the materials of the town - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  The Materials of the Town  

The materials which characterize the townscape of fifteenth-century Florence are the stone of the unplastered facades and of the paving of the piazzas and streets, the plaster, the wood of the eaves and of structures such as the struts of the overhangs, the terracotta of some pavements and above all of the roofing tiles, the iron in the details of the facade. The typical stones in Florence were pietra forte and pietra macigno. Pietra forte is an arenaceous limestone of a fairly uniform grain and yellowish-brown in color, with occasional patches of a greyish blue. The quarries for pietra forte were in the hills south of the city. There were two types of pietra macigno: pietra serena and pietra bigia, sandstones composed of quartz, silicates and mica, with shiny flakes. Pietra serena is a light sky blue in color, pietra bigia, with a finer grain, is the color of the earth, a tawny grey. The macigno quarries were in the hills north of the city (Fiesole, Maiano). Pietra forte is harder than macigno and lasts longer (but generally this depends on how the stone was cut in the quarry and how it was used). It has a marble veining which may cause it to break off (and therefore is dangerous to use in cornices). Pietra serena lasts well under cover but when exposed to weathering tends to flake and disintegrate. Pietra forte had given medieval Florence its character ('all of steel-grey stone', for when fresh from the quarry the stone has a warm brown color but with time it blackens and takes on an iron hue) and was still used in the facades of palaces in the high Renaissance (Medici, Antinori, Pitti, Strozzi, Gondi).

The renewal of Florentine architecture initiated by Brunelleschi is also evident in the choice of materials. He introduced the widespread use of pietra serena and pietra bigia. The former, easier to work, was used for capitals and corbels and the large monolithic columns (interiors of S. Lorenzo and S. Spirito, courtyards of Pal. Strozzi, Gondi), for which pietra forte was ill suited. In the Ospedale degli Innocenti Brunelleschi introduced the use of pietra serena in the facade as well.

After Brunelleschi, plaster became the ideal background for an architectural layout provided by the membering. When rustication was still used, the intention in any case was to realize a layout; the case of the facade of Palazzo Rucellai is paradigmatic, for the rustication does not correspond to the cut of the individual blocks of stone.

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