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Brunelleschi Goes to Rome 11/04/2011

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The commission for the door being given to Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo and Donato, who were together, resolved to depart from Florence in company, and to remain in Rome for some years, Filippo proposing to pursue the study of architecture, and Donato that of sculpture. And this Filippo did. Desiring to surpass Lorenzo and Donato, in proportion as architecture is more useful to man than are sculpture and paintings, he first sold a small farm which he possessed at Settignano, when both artists departed from Florence and proceeded to Rome, where, when Filippo beheld the magnificence of the buildings and the perfection of the churches, he stood like one amazed, and seemed to have lost his wits.

They instantly made preparations for measuring the cornices and taking the ground-plans of these edifices. Donato and himself both labouring continually, and sparing neither time nor cost. No place was left unvisited by them, either in Rome or without the city, and in the Campagna nor did they fail to take the dimensions of any thing good within their reach. And as Filippo was free from all household cares, he gave himself up so exclusively to his studies, that he took no time either to eat or sleep; his every thought was of Architecture which was then extinct: I mean the good old manner, and not the Gothic and barbarous one, which was much practised at that period.

Filippo had two very great purposes in his mind, the one being to restore to light the good manner in architecture, which, if he could effect, he believed that he should leave a no less illustrious memorial of himself than Cimabue and Giotto had done; the other was to discover a method for constructing the Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, the difficulties of which were so great, that after the death of Arnolfo Lapi, no one had ever been found of sufficient courage to attempt the vaulting of that Cupola without an enormous expense of scaffolding.

He did not impart this purpose, either to Donato or to any living soul, but he never rested while in Rome until he had well pondered on all the difficulties involved in the vaulting of the Ritonda in that city {the Pantheon), and had maturely considered the means by which it might be effected. He also well examined and made careful drawings of all the vaults and arches of antiquity: to these he devoted perpetual study, and if by chance the artists found fragments of capitals, columns, cornices, or basements of buildings buried in the earth, they set labourers to work and caused them to be dug out, until the foundation was laid open to their view. Reports of this being spread about Rome, the artists were called ‘treasure-seekers’, and this name they frequently heard as they passed, negligently clothed, along the streets, the people believing them to be men who studied geomancy, for the discovery of treasures; the cause of which was that they had one day found an ancient vase of earth, full of coins.

The money of Filippo falling short, he supplied the want by setting precious stones for the goldsmiths who were his friends; which served him for a resource. Donato having returned to Florence, Filippo was left alone in Rome, and there he laboured continually among the ruins of the buildings, where he studied more industriously than ever. Nor did he rest until he had drawn every description of fabric – temples, round, square, or octagon; basilicas, aqueducts, baths, arches, the Coliseum. Amphitheatres, and every church built of bricks, of which he examined all the modes of binding and clamping; as well as the turning of the vaults and arches; he took note likewise of all the methods used for uniting the stones, as well as of the means used for securing the equilibrium and close conjunction of all the parts; and having found that in all the larger stones there was a hole, formed exactly in the centre of each on the under side, he discovered that this was for the insertion of the iron instrument with which the stones are drawn up, and which is called by us the mason’s clamps, an invention, the use of which he restored and ever afterwards put in practice.

The different orders were next divided by his cares, each order, Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian, being placed apart; and such was the effect of his zeal in that study, that he became capable of entirely reconstructing the city in his imagination, and of beholding Rome as she had been before she was ruined. But in the year 1407 the air of the place caused Filippo some slight indisposition, when he was advised by his friends to try change of air. He consequently returned to Florence, where many buildings had suffered by his absence, and for these he made many drawings and gave numerous counsels on his return.

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