Thursday, February 23, 2017

Florence Cathedral - Blogging Through the Alphabet

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The Florence Cathedral, properly known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers), is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence. It is distinctive for the dome of the cathedral, which is often referred to as Brunelleschi's Dome. Locals usually call the cathedral Il Duomo, or The Dome.

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The Italian Gothic style church itself was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, and construction on it began in 1296. It was built on the site of an earlier cathedral that was in disrepair and too small to serve the growing population of the city. Construction was projected to take place over 140 years! During that time period, di Cambio passed away and several other architects were appointed to continue overseeing the project, including the painter Giotto. Finally in 1418, only the dome remained unfinished. That year an architectural design competition was held for the design of the dome, and goldsmith Filippo Brunelleschi won and received the commission. The organizers were still nervous about his unusual design, so even though he won the competition, they also hired his rival to assist!

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The dome needed to be 140 feet wide at its base and was much too large for traditional scaffolding methods of the time. Brunelleschi's innovative design idea was to create a two-layer system, with an inner skeleton that would hold the correct shape and support a lighter outside skin to protect the cathedral from the weather. This system reduced the overall weight of such a massive structure, which would otherwise be likely to collapse upon itself, and made it possible to build section by section, with each new ring able to support itself. His design was an octagonal dome without columns, with each course of bricks forming a horizontal arch that resists compression. It is the largest masonry dome ever built, and used over 4 million bricks.

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Brunelleschi also created machines to transport and lift large and heavy building materials. He put safety measures in place for his workers and was constantly coming up with solutions to new problems that emerged during the construction process. It's said that he even set up a cafe high up in the building so that workers would not have to return all the way to the floor for lunch.

Work on Brunelleschi's Dome began in 1420 and was completed in 1436. 

Here's a short video from Khan Academy discussing Brunelleschi's Dome:

The other feature of the cathedral that stands out is the bell tower, or Giotto's Campanile. Giotto designed the tower, but only the lower portion was completed before his death. It is a free standing tower, not quite 278 feet high, supported by four buttresses. Inside there are seven bells. The original artwork from inside the tower was removed in the 1960s to the museum and replaced with copies.

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Pieta Firenze, Michelangelo and Tiberio Calcagne, c. 1550-61

Many important works of art and sculpture were designed specifically for the cathedral, including Pieta Firenze by Michelangelo and the Gate to Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Some have been removed to the Cathedral Museum. Most of the stained glass windows were designed by artists such as Donatello and Andrea del Castagno.

For more information about the dome and the rest of the cathedral, check these links:

The Museums of Florence
Brunelleschi's Dome: Florence Cathedral

Some of this information comes from the longer study on the Florence Cathedral in Everyday Easels at, where you'll also find lesson materials in all subject areas, including a high school elective course Introduction to Architecture. That course doesn't have a lesson devoted to Brunelleschi's Dome, but it does have some fascinating materials on many other historic buildings.

Everyday Easels art lessons at

Introduction to Architecture on

This post is linked at Blogging Through the Alphabet hosted by A Net In Time and Hopkins Homeschool. Join in to see what others are sharing related to this week's letter!

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Melanie said...

Kym, those pictures of the cathedral are incredible! I regret that I didn't get to go to Florence years ago when I went to Italy. So much beauty to see there!

Amanda H said...

Wow! What an interesting post! I really enjoyed reading about the Florence Cathedral and how it was made. I think the kids will enjoy it as much as I did!!

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