Florence, cathedral of

(1296-1350s)
   The Cathedral of Florence was begun by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. Twice the work was halted, first in 1310 when Arnolfo died, and later in 1348 when the Black Death struck. After contributions by Giotto and later Andrea Pisano, it was Francesco Talenti who in the 1350s brought the building to completion, except for the dome and façade (fin. 19th century). When Talenti took over as Director of the Cathedral Works, he modified Arnolfo's plan to create a more imposing design, one that would outdo the cathedrals of Siena and Pisa, the enemies of Florence. Talenti used four massive square bays to form the nave, with aisle bays that measure half their width, and he designed an octagonal crossing (where the nave and transept cross), echoing its shape in the transept arms and apse. By commingling these octagons with a rectilinear nave, he in essence fused together a central with a Latin cross plan. For the exterior, Talenti chose color marble inlays that harmonize with the Baptistery only a few feet away. In the interior, he supported the Gothic arches of the nave arcade and the four-partite vaults with massive piers that grant a solid appearance. The crossing was to be covered by a large octagonal dome. However, the expanse was so vast (140 feet) that Florentines would have to wait until the 15th century to find an architect with the skills to build it. In 1420-1436, the task fell to Filippo Brunelleschi who, as Giorgio Vasari wrote, traveled to Rome to study and measure ancient structures, which is how he acquired the knowledge needed to build the cathedral dome. Inspired by the ancient prototypes, Brunelleschi devised a double-shelled construction over a skeleton of 24 ribs, only eight of which are visible from the exterior. A lantern allows light to enter the church and stabilizes the structure by preventing the outward tilting of the ribs. The first of its kind, Brunelleschi's design provided the light construction required to prevent the collapse of such a large dome. Now the landmark of Florence, the dome towers over the city and speaks, as it did in the Renaissance, of the civic pride of its citizens.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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