A lively and intriguing tale of the competition between two artists, culminating in the construction of the Duomo in Florence, this is also the story of a city on the verge of greatness, and the dawn of the Renaissance, when everything artistic would change.
Florence's Duomo - the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral - is one of the most enduring symbols of the Italian Renaissance, an equal in influence and fame to Leonardo and Michaelangelo's works. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the temperamental architect who rediscovered the techniques of mathematical perspective. He was the dome's 'inventor', whose secret methods for building remain a mystery as compelling to architects as Fermat's Last Theorem once was to mathematicians. Yet Brunelleschi didn't direct the construction of the dome alone. He was forced to share the commission with his arch-rival, the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose 'Paradise Doors' are also masterworks. This is the story of these two men - a tale of artistic genius and individual triumph.
Six hundred years ago, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi finished one and two in a contest to design the decorative bronze doors that now grace Florence's beloved Baptistry. Ghiberti, the youngest entrant, was the victor and subsequent recipient of many of the city's most sought-after projects. Wounded by his loss to the upstart Ghiberti, Brunelleschi (who was better educated and from a more respectable family than his rival) set out to reintroduce the glory of Antiquity in their age. Brunelleschi went on to design the dome that has long symbolized Florence's cityscape and succeeded in popularizing the return to the architectural vocabulary of Greece and Rome. Walker, author of various YA books and Every Day's a Miracle, contends (though too often he simply conjectures) that while fighting for architectural and sculptural commissions and fuming at one another, the two artists brought out the best in each other, their peers and subsequent generations. While that may be so, this book is hurt by the author's attempts to construct his imagined narrative without sufficient evidence to do so convincingly. Descriptions lacking originality and force (Brunelleschi's dome is "a vision of curving red tile and white marble perfection set against the pale blue Tuscan sky") and weak argumentation make this a disappointing popularization of the lives and work of two very talented men. (Dec. 1) Forecast: While Brunelleschi's Dome (2000) continues to do respectable numbers in paper, this book doesn't quite have the hook of the earlier one-the Baptistry doors, while beautiful, are not on the scale of the dome-though it concerns the same figures. The doors could shut fairly quickly here. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 24, 2003
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