GREAT EUROPEAN PAINTERS
Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)
The Florentine genius Filippo Brunelleschi was architect, engineer, and sculptor at a critical time in the evolution of Florence as the centre of the early Italian Renaissance.
Seen now as one of the greatest architects of his day, he was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the key figures in the Florentine Renaissance, not least for his innovative work in constructing the massive dome for the city's cathedral, still an iconic work of Christian art, recognizable around the world. In fact, along with Tommaso Masaccio (c.1401-28) and Donatello (1386-1466), he was one of the three most influential artists in early 15th-century Florence. A champion of both Roman and Greek architecture, his impact on Renaissance art and culture is incalculable.
The son of Brunellesco Lippi, a Florentine notary who held important posts in the Republic and was sometimes entrusted with diplomatic missions, Filippo trained in goldsmithing and was enrolled as a master of the goldsmiths' guild in 1398; in the following year he was active in the studio of Lunardo di Matteo Ducci da Pistoia, for whom he made some silver figures for the altar of S. Jacopo in Pistoia Cathedral.
Paintings by Renaissance artists
Brunelleschi initially came to prominence as a result of the competition for the second bronze door of the Florence Baptistery, held in 1401, in which he participated alongside Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), the Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438) and four other sculptors. This contest has been described as the first art competition since Antiquity. In fact, it seems to have been common late medieval practice for a patron to invite several artists to submit designs before concluding a contract. Ghiberti and the anonymous biographer of Brunelleschi, believed to be Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, differ in their accounts of the result of this contest. While Ghiberti states that he won outright, the biographer claims that Brunelleschi and Ghiberti were invited to share the commission and that Brunelleschi subsequently withdrew.
Although Brunelleschi is known to have collaborated in the creation of several pieces of Italian Renaissance sculpture around 1409 and in 1415, he seems to have turned away from sculpture during the decade following the competition. Between 1404 and 1406 he served as a consultant on the fabric of Florence Cathedral, and it was probably around this time that he first visited Rome.
It is not known precisely when Brunelleschi formulated the principles of "one-point" linear perspective which were subsequently employed by Tommaso Masaccio (1401-1428) and codified by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), although his discovery could hardly have been made later than the second decade of the 15th century. There is little evidence that Brunelleschi was interested in fine art painting; the two small perspectival views with which he is said to have demonstrated his ideas imply that his studies of this subject were primarily directed towards the requirements of architecture.
Little is known of Brunelleschi's work
as an architect prior to 1417, when he was asked to give his opinion on
the dome of Florence Cathedral. Although the approximate design
of the dome had been established as early as 1367, its actual execution
remained a supremely difficult engineering problem. Originally working
alongside Ghiberti, Brunelleschi soon acquired control over the supervision
of the work, whose completion spanned the rest of his life and it remains
his most famous achievement. He overcame the main task of enclosing the
enormous drum (which was already standing) by introducing a double-shell
dome. This required a series of ingenious technical innovations to reduce
weight and ensure maximum strength. The scaffolding and the weight-lifting
devices needed to erect the massive superstructure of the dome posed serious
difficulties in themselves. Brunelleschi surmounted every problem as it
arose, with a brilliant display of engineering skill and meticulous attention
to each detail of the construction.
Although Brunelleschi was commissioned
to design the Pazzi Chapel in the cloister of S.Croce in 1429,
the building seems to have progressed slowly and was not completed until
many years after the architect's death. It consists of a domed central
square, extended to an oblong by barrel-vaulted side bays, and further
elaborated by a square, domed choir and a barrel-vaulted portico. This
runs longitudinally across the facade of the building, firmly knitting
the new structure into the cloister within which, it stands. The exquisitely
balanced proportions of the design are underscored by the subtle polychromy
of the gray moldings set against the paler walls, and enlivened by the
glazed majolica roundels on the walls and in the spandrels of the dome.
It was partly because of this innovatory system of interior decoration
that the Pazzi Chapel proved so influential upon subsequent generations
For profiles of the great artistic
movements/periods, see: History of Art.