Perspective
One of the more remarkable elements that Brunelleschi was able to give the world was the fact that he engaged in the rediscovery of linear perspective, something that the Greeks and the Romans no doubt had an understanding of, but which was lost during the Middle Ages (Harris & Zucker, 2014). "Linear perspective is a way of creating a convincing, perfect illusion of space on a flat or two-dimensional surface. Nearly every Renaissance artist wanted linear perspective -- a way of creating an accurate illusion of space that could match the new naturalism then being applied to human figure" (Harris & Zucker, 2014). Linear perspective is a perspective which has main elements composed of a horizon line, a vanishing point and orthogonals. Brunelleschi had such a profound influence on other Florentine painters, sculptors and architects at the time, that once he started using linear perspective, it became a massive obsession in Florence. This architectural style also had a strong connection to Renaissance Humanism which of course was strongly connected to religious ideas and symbolism: "it structured all images of reality to address a single spectator who, unlike God, could only be in one place at a time.' In other words, linear perspective eliminates the multiple viewpoints that we see in medieval art, and creates an illusion of space from a single, fixed viewpoint. This suggests a renewed focus on the individual viewer, and we know that individualism is an important part of the Humanism of the Renaissance" (Harris & Zucker, 2014).
One of Brunelleschi's founding works is the famed "Ospedale degli Innocenti" and it is a three-dimensional representation of the evolving humanistic views of Florence and of the early Renaissance.
There's a profound sense of how all the wings of the hospital and all the separate branches -- the refectory, the cloisters, the dormitories, the infirmary, the nurses, rooms and porticoes were all balanced by Brunelleschi to create an atmosphere of harmony and rationale. The repeating arches which line the perimeter of the courtyard present a strong feeling of never-ending-ness and infinity, which evokes the sense of all that is eternal in the sense of the divine. The sheer presentation of the hospital plaza gives a sense of all encompassing-ness and of a greater sense of intelligence. This is...
On the second floor of the hospital, a row of windows is placed: each window is positioned so that it is centered above the top of each arch. This precision obviously gives a strong sense of complete symmetry and harmony which can be difficult to create but which Brunelleschi does quite easily. Plus, the centering of the windows creates a strong sense of a triangle shape, thus again evoking the sense of the holy trinity.
Inarguably the most famous structure that Brunelleschi is responsible for revolves around the dome of the Florentine cathedral. This dome, aside from being a massive impressive feat, is representative of Brunelleschi's belief in equality and symmetry. "Brunelleschi believed that each part of a structure had to be mathematically proportional to all other parts of the structure, which was rendered in ratios of whole numbers. Symmetry and harmony -- the hallmarks of classical architecture and the Renaissance's revival of it -- was created by geometrical proportion" (Saylor, 2013). There is a certain amount of religious symbolism inherent in the need for and reverence of such extreme geometrical proportion. Such importance placed on symmetry and harmony is evocative of the symmetry and harmony present within the holy trinity. Symmetry, harmony and such balance are all aspects of found also in a cross or crucifix and other common religious iconography. The dome on the cathedral of Florence is a three dimensional symbol of the importance of divinity and the strength and primacy of the divine creator. This symbolism is present even within its structure. "The horizontal rings of bricks that were hoisted up were interspersed with rows of vertical bricks and with the vertical rows interlacing one another. As the dome grew taller, it reinforced itself" (Saylor, 2013). This is comparable to how the Holy Trinity reinforces itself or how one's faith reinforces itself as it gets stronger. It's also worth noting that the overall buttressing of the dome was completely invisible, much like how the Holy Trinity is also invisible. Brunelleschi was able to achieve this by actually make two domes, one interior and the other exterior and by connecting them with vertical arching ribs. These structures were much like the interlocking pillars of Christianity and of the holy trinity. The circular windows lined the base of the dome to allow light to pour in and to act as a constant reminder of the creator. The fact that the dome of this cathedral remains being one of the most important parts of the Florentine skyline is an important and relevant fact connected to not just its role in renaissance architecture, but the role it plays as a three-dimensional symbol of religious faith.
One later work which is clearly influenced by the work of Brunelleschi is Melbourne's Royal Exhibition building. This structure is strong evocative of the Florentine cathedral and dome. Built in 1880, the dome was a show of optimism for the present and future of Melbourne and the destiny of this great city. "The Royal Exhibition Building is the only surviving Great Hall that once housed a 19th-century international exhibition and is still used for exhibitions. Joseph Reed, of the firm Reed and Barnes, was the architect. Reed's was a grand design, influenced by Rundbogenstil, a round-arched architectural style combining elements from Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance buildings. The dome's design was influenced by Brunelleschi's 15th-century cathedral in Florence" (museumvictoria.au). Brunelleschi is not the only influence on the structure that one can see: the portal do evoke the London exhibition pavilion of 1862 and the fanlights evoke Paxton's Crystal Palace, built in 1851. The natural light that flows into the structure however, is strongly reminiscent of Brunelleschi's domed cathedral, and is in fact modeled after the double shelled dome that he created.
Thus, even four hundred years after Brunelleschi's domed cathedral was created, it was still influencing the structural works in cities on the other side of the planet. This demonstrates just how powerful and how gifted Brunelleschi and how meaningful and lasting his work was. More than anything, this lasting-power remains evocative of the religious influences in his work: just as his work was able to evoke and inspire the eternal and the divine, his work was able to manifest the memorability and the staying-power of the eternal and the divine.
Harris, B., & Zucker, S. (2013). Brunelleschi and the Rediscovery of Linear Perspective. Retrieved from khanacademy.org: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/Brunelleschi.html
Kleiner, F. (2009). Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume 2. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Museumvictoria.au. (2013). The Building. Retrieved from museumvictoria.au: http://museumvictoria.com.au/reb/history/the-building/
Pbs.org. (2013). Fillipo Brunnelleschi. Retrieved from pbs.org: http://www.pbs.org/empires/medici/renaissance/brunelleschi.html
Saylor, S. (2012). Brunelleschi and the Dome of the Florentine Cathedral. Retrieved from saylor.org: http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/HIST302-9.3.2-Bruneschelli-and-the-Dome-FINAL1.pdf