Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
By: Ross King
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
On August 19, 1418, a competition concerning Florence’s magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore–already under construction for more than a century–was announced: “Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome….shall do so before the end of the month of September.” The proposed dome was regarded far and wide as all but impossible to build: not only would it be enormous, but its original and sacrosanct design shunned the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. The dome would literally need to be erected over thin air.
Of the many plans submitted, one stood out–a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting what is still the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clockmaker named Filippo Brunelleschi, then forty-one, who would dedicate the next twenty-eight years to solving the puzzles of the dome’s construction. In the process, he did nothing less than reinvent the field of architecture.
Brunelleschi’s Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder we continue to marvel at today. Denounced at first as a madman, Brunelleschi was celebrated at the end as a genius. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, built ingenious hoists and cranes (among some of the most renowned machines of the Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air, and designed the workers’ platforms and routines so carefully that only one man died during the decades of construction–all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and his own personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amid plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence– events Ross King weaves into the story to great effect, from Brunelleschi’s bitter, ongoing rivalry with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to the near catpure of Florence by the Duke of Milan. King also offers a wealth of fascinating detail that opens windows onto fifteenth-century life: the celebrated traditions of the brickmaker’s art, the daily routine of the artisans laboring hundreds of feet above the ground as the dome grew ever higher, the problems of transportation, the power of the guilds.
Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish. Ross King brings its creation to life in a fifteenth-century chronicle with twenty-first-century resonance.
I’ve had this book on my wish-to-read list for a very long time. I’ve always been curious about Renaissance architecture (still my favourite kind around) and the Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the most famous and well-known cathedrals in Italy. So I thought it was really cool that someone had written a book about its construction.
Foundation: A History of England (Volume 1)
By: Peter Ackroyd
Format/Source: Hardback; my copy
In Foundation, the chronicler of London and of its river, the Thames, takes us from the primeval forests of England’s prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He shows us glimpses of the country’s most distant past—and Neolithic stirrup found in a grave, a Roman fort, a Saxon tomb, a medieval manor house—and describes in rich prose the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French.
With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England’s early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes the wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought vividly to life through the narrative mastery of one of Britain’s finest writers.
I actually read volume 2 of Peter Ackroyd’s history of England series first, Tudors (review), last year thanks to the publishers via NetGalley. I enjoyed Ackroyd’s approach to English history, it was both compact but also unique, focusing on interesting aspects as opposed to simply laying out a linear history of England. I came across volume one while browsing the bargain section of the bookstore and snatched it up immediately 🙂
10 Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts
Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts is a weekly blogging event hosted by Bookishly Boisterous. It allows book bloggers (and non-book bloggers) to write about pretty much anything, bookish or otherwise (i.e. share exciting plans for the weekend, rants on things they’ve encountered during the week, etc.).
- So this awesome thing happened last Saturday in Rome: Largo Argentina, teatro a cielo aperto: in scena le Idi di Marzo dove venne ucciso Cesare (for the Ides of March). Stupenda! Great photos too 🙂
- Earlier this week I read Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of Madman. Gogol’s stories are always populated with eccentric and odd, crazy characters and this short story in particular reminds me of Bridget Jones’ Diary for some reason, lol
- So I’m technically on a book-buying ban at the moment. However, as I mentioned last week, World’s Biggest Bookstore, a bookstore I used to frequent growing up, is closing at the end of the month and they’re holding a closing sale. So I went yesterday, took a good browse of the place one more time (not that there was much left on the shelves anyway), and got a few books at very good prices 😉 And thus today I’m back to my regularly-scheduled book-buying ban =P
- I do apologise in advance for next week. It’s Tolkien Reading Day on Tuesday and I’ve decided to also post up (almost) all of my LOTR-related posts for the 100 Things meme that I’m slowly trying to complete. So yes, prepare thyself for everything LOTR-related! 😀
- I know I just listed it earlier this week on a Top Ten Tuesday but Antonio Hill’s The Good Suicides was pretty intriguing; could not put it down. Alas, it won’t be released until June but will probably post up my review soon-ish =P
- Also related to next week: got two review posts coming up as part of book blog tours + two giveaways! Yay, look out for that 😉
- I’m thinking of doing a massive spring clean-up of my online presence. I have accounts all over the place that I either no longer use or have no time to go to or whatnot. I’ve already started clearing up my email subscriptions so I guess the next step is to clean out my Twitter feed a bit and then go around cleaning up my online accounts. Too many, lol! Oh, and at some point my webspace as well–too many folders and files that have fallen into great disuse. And my bookmarks folder on my browser–yikes! (okay, one step at a time)
And that’s about it from me this week (pretty quiet week) 🙂 Happy weekend! Be sure to link up over at Bookishly Boisterous if you’re participating.
The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward: Sex, Scandal, and Deadly Secrets in the Profumo Affair
By: Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Open Road Media via NetGalley
A tour de force account of seduction, power, and betrayal in the biggest political sex scandal of its age
The Profumo Affair rocked the British establishment like no scandal before or since. The Tory war minister, John Profumo, had taken up with a teenager named Christine Keeler, who was also sleeping with a Soviet intelligence agent. The ensuing inquiry revealed a hidden underworld in which men of the ruling classes and politicians cavorted with prostitutes at orgies. The revelations shook the British government and sent shock waves all the way to the Kennedy White House. The man at the center of the storm was Dr. Stephen Ward.
Ward was a successful doctor to the rich and powerful, a talented artist who drew portraits of many of his famous patients and fixed up prominent men with young women. He was also a pawn, ruthlessly exploited by the intelligence agencies. When the Profumo Affair threatened the government, Ward became a scapegoat, hounded to death—and perhaps murdered.
For the first time, The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward reveals the names that could not be exposed and the truths that could not be told until now.
I found out about this book through the publishers who contacted me requesting for a review. Despite having studied British history and 20th century history & politics, I actually never heard of this scandal, which sounds pretty serious and affected two (three!) nations during the height of the Cold War. So naturally my interest was piqued. I was given access to the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest opinion of it. This book was released on 25 February 2014.
Yesterday I posted up my review for Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution (review) as well as details for the book giveaway contest that I’m currently hosting as part of the book tour. Today I’m happy to share with you all a guest post written by the author himself on the subject of Marie Antoinette and her famous hairstyles.
MARIE ANTOINETTE’S INCREDIBLE COIFFURES
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen’s reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen’s affairs?
Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution (Lyons Press) charts the rise of Leonard Autie from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette. By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs, court documents, and archived periodicals, author Will Bashor tells Leonard’s mostly unknown story, chronicling Leonard’s story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence.