Brunelleschi’s Dome: Reaching for the Sky

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Florence Cathedral Dome. Filippo Brunelleschi, 1420-34.

Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence is the most important building in the history of the world.

Not really, of course – I’m forgetting (duh) the Parthenon, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Tower of London, Versailles…  But the Dome is important for my imagination, for the way it fires my ideas and inspires my creation. Maybe you can find inspiration in it, too.

Imagine this: In 1296, work on the cathedral begins. Space is left for a glorious eight-sided dome, tall and soaring. The planners know how the dome ought to be, but nobody knows how to build it. Then Brunelleschi comes along in the 1420’s, with some ingenious solutions (an inner shell inside the dome; supporting rings of timber; bricks patterned to direct the weight outward, not down toward the floor). Without any buttresses or support columns, Brunelleschi fashions the heavy sandstone into a dome that is higher and wider than any ever built.

Now, most of us aren’t architects. So why, you may ask, do I discuss Brunelleschi here? It’s not like we’re going to study his techniques in order to construct buildings ourselves. But I’m not a painter, either, and yet I post about how great paintings (like the “Mona Lisa” and Raphael) inspire my writing. Once we grasp the idea behind an artwork or building, we can transform that idea for our own creation, whether we are artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, or simply people who like to think about the world.

Florence Cathedral and the Apennines.

My favorite views of Brunelleschi’s Dome pan out a bit, so you can see a vast expanse of sky. The great red dome arches upward, a symbol of human potential and achievement – which become themes in my writing. The human striving under the sky is one of my recurrent images.  And then, think of the Dome at night, a Renaissance creation under the stars. Humans made this; we dreamed it. In my books, I ask, how are my characters connected to the sky? Do they think of the stars, reach for them, try to understand them? It’s the spirit of the Dome that I take and transform.

So you see, a 600-year-old building animates my creation, helps me form ideas of a new renaissance in the 21st century (more on this here). What’s your favorite building? Does it ever inspire you?

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One response »

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