Fall 2021

ARC 342R (00890) ARC 388R (01190) 
W 9am-12pm

“(…) An achievement, which, if I am not mistaken, was believed to be impossible in our time even as, among the ancients, it may have been unknown and unheard of.” 
                                                  L. B. Alberti about Brunelleschi’s Dome
This seminar is based on the instructor's discovery, after twenty five years of research, of the sources of knowledge of a jeweler who built, effortlessly, the "unbuildable" Dome of the Cathedral of Florence without centerings. The seminar will challenge the received the tired notion that Filippo Brunelleschi went to Rome with Donatello to get inspired by the Pantheon's Dome. Scholars have stubbornly maintained such claim over the centuries despite Leon Battista Alberti's clear statement that Brunelleschi's Dome is “…An achievement, which, if  I am not mistaken, was believed to be impossible in our time even as, among the ancients, it may have been unknown and unheard of.”
We will explore the itinerary Filippo Brunelleschi followed in the opposite direction from Rome, first to the building site of Milan's Cathedral-- the most ambitious undertaking in Italy since antiquity--where he met French consultants such as the engineer Jean de Mignot,. Their knowledge in statics anticipated Galileo by three hundred years. Central was the understanding about the condition of equilibrium of unequal weights on planes inclined at different angles. In other words, the engineers of the European Renascence (Gothics) understood the concept of forces and thrusts--something still unknown in Quattrocento Florence for another hundred years. If one understands how loads are distributed in a structure, one can understand its conditions of stability, that is, what would keep the dome in balance while it grew unsupported by scaffoldings. Already familiar with France he visited as a teenager with his father, a surveyor, from Milan B. reaches out to the scholarly center of the Amiens Cathedral where copies of a 13th century Codex by Jordanus de Nemor could be found. The Codex assembled all the knowledge of statics pertaining to the Cathedral builders'.
A sample of that Codex, manifestly of no use to any one in Florence but to for Brunelleschi,  was found in the library of the Badia Fiorentina where Brunelleschi once worked. The obsessively secretive Brunelleschi, who destroyed every possible trace of evidence about the way he built his Dome, obviously could not come around and destroy such valuable book, pristinely written on parchment, that helped him raise his Dome. He must have placed it inconspicuously among the other books in the Abbey. No other written material, models or drawings was left behind. Only his secret Codex and the model of the lantern he could not destroy caught by his death unawares. After a series of lectures and discussions in the first part of the semester, individual students will present their own research on the subject