precedent; second, while he showed great inventiveness, he did not fully understand the structural issues involved; and therefore, third, he took measures to ensure the stability of the dome. Fourth, he may have included the ribs simply to convince his clients that it was stable. “Shrewd” is how Vasari described him.

The dome was not a Renaissance building. It did not even herald the Renaissance. It drew upon Brunelleschi’s study of ancient techniques from both East and West, principally upon the engineering practice of the Middle Ages. In ingenuity it surpassed them all. The cupola was completed in 1434. Two years later the huge lantern was placed, and the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on 25 March 1436. The four hemidomed tribunes were completed in 1438. The decorations to the lantern were finished by 1446, when Brunelleschi was dying, and the great copper sphere crowned it all in 1474.

See also

Foundling Hospital

Further reading

Fanelli, Giovanni. 1980. Brunelleschi. Florence: Scala.

Klotz, Heinrich. 1990. Filippo Brunelleschi: The Early Works and the Medieval Tradition. New York: Rizzoli.

Saalman, Howard. 1980. Filippo Brunelleschi: The Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore. London: Zwemmer.

Vasari, Giorgio. 1991. Selections from the Lives of the Artists. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Foundling Hospital

Florence, Italy

The Foundling Hospital (known in Italian as the Ospedale degli Innocenti) stands in the Piazza SS. Annunziata, Florence. As its name indicates, it was a refuge for abandoned or orphaned children. Around 1419, over a century after the foundation of the institution, the powerful Guild of Silk Merchants and Goldsmiths (Arte della Lana) funded a new building to house refectories, dormitories, infirmaries, and nurseries, all joined with cloisters and porticoes. Designed by the ubiquitous artist Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), the new ospedale was a seminal achievement, representing a change not only in how architecture looked but also in the way in which the building industry was structured. Some scholars hail it as the first Renaissance building and its author as the sole instigator of those changes, the pioneer of a new phase in western European architecture.

The humanism of the Renaissance should never be confused with humanitarianism. Neither should accounts of urbane courtly life be thought of as accurately reflecting the entire social structure. On the contrary, the Renaissance was socially divisive at many levels, even within the family, regardless of class. Children, especially, were victims of a value system that often counted them as chattels whose sole reason for being was to perpetuate a particular dynasty or expand social and political power by strategic marriages. If they could not be put to such use, they were at best ignored; at worst, they were literally abandoned. Although little was done to overturn the attitudes that created this problem, many institutions were set up to care for foundlings. But in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, throughout Italy and most of Europe the orphanages could hardly provide for the number of rejected children. The Foundling Hospital was one such refuge that took them in, raised them, and taught them a trade.

Although he was trained as a goldsmith, a series of events in his native Florence early in the fifteenth century caused Brunelleschi to decide to go to Rome, where for about three years he made a detailed archeological study of ancient monuments. After dabbling in clock making and civil engineering, he turned toward the art of architecture. Untrained in the building profession like the contemporary mason-architect, who was the inheritor of medieval traditions and who to some degree physically built what he designed, Brunelleschi was an artist-architect, independent of long-standing trade and craft conventions. He was therefore able to devise, largely through his own intuition, different ways to build. Moreover, producing his oeuvre several decades before the formal architectural theories of the Renaissance had developed, he was also independent of the unbending “correctness” of later philosopher-architects. In the right place at the right time—the fertile intellectual seedbed of quattrocento Florence—he was free to create a beautiful amalgam, a culturally appropriate new architecture, by reinterpreting classical elements