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re­al­is­tic and skilled in the use of per­spec­tive that they were con­sid­ered the first works of the Floren­tine Re­nais­sance. In 1418, Brunelleschi was up against Ghib­erti once again. Ac­cord­ing to Gior­gio Vasari, the artist, painter and 16th cen­tury art his­to­rian, Brunelleschi him­self came up with the com­pe­ti­tion that would be judged by the war­dens of Flo­rence Cathe­dral: Who­ever could make an egg stand on end on a flat piece of mar­ble should be en­trusted with build­ing the dome.

All the other en­trants failed. Then Brunelleschi stepped for­ward and sim­ply smashed the egg down on the ta­ble, stand­ing it on its crushed end.

What­ever the truth of that fa­mous story, Brunelleschi did win the com­pe­ti­tion and did man­age to build the im­pos­si­ble dome; a pair of domes, in fact, an outer dome con­ceal­ing the in­ner one. He pulled off the feat by build­ing a pointed dome, stronger than a semi-cir­cu­lar one; by us­ing light brick; and by wrap­ping five brick, stone and iron chains around the dome to stop it burst­ing.

Today, the Flo­rence Duomo is still the big­gest brick dome in the world. south­ern hills of Flo­rence. And there are won­der­ful views in­side and out.

The church it­self is a green-and­white-striped won­der of the 11th cen­tury Tus­can Ro­manesque, with mo­saic pic­tures of St Minias along­side Christ. The view from the ter­race takes in a great, sweep­ing, nose-to-tail view of the Duomo, Giotto’s cathe­dral bell tower and the bell tower of the Palazzo Vec­chio. The plot of EM Forster’s novel, A Room with a View, turns on a gen­tle­manly ex­change of rooms in a Flo­rence guest­house. In the book, the view is of the River Arno, but in the fa­mous Mer­chant-Ivory film ver­sion the set­ting was reimag­ined to in­clude the Duomo. Sadly though the view from the guest­house sug­gested does not ex­ist. As co-star Ju­lian Sands con­fessed re­cently, the shot of the “room” had to be faked on the ter­race of an­other build­ing. “The iconic mo­ment in the film, of me with He­lena [Bon­ham Carter] with the Duomo and the bell tower in the back­ground was, in fact, care­fully con­structed by car­pen­ters. The num­ber of peo­ple who’ve said, ‘We stayed in that room’! I say, ‘Are my ini­tials carved into the win­dow frame?’ ‘Yes,’ they say!”

Machi­avelli. You’re close enough to make out the domed, 15th cen­tury roof of the Pazzi Chapel, the per­fect lit­tle Re­nais­sance gem de­signed by, you guessed it, Brunelleschi.

IDEAL DOME Flo­rence’s cathe­dral, main; Villa San Michele, be­low;


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