View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, May 05, 2003
Over Passover, I read Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome, about the construction of the Duomo in Florence. It's a magnificent dome, and a pretty good story, too, tying in a number of Renaissance figures, and a long-standing rivalry comparable to anything that the early Federal United States produced. Brunelleschi was brilliant, devising machines to solve extremely tricky engineering problems, executing a bold plan boldly, and winning over the hearts and minds of the Guild paying for the Dome, and the mass of Florentines as well.

King tells a good story, although sometimes he falls for common historical "knowledge". Galileo didn't drop cannonballs off the Tower of Pisa; he rolled balls down a trough. Roger Bacon was well ahead of his time, but he never actually experimented with flying machines, although he did imagine them. And he repeats the old traveller's tale that the Pyramids cast shadows dozens of miles long. During the right time of day, so do you.

My only other complaint is that there aren't enough modern drawings. King includes a number of contemporary sketches, but these are difficult to understand, and dolittle to enhance our understanding of just how Brunelleschi's machines worked. He includes only one drawing of the Dome's construction, showing the herring-bone pattern of the bricks. How this fits into the overall construction is indistinct, even with King's description.

Still, the Duomo is a tremendous piece of work, and, armed with my reading, I hope to see it for myself someday.

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