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Filippo Brunelleschi and Religious Architecture Essay

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Updated: Mar 30th, 2020

Introduction: Filippo Brunelleschi and Italian Architecture

The artworks that the Italian Renaissance architecture is represented by are well known all over the world. Many of their authors are quite famous, too. However, few people are aware of the fact that the breakthrough made in the Renaissance era would have been impossible if it had not been for a man known as Filippo Brunelleschi.

Like it happens with many other geniuses, it took quite a while for Brunelleschi to reveal his talent to the public. He started out as a goldsmith, and at some point in his life, he suddenly decided to become an architect.

Unfortunately, there is little historical information regarding the given transition; neither do historical sources mention what exactly made Brunelleschi shift from one profession to another. However, no matter what the nature of this change was, it clearly made an impact on the Renaissance architecture, resulting in the return of the latter to the classical traditions.

Thesis statement

Because of the combination of the elements of the Ancient Roman architecture and the Tuscan Romanesque style, Filippo Brunelleschi managed to create a unique architecture style, which allowed for rendering a range of religious issues and themes, therefore, making it possible for the architect to contribute to the evolution of religious architecture and create a range of church designs, which would later on become famous all over the world, such as the church of San Lorenzo and the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral.

Filippo Brunelleschi’s Technique and Its Effect on Religious Architecture

It would not be an exaggeration to claim that Brunelleschi’s innovations into the religious architecture in general and Christian architecture, in particular, would become the staple of the style.

Although one must admit that Brunelleschi never used complex geometrical principles, relying on the basic rules and concepts for the most part (e.g., Brunelleschi was known for his fascination with simple planimetric shapes, such as circles, squares, parallel lines, octagons, etc.), Brunelleschi’s approach still was a breakthrough and a retreat from the pretentious and artificial style that preceded it.

For example, a seemingly simple idea of using a Latin cross as the basis for the Santa Maria church appeared to be a perfect means to create a unique religious atmosphere: “The plan is a unified Latin cross with asymmetrical transept the same size and shape as the choir” (Adams 73).

Discovery of linear perspective: San Lorenzo and the Florence Cathedral

It would be wrong to assume that Brunelleschi was the first to come up with the concept of the linear perspective. In fact, the given principle was created in Ancient Rome and used to be rather popular among architects. After the Roman Empire ceased to exist, however, the basic geometrical principles that the Roman architecture was based on were quickly swept under the rug, whereas the new concepts of architecture were introduced instead.

In the Renaissance era, however, the postulates of the Classical period, including the idea of introducing mathematics into architecture, were restored once again, and Brunelleschi must be credited for making the greatest contribution into this process. Speaking of the examples, in which Brunelleschi’s ideas can be traced, one must mention the San Lorenzo church first.

The median symmetry axis, which the layout of the San Lorenzo church was based on, is the key to understanding Filippo Brunelleschi’s architecture principles. The median axis concept allowed for approaching the design of the cathedral from a strictly mathematical perspective, making it possible for the braccia to be located within close proximity of the cupola.

Another manifestation of the principles of linear perspective introduced into the Renaissance art by Filippo Brunelleschi concerns the location of the columns and the positioning of the aisle.

The monolithic columns are placed in such a way so that they could mark the side aisles and represent the symmetry, which the entire design of the Church of San Lorenzo is based on. It is remarkable that Brunelleschi made his breakthrough discovery by using mirrors; later on, the use of mirrors as the key method of creating a linear perspective will be dominant in his works.

The Florence Cathedral, also known as Santa Maria del Fiore, or Saint Mary of the Flower, also features the key principles of the linear perspective, which Brunelleschi was promoting as the basis for the new architectural style.

To start with, it is remarkable that this was the first building, which a perspective drawing was made for in the era of the Renaissance. The drawing shows clearly that Brunelleschi deployed the key principle of linear perspective in his concept, seeing how the lines, which were supposed to be parallel, are obviously intersecting in his sketch:

Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence
Picture 1. Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence (“Linear Perspective and Mathematics” para. 2).

Theatrical machinery and other inventions

Though the creation of machinery does not relate to the architecture domain exactly, it is still worth mentioning as the detail that is crucial to the interpretation of Brunelleschi’s contribution to Renaissance architecture.

Creation of machinery was the field in which Brunelleschi could develop his skills of a mathematician, and the architect’s amazing machinery for the theater is the proof for his amazingly rapid growth as a mathematician and an architect. It is a well-known fact that Brunelleschi was famous for being “greatly interested in making mechanical expedients such as wheels, gears, clocks, and other such devices” (“Philippo Brunelleschi” Famous Mathematicians para. 5).

Characteristics of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Architecture Style

After years of perfecting the Classical principles that were introduced by the architects of the Roman Empire, Brunelleschi managed to come up with his own, unique manner of planning churches and cathedrals, which would, later on, be considered his brand style and become the object of admiration and the source of inspiration for major Italian artists.

Introducing the key concepts of geometry, such as parallel lines, symmetry, circles, etc., into the principles of architecture, he would create the approach that would, later on, be turned intone of the major schools of architecture.

Rendering religious concepts with a careful choice of color

The ingenuity of the approach chosen by Brunelleschi concerned not only the fact that he managed to combine the concepts of the Ancient Roman architecture and the architectural principles of the Renaissance era, but also the fact that he used specific means of expression in order to render religious ideas through his architectural choices. The color was Brunelleschi’s key instrument.

As the analysis of some of his works, especially one of the San Lorenzo and Santa Maria del Fiore churches, shows, the architect conveyed the everlasting conflict and weird coexistence of good and evil by mixing white and grey colors in one of his most famous creations: the “white plaster of the walls” (“Filippo Brunelleschi, Church of San Lorenzo” para. 1) and the “grey of the pietra serena for the mouldings” (“Filippo Brunelleschi, Church of San Lorenzo” para. 1) are obviously supposed to signify the process of a sinner’s purification.

The importance of proportions and layout

However, even the incredible color cast alone would not have sufficed for creating an entirely new concept of religious architecture. In order to reinvent church architecture in general, Filippo Brunelleschi combined the elements of religious symbolism with a well thought out, mathematical approach, particularly, the use of accurate proportions.

By adopting the proportions related approach, Brunelleschi was able to generate a perspective layout (“Filippo Brunelleschi, Church of San Lorenzo” para. 1). Brunelleschi’s early experiments with the perspective layout resulted in the creation of twp perspective panels of the Florentine Baptistery and the Palazzo Vecchio – the artwork that, unfortunately, is nowadays considered lost (“Filippo Brunelleschi” Encyclopedia para. 3).

Where Art Meets Religion: Expressing the Christian Thought through Architecture Choices

As it has been stressed above, a range of design and architecture related choices made by Filippo Brunelleschi was supposed to reflect religious ideas and concepts; while some of the architecture decisions related to the religious issues were quite on the nose, most of the design elements hinting at specific religious concepts were quite subtle. Much like the aforementioned good vs. evil idea, a variety of other Christianity related concepts is reflected in Filippo Brunelleschi’s design through various techniques.

Catholic Dome reveals

The design and construction of a dome was the first architectural element that Filippo Brunelleschi gave entirely new meaning. His rendition of the traditional architectural approaches has shown that the traditional designs could be given a new meaning by changing several elements.

For instance, as the architect started working on the church of San Lorenzo, he came up with an idea of constructing a “cubical chapel with an umbrella dome” (“Filippo Brunelleschi” Encyclopedia para. 4), which was supposed to illustrate the profoundness and strength of the Christian faith. Later on, the repetitive pattern of circles, which manifested itself in the numerous domes, was used to convey the idea of eternity: “The line that forms a circle continues indefinitely on its prescribed path, symbolizing eternity” (Kent 5) in Santa Maria del Fiore.

The successful marriage of Tuscan Romanesque and Ancient Roman styles

Despite the fact that the Ancient Roman architecture principles were used by Brunelleschi as the basis for his entire architectural philosophy, it was the integration of the Tuscan Romanesque style that allowed him for expressing the ideas related to Baptism in his works. As it has been stressed above, the dome, which was often designed with special care and thought by Brunelleschi, represented a range of Christianity related ideas and concepts.

Apart from the above-mentioned idea of eternity, the dome in Brunelleschi’s works was also connected closely to the Baptistery symbolism. For example, the octagonal Dome of Brunelleschi reminds of the sanctity of the number eight in Baptism as the symbol of resurrection, beginning of new life and the signification of a new cycle starting: “The eight-day begins the new creation” (The Early Christian Symbols of the Octagon and the Fish para. 5).

Corinthian order: what the columns hold

The correct Corinthian order of the columns, which Brunelleschi consistently used in each of his works, was the most obvious indication of the architect’s decision to return to the traditional Ancient Roman style and principles. Brunelleschi made a rather daring decision of refusing from experimenting with the form; instead, he perfected the latter, using it as the key tool for promoting his principle of linear perspective.

Brunelleschi used the exact proportions that were suggested by Roman architects in order to balance out the complexity of the design and introduce straight lines, accurate details and the proper curves of the domes: For instance, Brunelleschi pursued perfection in the ratio between the column height and the height of its entablature, making sure that it should make ¼ of the total height of the column precisely (King 26).

Thus, mathematical principles were the foundation for Brunelleschi’s design theory to be based on. The symmetry of the columns, as well as the fact that they created a “stronger plastic unity” (Adams 74) between the walls of the chapel and its arcade also represents the Christian – or, to be more exact, Baptist – the concept of a man’s place in nature.

Filippo Brunelleschi’s heritage

Needless to say, Brunelleschi’s influence was huge at the time. The effects of his revolutionary approach can be traced down even in the works of the architects that emerged later. More to the point, his influence spread outside Italy and affected even the works of Australian architects. For example, Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building designed by Joseph Reed, can be considered the exact representation of Brunelleschi’s ideas (“Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens” 4).

The similarities between the style chosen by Reed and the key principles, which Brunelleschi’s creations were based on, becomes obvious at the very slight of the dome that tops the Royal Exhibition Building. The parallels between it and the Dome of the Cathedral are crystal clear. Apart from the aforementioned detail, the Corinthian pilasters that are “flanking a smaller arched window” (“Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens” 25) can also be viewed as a reference to Brunelleschi’s architecture tradition.

Conclusion: Filippo Brunelleschi’s Reinvention of Church Architecture

By combining the classical approach towards architecture, which was coined in the Roman Empire, with the Renaissance Tuscan Romanesque style and his own concept of linear perspective, Filippo Brunelleschi managed to revolutionize church architecture.

Though it would be wrong to claim that Filippo Brunelleschi was the only architect, who promoted the return to the classical architecture, he must be credited for the invention and promotion of linear perspective, which changed the landscape of architecture in general and church architecture in particular. By adopting a unique approach towards buildings design, Brunelleschi managed to both create amazing works of art and convey key religious concepts and ideas using architecture as a new medium.

Works Cited

Adams, Laure Schneider. Italian Renaissance Art. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 2001. Print.

. Web.

Chiarini, Gloria. “The Florence Art Guide. Web.

.” Your Way to Florence. Web.

“Filippo Brunelleschi.” The Florence Art Guide. Web.

.” Encyclopedia. Web.

.” Famous Mathematicians. Web.

“Filippo Brunelleschi, Church of San Lorenzo.” Mediateca di Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Web.

Kent, Adrielle. Santa Maria del Fiore: . Web.

King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence. London, UK: Pimlico. 2001. Print.

“Linear Perspective and Mathematics.” Math Is Good. Web.

“Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens.” Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure. Web.

The Early Christian Symbols of the Octagon and the Fish. Agape Bible Study. Web.

Annotated Bibliography

Chiarini, Gloria. “The Florence Art Guide.” The Florence Art Guide

This is one of the most unusual sources of all those used for the given paper. Chiarini’s Florence Art Guide is an interactive mind map. The map leads to a range of links containing pictures and short descriptions of the artworks in question. Thus, both the visuals and the researcher’s commentaries on the art are provided. The given source offers very concisely, factual information. However, it provides a stunning visual aid. More importantly, the source is rather credible.

However, it does not come from an educational site. Nevertheless, its content was obviously created by an outstanding scholar. Indeed, such trustworthy sources as a Cengage Learning resource credits Chiarini’s art guide as very helpful. Art links – Renaissance and Baroque Art (para. 8) lists the source as the eighth most important.

“Church of San Spirito.” Your Way to Florence

This source helps to understand Brunelleschi’s works better. Your Way to Florence provides short descriptions of Italia’s key sites. The description of churches allows for a comparison between architecture approaches. The “Church of San Spirito” text outlines the key specifics of Brunelleschi’s style.

The source explores Brunelleschi’s brand style features. In addition, the importance of Brunelleschi’s innovative style of Italian architecture is stressed. The text focuses on the design of the Church of San Spirito. The author starts with the church’s location description. Then, the exterior is explored. Finally, the author describes the interior of the church.

“Filippo Brunelleschi.” The Florence Art Guide

The source provides a short biography of the artist. Brunelleschi’s personal evolution, however, is not touched upon. Instead, his professional development is stressed. The author lists the key works of Brunelleschi. The artist’s training and jobs are also mentioned.

Thus, the professional growth of Brunelleschi is explored. In addition, the key features of Brunelleschi’s style are listed. The source comes from the Florence Art Guide as well. Therefore, it can be considered rather credible. “Filippo Brunelleschi” was used to obtain the basic information about Brunelleschi’s works and style.

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