Building an architectural wonder The reality of the past always stands out in stark contrast to our fuzzy mental pictures. Ross King's account of the building of Brunelleschi's Dome, the gargantuan centerpiece of renaissance Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, is both a portrait of a driven man and the age in which he lived. We tend to admire the beauty of wonders such as the dome without pondering the human sacrifices required to produce them. King brings the inspiration and the perspiration equally to life. Known primarily as the "inventor" of perspective painting, Filippo di Ser Brunelleschi was a goldsmith, an artist, an inventor, and an architect; in this last role he was called upon to create a miracle to build a dome without using support scaffolding during construction, or with the familiar gothic flying buttresses when it was complete. Many residents of 15th century Florence felt the task was impossible and denounced Brunelleschi as a madman. But he persevered to complete construction of what was then the largest dome in the world. That how he did it still manages to mystify us after half a millennium makes this study of life, art, religion, and politics doubly fascinating.

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