In a competition held in 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti defeated Filippo Brunelleschi in winning the contract to sculpt a pair of bronze doors for the baptistery of the cathedral of Florence, Italy. Subsequently, Brunelleschi's plan to build a dome atop the cathedral was chosen over Ghiberti's. They did not know then they could not know then that their ensuing life-long rivalry would serve to instruct and inspire a host of other artists, thus bringing to Italy, and to the Western world, the dawn of a refreshing new age.
Author Paul Robert Walker tells their story in The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World. Millions of visitors to Florence see the artistic masterpieces of these two, hear a tour guide's five-minute spiel and then leave for the next attraction. It is a pity that they depart without really appreciating the nuances of the antagonists' strained relationship and with scant knowledge of their personalities and even less about the politics, working conditions and economic factors that shaped their generation all of which are superbly resurrected in this book.
Walker reviews the painstaking efforts involved in Ghiberti's crafting of the religious-themed reliefs for the gilded portals. They were so beautiful that one year after he completed the doors, he was commissioned to do two more, which Michelangelo is said to have described as worthy of being the "Gates of Paradise." The author also details Brunelleschi's ingenious solution to designing and constructing the cathedral's dome, which because of its size then the largest in the world had stymied everyone else for more than a century. Its loftiness (280 feet above the ground) persuaded officials to serve only diluted wine to the workmen.
The author treats us to an explanation of Brunelleschi's development of what probably was the most important artistic breakthrough of the Renaissance: the mathematical principle of linear perspective depicting a subject on a flat surface in such a way that it appears so real viewers feel they can reach out and touch it. With this book, Walker author of 20 previous titles on subjects ranging from the American West to miracles, from baseball to folklore widens his reputation for versatility. His newest work is sure to bring such sheer pleasure to people interested in history, architecture and art that many of them will regard the book itself as a work of art. An ex-newsman, Alan Prince of Deerfield Beach, Florida, now writes and lectures.