Building the Italian Renaissance

Brunelleschi's Dome and the Florence Cathedral

By Paula Kay Lazrus

92 pp., 8 x 10, 22 halftones, 1 maps, 2 graphs, notes

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5339-6
    Published: July 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5340-2
    Published: July 2019

Reacting to the Past

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Building the Italian Renaissance focuses on the competition to select a team to execute the final architectural challenge of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore--the erection of its dome. Although the model for the dome was widely known, the question of how this was to be accomplished was the great challenge of the age. This dome would be the largest ever built. This is foremost a technical challenge but it is also a philosophical one. The project takes place at an important time for Florence. The city is transitioning from a High Medieval world view into the new dynamics and ideas and will lead to the full flowering of what we know as the Renaissance. Thus the competition at the heart of this game plays out against the background of new ideas about citizenship, aesthetics, history (and its application to the present), and new technology. The central challenge is to expose players to complex and multifaceted situations and to individuals that animated life in Florence in the early 1400s. Humanism as a guiding philosophy is taking root and scholars are looking for ways to link the mercantile city to the glories of Rome and to the wisdom of the ancients across many fields. The aesthetics of the classical world (buildings, plastic arts and intellectual pursuits) inspired wonder, perhaps even envy, but the new approaches to the past by scholars such as Petrarch suggested that perhaps the creative classes are not simply crafts people, but men of ideas.

Three teams compete for the honor to construct the dome, a project overseen by the Arte Della Lana (wool workers guild) and judged by them and a group of Florentine citizens who are merchants, aristocrats, learned men, and laborers. Their goal is to make the case for the building to live up to the ideals of Florence. The game gives students a chance to enter into the world of Florence in the early 1400s to develop an understanding of the challenges and complexity of such a major artistic and technical undertaking while providing an opportunity to grasp the interdisciplinary nature of major public works.

About the Author

Paula Kay Lazrus is professor of sociology and anthropology at St. John’s University.
For more information about Paula Kay Lazrus, visit the Author Page.