A ROOM WITH A VIEW
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;