He was an architect, arithmetician and excellent geometer, sculptor and painter
His works come within an urban context–the medieval arnolfo one–by this time with defined basic measures. The city was already established in its maximum perimeter limits: a dome was already foreseen by Arnolfo, and the reconstructions of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito can be read as “modern” versions of the medieval church piers, and piazza SS. Annunziata as cloisters made into a square, the Palagio of Parte Guelfa already existed in loco.
However, in Brunelleschi’s work there is such a force of invention and an innovative vision that Florence, although substantially medieval, would always consider itself after the fifteenth century a “renaissance” city. This was especially among the humanists, who quote it as being an example of the ‘ideal’ city. In this sense, the multiplication of Brunelleschi’s model of Palazzo Pitti in different eras, the expansion of Palazzo Medici, the mirror doubling of the Loggia degli Innocenti, the interpretation of Michelangelo and others of the cubic module of the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo, are all extremely important episodes in the development of the city.
Documentation, although there is not a great deal, allows us to recognize Brunelleschi as a “universal” man. He was an “architect, arithmetician and excellent geometer, sculptor and painter” (A. Manetti), inventor of various machines for the building industry (also availing of his goldsmith experience, particularly mechanical movement clocks moved with counterweights), military, naval and hydraulic engineer, devisor of spectacles and musical instruments, scholar of the structure of the Dante’s plays, even as a moment of decisive affirmation in the history of self-consciousness. And it should be underlined that the instruction of Brunelleschi, like that of Masaccio, Donatello, Ghiberti, is positioned in the extraordinarily rich climate oand cultural ferment that characterized Florence in the first renaissance generation of Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini: "It was the city of Florence in that time /... / in a happy state, full of unusual men in all faculties" (Vespasiano da Bisticci).
Sculpture, the art from which Brunelleschi started and of which he was fully aware of the possibilities, was excluded from his architecture, or decidedly limited within architectural lines. On the other hand, the force and the significance of frames, cornices and so forth show his great capacity and talent as a sculptor. Between 1420 and 1446 (an extremely short period of time), Brunelleschi began by taking insight from the experience and intelligence of classic Roman, medieval Romanesque and gothic architecture, and through the use of perspective, he created the “new” Renaissance architecture—a feat whose historical extent is even more surprising if we consider that very few of the buildings designed and started by him reached a good point or were finished before his death. An important part of the education of Brunelleschi was the rediscovery of ancient classical architecture not only through the traces of it that remained throughout the Florentine medieval tradition, but also through a direct knowledge of it. According to Manetti, when he went to Rome to study the ancient sculptures “he saw the ancient way of masonry and its symmetry and learned to know a very evident certain order of members and framework /…/ also in the rigor and strength /static / of the building /…/ like in the ornaments. With Donatello, he drew, surveyed, collected ciphered notes (the secret was the tradition of the medieval masters). Of the columns “with his subtle view he knew well the distinction of each species, as were Ionice, Dorice, Toscane, Corinte and Attice and he used them at times and in places of mainly, where he thought better as still can be seen in his buildings”.
Article by the Florence APT