A skilled goldsmith who was also active as a painter and sculptor, Brunelleschi became one of the great architects of the early Renaissance. He could not complain of a lack of commissions—in the wealthy city-state of Florence influential families and guilds were building an abundance of architectural works in their own honor.
Classical Antiquity and High Society
In about 1419, Brunelleschi, the son of a notary, was pleased to receive two important commissions at once. The guild of silk makers commissioned him to build a house for the foundlings of Florence. In creating the Ospedale degli Innocenti, he returned to classical elements of building, always intent on symmetry of design and harmonious proportions, from facades to interior rooms. The second commission that year came from the very highest of circles. A member of the influential Medici family, Giovanni d’Averardo, ordered a chapel for his tomb from Brunelleschi. He designed the Old Sacristy (as it was later called, to distinguish it from Michelangelo’s New Sacristy) in the Florentine church of San Lorenzo as a central-plan building. On a square ground plan, a hemisphere arches over the space – the decisive forms here are the cube and square The client was so enthusiastic about Brunelteschi’s design for the Old Sacristy that he immediately entrusted to him the rebuilding of the entire church.
Wine Taverns in a Church
But not alt Florentines expected great things of Brunelleschi. The wool workers’ guild, for example. which was responsible for building the cathedral, seemed rather hesitant. It was a question of crown ing the cathedral, the flagship of the city, with a dome. The diameter of the octagonal substructure already stood at a proud 45 meters There was no question – for such a task, a first class master architect had to be engaged Several applicants believed themselves capable of it and took part in a competition.
The judges were undecided It was only after two years that they were convinced by Brunelleschi’s proposal The new project manager was not afraid of innovations he clothed the dome in two shells, of which only the inner one is load-bearing, so that he could reduce the overall weight of the dome. Brunelleschi was also inventive with regard to the organization of the work, in order to spare the workers in the dome the tedious and timeconsuming climb up and down at midday, he had wine taverns and kitchens built under the church roof. But the clients were skeptical about Brunelleschi’s inventiveness.
In 1432, when it was a question of the design of the crowning lantern of the dome, the guild preferred to hold a further competition, rather than leave this task to Brunelleschi. In the end it was his design that was executed, but he did not live to see the completion of the dome: he died m 1446. The historian Vasari reported on the funeral of the great architect in Florence cathedral, without con cealing that his native land “honored htm far more greatly after his death than it had done during his lifetime.”