the bottega (shop) and the street - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  The Bottega (Shop) and the Street  

An important element that conditioned the townscape in the context of the continuous facade that lined the street, were the botteghe or shops. As already in the Middle Ages they opened onto the street with the entrance flanked by one or two low walls which could be used as benches and/or counters for displaying the merchandise. Rare examples still exist (Ponte Vecchio, Borgo S. Jacopo). When the building had neither an overhang nor eaves, the passersby, the benches in the street and the shops were protected by small lean-to roofs covered with tiles at a height which the law set as no less than five braccia. Wooden struts set in holes in the wall supported the lower horizontal roof beam while further up strong wrought iron rightangle spikes held the upper beam close to the wall. To make up for the loss of light inherent in this type of roof, small windows were opened in the wall right above. Many of these holes and small windows can be identified in the center of Florence (Via dei Calzaiuoli, in the stretch between Orsanmichele and Piazza della Signoria). The light of day dictated working hours and the tolling of the hell kept track of the passing of time. The activity of the shops tended to spill out beyond the overhangs and the lean-to roofs, into the street, where priming materials and varnishes, glues, wood, leather, yarns were tested by setting them out in the sun. Brunelleschi went to the shop of Grasso the legnaiuolo "about the time it was customary to close the shop of this kind to then work inside by lamplight" (A. Manetti). Dinner was no later than eleven, and supper shortly before sunset; and it was also early to bed.

When friends got together after supper, a lantern in iron and glass or oiled paper, with a beeswax candle, was set on the table in the center of the room. For the great feast day's there were torches and candelabra. Illumination in the streets was limited to the torches of the large palaces and the lamps of the many tabernacles to which an important visual and symbolic presence was assigned. The public fountains were also of vital importance, such as those on the Prato or in Piazza S. Croce. Most of the streets were paved in stone while Piazza della Signoria and a few streets were paved in brick. The first sidewalks began to appear around a few of the large palaces (Pal. Rucellai, Antinori, Strozzi).

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