the construction of a new classical florence - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  The Construction of a New Classical Florence  

"He was given to us by Heaven to invest architecture with new forms". In these words Vasari celebrated the ingenious architect whom Florence was fortunate enough to count among her sons between the end of the fourteenth and the middle of the fifteenth century: Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). For what Brunelleschi did "he was granted such honors as to be buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, and with a marble bust, which they say was carved from life, and placed there in perpetual memory with such a splendid epitaph" (A. Manetti). Besides the portrait and the epitaph composed by Carlo Marsuppini, chancellor of the Florentine republic, the monument was to include the reproduction of some of the maestro's drawings for the cupola.

Between 1420 and 1446 Brunelleschi's work comes to the fore as a decisive moment in the history of the architecture and urban form of the city of Florence. The fundamental measures of the urban context, the medieval world of Arnolfo, into which his works were inserted had already been defined. The city's maximum perimetral limits had already been determined; Arnolfo had already made provisions for a dome; the reconstructions of S. Lorenzo and Santo Spirito can be seen as 'modern' versions of the massive churches of the middle ages, Piazza SS. Annunziata as a cloister turned into a piazza, the Palagio di Parte Guelfa was already in situ. But the power of invention and freshness of vision in Brunelleschi's oeuvre was such that after the fifteenth century Florence would always be thought of as a Renaissance city despite the basically medieval structure of the city; the Humanists for first would cite it as an example of an ideal city. In this sense the multiplication in various epochs of Brunelleschi's module for Palazzo Pitti, the enlargement of Palazzo Medici, the mirror-image duplication of the Loggiato degli Innocenti, the interpretation of the cubic module of the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo by Michelangelo and others are all highly significant episodes. What information has come down to us, describes Brunelleschi as a 'universal' man. He was "architect, arithmetician and eccellent geometrician and sculptor and painter" (A. Manetti), the inventor of various machines for building (in which his experience as goldsmith, particularly on clocks with multiple gears set in motion by counterweights, played a part), a military, naval and hydraulic engineer, inventor of pageants and of musical instruments, a student of the structure of Dante's Commedia, also as a moment of decisive affermation in the story of self-awareness. Of prime importance is the fact that Brunelleschi, like Masaccio, Donatello, Ghiberti, was formed in the Florentine milieu of the first generation Renaissance of Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini, with its extraordinary cultural ferments. "The city of Florence in that time was /.../ in a most felicitous state, overflowing with men who were outstanding in all fields" (Vespasiano da Bisticci). Although Brunelleschi's beginnings were in the field of sculpture, with which he was thoroughly at home, he ended up by excluding it from his architecture or kept it within strict architectural bounds. On the other hand, the power and meaning of the membering, the cornices, etc. fully reveal his capacity as sculptor. With a first hand knowledge and understanding of classic Roman architecture, as well as medieval Romanesque and Gothic, as his point of departure, and with his personal solution of perspective as knowledge "per comparatione" (by comparison), in the relatively brief period between 1420 and 1446 Brunelleschi, and Brunelleschi alone, initiated a new epoch in the history of architecture. The historical significance is all the more impressive if one keeps in mind the fact that few of the buildings he began or designed were even partially achieved or completed before his death. Crucial to Brunelleschi's formation was the rediscovery of ancient classic architecture not only as a result of the traces that abounded in the medieval Florentine tradition, but also through direct acquaintance. According to Manetti, having gone to Rome to study ancient sculpture "he observed the method and symmetry of the ancient's way of building. He seemed to recognize very clearly a certain arrangement of members and structure /..../ both in the order and method which is in the abutments and thrusts of buildings /.../ as in the decorations". With Donatello, he drew, surveyed, made coded notes (a secret tradition of the medieval masters).

Regarding columns "by means of close observation he could clearly distinguish between the characteristics of each type: Ionic, Doric, Tuscan, Corinthian and Attic. As may still be seen in his buildings, he used most of them at the times and places he considered best".

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