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philopanoramicaFlorence’s new Duomo was another very long term project which started under Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. It had to survive numerous plagues and wars – in 1401 for example the masons were dispatched to Castellina in Chianti and other Florentine frontier towns for a bout of town wall building.

A church best seen from Pz Michelangelo or, as here, San Miniato, to appreciate Giotto’s Campanile and the awesome dimensions of the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446 (69)) and topped by Verrocchio’s golden orb. Built in the mid 1430s, at 142ft diameter it is the highest and widest masonry dome ever constructed. The Roman Pantheon is also 142ft but is made of concrete and being a spherical section is not nearly as high, Michelangelo’s St Peter’s is 132ft, Wren’s St Paul’s 112ft and Justinian’s “greatest church in Christendom” – Santa Sophia in earthquake prone Constantinople – is 107ft and still standing after nearly 1,500 years.

Just imagine – back in 1421 there was a huge gaping roofless hole at the base of the present dome – left there optimistically when the drum was completed until someone could invent a way of covering it. Nobody (except, as it turned out, Filippo Brunelleschi) had any idea how, because nobody before (or as it turned out since) had ever built a dome of this huge size. That’s how confident Florence was about itself.

Unbelievably, Brunelleschi’s dome was built in the mid 1430s without centering (internal scaffolding and support). Three new crane designs (also by Brunelleschi) were needed, including the main ox driven hoist which incorporated the first known clutch and gear reversing mechanism, so the oxen kept going round and round in the same direction whilst the clutch and gear could be used to send the brick hoist up and down or keep it stationary without stopping the oxen – a huge saving in time. A gripping non-technical account of all this and the surrounding mediaeval political thrills and spills is to be found in the paperback “Brunelleschi’s Dome” by Ross King.

The bronze ball topping the lantern (completed in 1461) was designed by Andrea del Verrocchio (1435 – 1485 (50)), and this and the lantern form a beautiful structure in their own right. Verrocchio was much much more than just a brass ball designer, though he is one of the lesser remembered Renaissance artists. He was in fact a a pivotal figure as he was an outstanding workshop entrepreneur, manager and teacher, as well as being an artist / sculptor / architect. Leonardo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino were amongst his pupils and the Medici were his main customers. Not much of his work has survived, and today he is probably most widely known for his magnificent equestrian statue of Condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice

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