Even in an age of soaring skyscrapers and cavernous sports stadiums, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence still retains a rare power to astonish. Yet the elegance of the building belies the tremendous labour, technical ingenuity and bitter personal strife involved in its creation. For over a century after work on the cathedral began in 1296, the proposed dome was regarded as all but impossible to build because of its enormous size. The greatest architectural puzzle of its age, when finally completed in 1436 the dome was hailed as one of the great wonders of the world. It has gone down in history as a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.
This book tells the extraordinary story of how the cupola was raised and of the dome's architect, the brilliant and volatile Filippo Brunelleschi. Denounced as a madman at the start of his labours, he was celebrated at their end as a great genius. His life was one of ambition, ingenuity, rivalry and intrigue - a human drama set against the plagues, wars, political feuds and intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence, the glorious era for which the dome remains the most compelling symbol.
Brunelleschi's Dome was voted Non-Fiction Book of the Year by American Independent Booksellers.
Walker was the hardcover publisher of Dava Sobel's sleeper smash, Longitude, and Mark Kurlansky's steady-seller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. This brief, secondary source-based account is clearly aimed at the same lay science-cum-adventure readership. British novelist King (previously unpublished in the U.S.) compiles an elementary introduction to the story of how and why Renaissance Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed and oversaw the construction of the enormous dome of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral--designing its curves so that they needed no supporting framework during construction: a major Renaissance architectural innovation. Illustrated with 26 b&w period prints, the book contains 19 chapters, some very brief. Although the result is fast moving and accessible, King overdoes the simplicity to the point that the book appears unwittingly as if it was intended for young adults. (Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo, for example, "took a dim view of marriage and women.") This book feels miles away from its actual characters, lacking the kind of dramatic flourish that would bring it fully to life. Despite direct quotes from letters and period accounts, the "would have," "may have" and "must have" sentences pile up. Still, the focus on the dome, its attendant social and architectural problems, and the solutions improvised by Brunelleschi provide enough inherent tension to carry readers along.