Filippo Brunelleschi: Everything You Will Ever Need To Know.

A biography of the first architect of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi, including his most famous works; The Dome of Florence Cathedral, The Foundling Hospital and Santo Spirito.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1337-1446) is considered the first architect of the Renaissance era.

Brunelleschi was also singular in that he had no apprenticeship in a masonry, but was the son of a well-to-do Florentine lawyer Brunellesco di Lippo and so had a liberal education in order to follow in his footsteps, however Brunelleschi never did as he was artistically inclined. Additionally, although it has become common place for any aspiring artist to visit Rome and study the ancient language of architecture, Brunelleschi was one of the first to do that with the accompaniment of his friend and fellow artist - Donatello. Both individuals actually began their artistic careers as goldsmiths and later transitioned to architecture, however not enough is known about Brunelleschi to explain what caused such a change.

Linear Perspective

Brunelleschi was not the first individual to explore perspective. However, he was the inventor of Linear Perspective so it could be rendered in a scientifically measurable way. Mathematical Perspective (a form of Linear Perspective) is a system of creating an illusion of a 3rd-dimension on a 2-Dimensional surface. Confusingly, Mathematical Perspective has to be linear but Linear Perspective does not have to be mathematical. To achieve this way of creating pictorial space, there must be the minimum of two visual rays as straight lines, known as 'orthogonals' to draw the viewer's eye to the 'vanishing point'. It also involves altering the size of the objects in the painting to suggest distance and a great deal of modelling and toning, because the light creates volume. Additionally, the horizon must always be at eye level. There can be over-lapping of both individuals and scenery, foreshortening in the front of the painting and a background which involves both land and sky.

Some of the most famous examples of Linear Perspective are:

Masaccio - Holy Trinity Alterpiece - Santa Maria Novella

Leonardo da Vinci - Virgin on the Rocks

Follower of Robert Campin - The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen

Brunelleschi's most noted works

1418 - Dome of Florence Cathedral

1419 - The Foundling Hospital

1421 - San Lorenzo Sacristry

1429 - The Pazzi Chapel

The Dome of Florence Cathedral


The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or Florence Cathedral was built on top of an ancient cathedral from the 4th Century dedicated to St. Reparata (a 3rd Century Christian matyr). However in 1296, Arnolfo di Cambio began to re-build it in Gothic style.When di Cambio died the cathedral construction exchanged hands many times, and it took almost 150 years for the old cathedral to be completely re-built.

In 1418 the Arte della Lana arranged a competition for the dome to be erected which Brunelleschi won with Lorenzo Ghiberti as his main two competitor. The dome was finally finished in 1436, and was the largest dome in the world until recently, and is still the largest brick dome at 45 metres wide.

The Dome

Filippo Brunelleschi and his team build the dome without any temporary supporting frame which would have been unthinkable at the time. It was also the first octagonal dome, most probably inspired by the Pantheon (a circular dome, with support structures) which Brunelleschi would have seen when he visited Rome.

The Foundling Hospital The Foundling Hospital of Florence took over 600 years to build, and was finally finished in 1480, due to the competition of construction. In 1419, Filippo Brunelleschi was given the commission by the Arte della Lana and became the capomaestro (in charge of everything as the head architect) and designed some of the first scaffolding.

The orphanage is an open, public place with arches for shade and was paid for partly by silk guilds (which had become very involved in the city funding). It was supposed to demonstrate how Florence as a city was civic, kind and concerned about its people. Florence was also ahead of its time in the 15th Century to build this kind of establishment - London did not have an orphanage until the 18th Century.

The Architecture

This building is a great example of semi-circular arches articulated in 'piera soloina' of the classical style chosen because of the Renaissance movement, meaning re-birth of Romanesque style. They also chose to revive the semi-circular arch because they thought it displayed Florence as being pragmatic, and stable. Whereas Gothic style had become seen as aspirational and daunting. In between the semi circular arches are blue circular roundels with reliefs of putii designed by Andrea della Robbia, chosen because of the subject matter of the building, above which are tabernicae windows with triangular pediments.

The arches are held up by grey, composite, over-supporting columns which stand out against the white stucco walls, which became Florentine tradition and the Brunelleschi trademark. It is sometimes insulted as the cheap equivalent of the Baptistery. Interestingly, in terms of the architectural elements the height of each column is the exact width between the colonnade, and the width to wall to equal a perfect cube. Furthermore, the height of full building is exactly three columns from capital to cornice.This all signifies clarity, order, and harmony to the extreme to differentiate itself from the earlier Gothic style.

Santo Spirito

In 1428, Filippo Brunelleschi began to design a new church - 'The Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito' (or 'St. Mary of the Holy Spirit') over the remains of a 13th Century Augustinian Priory which had been destroyed by a fire.

Brunelleschi, like many Renaissance humanists, believe that God designed the world according to mathematical principles, and so applied his invention of Linear Perspective to Santo Spirito to achieve a sense of harmony and rationality.

The Santo Spirito that we see today is a lot less decorated than it would have been when Brunelleschi was alive due to the Counter-Reformation when most of it was taken down because it was believed that churches should be greatly more severe.

Architecture Similar to the Foundling hospital, Santo Spirito also has a colonnade of grey stone, known as 'serene stone' or 'pieta serena'. These composite columns hold up semi-circular arches leading from the back of the church all the way up the nave to the altar and the walls are the trademark white stucco which gives a great contrast of light and dark against the pieta serena. It has also been suggested that the use and amount of this stone is a sign of strong prosperity of the Church in Florence that they could afford to use this much. There is a coiffered ceiling leading to a small dome, similar to the Cathedral dome, also completed using a keystone.

This architecture comes together to form a harmonious, geometric feel and vision which was integral to this period of the Renaissance.

After Brunelleschi's death in 1446, he was buried in the crypt of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, The Cathedral of Florence, with a marble bust.

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