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Brunelleschi's Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence [Paperback]

Ross King
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2001
The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, with its great, terracotta-tiled cupola, still remains a power to astonish. Yet the elegance of the building belies the tremendous labour and technical ingenuity involved in its creation. This work tells the story of how the cupola was raised.

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Brunelleschi's Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence + Michelangelo And The Pope's Ceiling + Leonardo and the Last Supper
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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New edition edition (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712664807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712664806
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 15.4 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,147,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Filippo Brunelleschi's design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of over 140 feet exceeds St Paul's in London and St Peter's in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington DC, making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but "hot-tempered" creator is told in Ross King's delightful Brunelleschi's Dome.

King has already established himself as an accomplished novelist, author of Domino, Ex-Libris, and the story of both dome and architect offer him plenty of rich material. The story of the dome goes back to 1296 when work began on the cathedral but it was only in 1420, when Brunelleschi won a competition over his bitter rival Lorenzo Ghiberti to design the daunting cupola, that work began in earnest. King weaves an engrossing tale from the political intrigue, personal jealousies, dramatic setbacks and sheer inventive brilliance that led to the paranoid Filippo, "who was so proud of his inventions and so fearful of plagiarism" finally seeing his dome completed only months before his own death. King argues that it was Filippo's improvised brilliance in solving the problem of suspending the enormous cupola in bricks and mortar (painstakingly detailed with precise illustrations) that led him to "succeed in performing an engineering feat whose structural daring was without parallel". He tells a compelling and informed story, ranging from discussions of the construction of the bricks, mortar and marble that made up the dome, to its subsequent use as a scientific instrument by the Florentine astronomer Paolo Toscanelli. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Compelling... professional jealousy, committee intrigue, feats of bluff and fascinating scraps of obsolete lore... Where Longitude had ocean wastes, Brunelleschi's Dome has vertigo" (Spectator)

"As each novel feat of genius engineering flowers high above the ground, details of scandals and pranks blow up from the city streets to create an altogether enchanting tale" (Dava Sobel, author of Longitude)

"An adventure yarn set on the wild frontiers of human knowledge... abounding with excellent stories" (Financial Times)

"A wonderfully vivid little book" (Daily Telegraph) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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ANYONE ALIVE IN FLORENCE ON AUGUST 19, 1418. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject, more diagrams needed 8 Nov 2009
Brunelleschi's Dome
I had thought about buying this book for some time, and finally took the plunge. Although it is only a short book, it is filled with detail and clear that the author had thoroughly researched the book prior to writing. However, despite all of this I did find it hard going, and this, is possibly because I have never visited Florence and so was not as familiar as I could be with the subject of the book. I have since given the book to someone else who thoroughly enjoyed the book but who was more knowledgeable about the area and history of Florence than myself.

For a book about the architecture and construction of such an iconic building it seemed surprisingly short of pictures, more of which may have helped in the understanding of the text. I also felt I would have liked to have known more about the man who masterminded the building of the dome - but perhaps there was not much more to tell about someone who made such a massive undertaking his life's work.

Overall, an interesting read, but, as already suggested by an earlier review, perhaps is best appreciated by those who are already familiar with the subject matter.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New light on the history of a world famous building 16 April 2000
By A Customer
You'd think it was scarcely possible to write yet another book on Renaissance Florence, and yet produce something fresh, original and illuminating. But Ross King has done exactly this - and what's more he's chosen as his subject one of the most familiar, most studied - and most visited - buildings in Europe, Florence cathedral. Every guidebook says that Brunelleschi designed the dome, or cupola, of the cathedral, and that it's the biggest masonry dome ever built. But to learn how it was built, you normally have to turn to some pretty specialised works of art history. Ross King has drawn on these. But he goes much further, and brings the Florence of the first half of fifteenth century, and especially the people engaged in building the great cathedral, tremendously to life. Brunelleschi himself is portrayed as an argumentative and moody man, with no doubts of his own importance. But he also emerges as one of the most imaginative and daring architects and engineers of any era. His dome is shown to be not just an artistic triumph, and one of the defining structures of Western architecture, but also a technical masterpiece, studied by architects to this day. In many ways this book reminds one of Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter". The style is very different, and Ross King writes of Florence two hundred years before Galileo, but in taking such an original and captivating look at an apparently familiar subject, "Brunelleschi's Dome" stands comparison. Certainly if you enjoyed one, you'll like the other.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
as a modern day consultant working on large projects, I found this book very uplifting. Things haven't changed too much! As a regular visitor to Italy it enhanced my knowledge of one of the great wonders. This is a novel, a history book, a study in human nature; it is amusing, enlightening and intellectually sound.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 1 Sep 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a really excellent read, both in its description of the construction of the dome and in the way it adds colour to both Brunelleschi and the rest of contemporary Florence. The only criticism I would have of the text is that some of the technical descriptions of how the dome was built are difficult to follow - I found myself having to read them two or three times before I understood what the author was getting at. And the book would really benefit from more, and better, illustrations - a large format version of the book with proper colour photographs and plans would be great.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Filippo's Dome Vs. Lorenzo's Doors 12 Feb 2003
This is another great read from Mr. King. A week or two ago I finished his wonderful "Michelangelo And The Pope's Ceiling" and at that point I decided I'd have to read "Brunelleschi's Dome". Over the past year or so I'd seen "Brunelleschi's Dome" in various bookstores and I'd skimmed through the pages- never buying it because I was put off by the technical illustrations. I figured this must be a book meant for architects and engineers. But I was wrong. While there is no denying that the technical aspects are a major part of the book, the illustrations are very useful in helping the lay reader to understand the ingenious solutions that Brunelleschi came up with to overcome the numerous technical difficulties involved in the construction of such a large dome. By going into the nitty-gritty of the construction process, Mr. King allows us to appreciate Filippo's accomplishment. After all, this was a man who was a goldsmith and clockmaker- not an architect! And even though the book is under 200 pages in length, Mr. King manages to include a lot of interesting peripheral information. We learn about the lives of the masons who worked on the dome- how many days they worked (only about 200 per year, actually. They had off Sundays and religious feast days, which came about once a week. They also couldn't work in bad weather); what they ate and drank (surprisingly, although they were a couple of hundred of feet above the ground they drank wine! Considering water quality at the time, wine was considered healthier. Florentines also believed that it "improved the blood, hastened digestion, calmed the intellect, enlivened the spirit, and expelled wind". Mr. King adds that wine "might also have given a fillip of courage to men clinging to an inward-curving vault..."!). Filippo was very safety-conscious. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Simple Memorable Read About The Ingenuity 0f Determined Men
Have you ever wondered how a far-less technologically equipped people built a magnificent cathedral? A fascinating story of techniques, rivalries and ingenious solutions. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Manfred
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative book
Read this book while studying Art History and also took it on holiday with me to Florence (although it's academic rather than holiday-guide reading). Read more
Published 3 months ago by CoffeeandCake
5.0 out of 5 stars Building for glory
Written by an author in total command of his material, this is an immensely readable history of the creation of one of the world's most iconic buildings. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jane Insley
4.0 out of 5 stars Brunelleschi and the Medici solved a two hundred year problem
Brunelleschi was a thinker who could look outside the normal boundaries .exciting to read his trials and tribulations and his success can be viewed to this day in Florence. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Peter H.Pigott
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly presented and a very good read
I found the book excellent. It was well written with some excellent information. The descriptions were thought provoking and imaginative. I'm glad I bought it
Published 7 months ago by John Bausor
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!
i am rather obsessed with Italy and its history, so having come back from a month long trip to northern Italy in October last year i had a list of many books i wanted to read to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by rob_hawke
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book but font too small
Excellent text and very extensive notes and helpful bibliography. Only problem was font was very small . Read more
Published 12 months ago by John Black
4.0 out of 5 stars A real taster for a first time visit to Florence
An easy to read book to give a valuable insight into the history of Florence. Eagerly awaiting our first trip there now.
Published 15 months ago by Mags
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
Having climbed to the top of the Duomo, I wanted to find out about its history.
This is a fascinating story, well told.
Published 19 months ago by P Crossan
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and useful
Interesting well written book. I ordered it to read before going to Florence and it gave me a headstart to understanding this wonderful building. Read more
Published 19 months ago by VT
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