Novelist King (Ex Libris, not reviewed) takes us to Florence, half a millennium ago.
It took over a century to build Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral of Florence. In 1418, builders realized that constructing the cathedral’s dome was a bit of a challenge, and they asked for proposals. A goldsmith and clockmaker called Filippo Brunelleschi submitted the winning plan and spent almost 30 years vaulting the dome. Here, King tells the tale of the genius Brunelleschi and sheds light on the travails of life in 15th-century Italy, to boot. The cathedral dome contest was not the first time Brunelleschi had competed to public acclaim: when he was 24—just three years after he was designated a master goldsmith—he offered a design for the bronze doors to the baptistery of San Giovanni that was very nearly accepted. Although his doors never hung on the baptistery, he had been thrust into the limelight at a young age. In addition to following the colorful career of Brunelleschi, the author treats us to captivating descriptions of the weekly religious feasts at which Florentines gorged, the lavish gold and silk habits of the monks and priests who paraded through the streets, and the bells that chimed throughout the city. We read about the painstaking brick-laying techniques that Florentine builders used, the professional rivalries that occasionally dragged master craftsmen to the level of soap opera, and the religious and architectural reasons that Gothic builders “sought to fill their churches with plenty of light.” And we learn everything we ever wanted to know—probably more—about the creation of a cathedral dome, from cupolas to Carrara marble.
A compelling (if a touch overly detailed) look at Florence, its architecture, and one of its artisans.