TAKING MEDIEVAL MASTER ARTISTRY INTO THE 21ST CENTURY – LESSONS FROM FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI

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As you know by now, I draw inspiration greatly from the renaissance era. The architectural masterpieces that evolved during that cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history, have remained astonishing, even decades later.

Talk about, The David by Michelangelo, Leonard Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Donatello’s Gattemelata on Horseback, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primevera, and Brunelleschi’s Crucifix, etc. From a mere cultural movement in Italy in the late Medieval period to later spreading to the rest of Europe, the renaissance not only marked the beginning of the Early Modern Age, it has gone on to remain consistently significant in its influence on design and modern architecture.

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Filippo Brunelleschi, an Italian designer and a key figure in architecture, is claimed to be the first modern engineer, planner and sole construction supervisor. He was the oldest amongst the founding fathers of the Renaissance. Brunelleschi’s Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence—a cathedral known around the world simply as il Duomo, is a significant show of his master artistry.

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For decades after the Santa Maria del Fiore’s Cathedral was built, no one seemed to have a viable idea of how to build a dome nearly 150 feet across, to fill up the enormous hole in the roof of the cathedral.

The Challenge:

  • The idea of a dome of that magnitude, which would be the largest cupola on Earth, was impossible and unheard of.
  • There was no enough timber in Tuscany for the scaffolding and templates that would be needed to shape the dome’s masonry.
  • It was impossible to build a dome on the octagonal floor plan dictated by the existing walls—eight pie-shaped wedges—without collapsing inward as the masonry arced toward the apex

In 1418, a genius goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi, who had built a number of ingenious clocks, including what may have been one of the first alarm clocks in history, won the architectural design competition and promised to build not one but two domes

Applying his theoretical and mechanical knowledge to observation of the natural world, he single-handedly worked out the rules of linear perspective and solved the following problems:

  • He invented a 3-speed hoist for capable of raising and maneuvering enormously heavy materials – first in history.
  • Built the Castello,a 65-foot-tall crane with a series of counterweights and hand screws to move loads laterally once they’d been raised to the right height.
  • He took particular care of his workers, both for their safety and to ensure that the dome progressed as rapidly as possible.
  • He contended with highly placed adversaries, led by the scheming Lorenzo Ghiberti – a fellow goldsmith and arch rival, and won.

In March 25, 1436, Brunelleschi and his workmen eventually did their victory dance, as the Dome was completed and consecrated, to the tolling of bells and cheering of proud Florentines.

Here are a few lessons I have drawn from one of the greatest artistes in medieval history.

 

LESSONS FROM BRUNELLESCHI

  • Choose your path and be the best ONLY.

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Although the young Filippo was given a literary and mathematical education intended to enable him to follow in the footsteps of his father – a civil servant, he defied all odds an enrolled himself in an art school. He was determined to be the best of the best in his chosen field and he paid the price.

 

  • There is an every OPPORTUNITY in every crisis. FIND IT!

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In building the Famous Dome of Florence, while so-called Architects and professionals were busy justifying reasons why the dome cannot be built, Brunelleschi saw an opportunity to revolutionized the Architectural industry. He saw possibility in impossibility and took up the challenge.

 

  • Go the extra mile. Don’t do things 10% better. Do things 10 Times Better.

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The people of Florence wanted a dome, such as have never been built before, neither does the expertise exist. Professionals said it cannot be done but Brunelleschi did not just promise to get it done, he promised to build not one, but two domes – one nested inside the other, without elaborate and expensive scaffolding.  A feat which he finally accomplished and went on to become the first modern engineer, planner and sole construction supervisor in history.

 

  • Be INNOVATIVE.

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From a tender age, Brunelleschi was called the tinker man because he was always taking complex gadgets apartment. His curiosity had the better of him. As a boy, during his goldsmith’s apprenticeship, he had mastered drawing and painting, wood carving, sculpture in silver and bronze, stone setting, niello, and enamel work. Later he studied optics and tinkered endlessly with wheels, gears, weights, and motion, building a number of ingenious clocks, including what may have been one of the first alarm clocks in history.

When he took up the job of building the dome, he had to invent machines and tools that never were in existence, to make his dream a reality.

 

  • Embrace COMPETITION. It makes you better!

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When Brunelleschi was commissioned to build the dome, being hardheaded merchants and bankers who believed in competition as a way of ensuring quality control, the overseer added a caveat, which was that he works with his arch rival – Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Although Ghiberti was renowned for some of his works and quite intimidating, Brunelleschi was audacious and unfazed by the threat Ghiberti posed. Rather, he matched the scheming of Ghiberti with wit and genius and produced one of the most iconic structures in the history of mankind.

With genius, leadership, and grit, Filippo Brunelleschi raised true artists to the rank of sublime creators, worthy of eternal praise in the company of the saints, an image that would dominate the Renaissance.

He paved the way for the cultural and social revolutions of the Renaissance itself, through his complex synthesis of inspiration and analysis, his bold reworking of the classical past to the needs and aspirations of the present. Brunelleschi’s dome still rises from the terra-cotta sea of Florence’s roof tiles. It is mountainous,  yet strangely buoyant, as if the white marble ridges rising to its apex are ropes holding a zeppelin to Earth. Somehow Brunelleschi captured freedom in stone, exalting the Florentine skyline ever after with an upward-yearning embodiment of the human spirit.

 

By Sijibomi Ogundele, MD/CEO, Sujimoto Group

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