The Architectural Wonder That Started as a Group Project Gone Wrong

As group projects do. 

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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As you probably know, the dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore — perhaps the most famous landmark in Florence — was built in the early 1400’s by Filippo Brunelleschi.

What you may not know is that, apparently, there was an architectural design contest for the dome and it came down to a choice between two fierce, acclaimed rivals: Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Brunelleschi, who had the support of Cosimo de Medici, won the contest and the commission. However — and this is where things get interesting — Brunelleschi was not given the previously announced contest prize of 200 florins. Ghiberti was appointed a “coadjutator,” given an equal salary, and promised equal credit…even though he spent most of his time on other projects.

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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Basically it was like a mash-up of contemporary government contracts and those school group projects we all love so much.

Anyway, during the construction of the dome, Brunelleschi, fed up with the setup, sometimes pretended to be ill as a way of forcing Ghiberti to step up. (Viva Renaissance passive-aggressiveness.) Eventually, Ghiberti admitted that the project was beyond him and Brunelleschi was given the sole responsibility — and sole credit! — for building the now world-famous dome.

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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To be fair, Ghiberti didn’t do too badly for himself either. He was the one who created the bronze doors of the nearby Florence Baptistery, which doors were described by Giorgio Vasari as “undeniably perfect in every way and must rank as the finest masterpiece ever created.” So, yeah, Ghiberti wasn’t actually incompetent…

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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…just perhaps not scrupulously averse to accepting shared glory where shared glory was not in fact due.

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The Duomo (Florence Cathedral | Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and Baptistery of Saint John (Florence Baptistery)

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Aaand that’s it for tonight’s episode of Renaissance period gossip Italian heritage.

Next up: the Uffizi.

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11 thoughts on “The Architectural Wonder That Started as a Group Project Gone Wrong”

  • Fabulous photographs. And I never knew about the Brun/Ghib shenanigans. I think I read somewhere that Brun had permission to cut a small hole in the roof of the Pantheon to see how it was constructed and that’s how he figured out how to create the dome.
    Alison

  • “Renaissance period gossip” LOL!!

    Love all the photos you took. So let me ask you, who takes your own photos? Many of them seem candid shots! 😉

    • Um…don’t laugh…I actually took them myself. 😀 With a tripod. 😀 The last time I traveled solo, in Japan, I noticed practically all my pics were from the same angle, and it was really tiresome to look at, because I was just taking selfies with my arm held out. So I asked my friends who also travel solo and one friend said he just uses a tripod. So I used a tripod, with my phone on it, and a remote shutter. I got a fair amount of rather rude stares, but I think it was worth it because who knows when I’d be able to get back. The photos look candid because I’m too self-conscious to pose and look directly at the camera so I just keep on clicking the remote shutter while walking. I get maybe 1 good photo out of 10 shots 😀 good thing we don’t use film anymore.

      • Gaya!!! Wow you just have me an idea….but I have to buy a tripod first hahaha!! That’s really genius, seriously!! I hate the selfie poses and yes you’re right it only has one angle. And also I don’t look good in selfies.

      • Haha! I actually have an outline of an article about it but haven’t had the time to flesh it out yet. I thought of writing about it because I’ve personally always wondered how those people in blogs and Instagram get photos of themselves, and obviously some have “Instagram boyfriends” and a few even have a whole crew with them, but some are really doing it solo. 😀 I’ve found that it’s easier to use a phone (rather than a DSLR) with a tripod because you have to be more careful with the DSLR and it’s clunkier to carry around. I just used a phone, a tripod, a tripod mount holder like this, and a remote shutter like this.

      • Can you write something about it? I would love to read how you did it. I’m clueless when it comes to tripods. I usually just ask someone who looks kind and might do it for me haha!!

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