Florence Cathedral

 Florence, like many cities of the renaissance, had been built over many years and so was home to numerous churches, public buildings, and houses constructed with romanesque or gothic architecture. therefore, when a revival of classical styles became popular, new edifices in the classical style were built alongside or added to buildings of older styles.


 The concept of the dome first emerged during the renaissance in the form of an architectural marvel that tops the santa maria del fiore, the cathedral of florence. the construction of the dome marks the beginning of renaissance architecture; the cathedral and its dome together represent early renaissance style–one that blends old and new designs. arnolfo di cambio began the building in a gothic style in 1294. in 1418, architect filippo brunelleschi received a commission to build the dome. he traveled to rome with the sculptor donatello to study architecture; there, the two artists investigated various roman ruins to learn about the design and proportion of buildings, as well as the construction of arches and columns. Although brunelleschi never duplicated classical features, he borrowed ideas from the ancient ruins and incorporated them into the design of his dome. 



Architect                                                          Arnolfo Di Cambio

Location                                                           Florence, Italy

Date                                                                 1296 to 1462

Building Type                                                    Domed Church, Cathedral

Construction System                                         Bearing Masonry

Climate                                                             Mediterranean

Context                                                             Urban
Style                                                                  Italian Renaissance

Notes                                                                 “The Duomo.” “Santa Maria Del Fiore”. Dome

                                                                           Added By Filippo Brunelleschi.

 The Cathedral

 The cathedral or duomo of florence as we see it today is the end result of years of work that covered over six centuries of history. Its basic architectural project was designed by arnolfo di cambio at the end of the 13th century;The cupola that has made it a symbol for the whole of tuscany was created by genius of the renaissance, filippo brunelleschi, while the facade that completed it was carried out as late as the late 19th century.

A whole series of structural and decorative interventions to both the exterior and the interior that were to enrich the history of the monument were carried out during this space of time: these range from the construction of the two sacristies to the 16th century marble flooring, and from the execution of the sculptures to the frescoes, signed by paolo uccello, andrea del castagno, giorgio vasari and federico zuccari (the last judgement in the cupola).



For 1600 years now, the center of florentine religious life has been the area known, respectively, as “piazza san giovanni” and “piazza del duomo”. this large, irregular square contains:

  1. The baptistery of saint john
  2. The cathedral of santa maria del fiore (the duomo) with the excavations of santa reparata
  3. Giotto’s bell tower
  4. The museum of the opera del duomo
  5. The cathedral canonries
  6. The lay confraternity of mercy
  7. The bigallo portico
  8. The archbishop’s palace
  9. The column of saint zanobius
  10. And the pisan porphyry columns



The first episcopal church of Florence was the ancient basilica of Saint Lawrence ‘outside the walls’, consecrated by Saint Ambrose of Milan in 394.

The next main church and cathedral was the basilica of Santa Reparata, martyr, which – as can be deduced from recent excavations – was built in the 5th or 6th century.

When its rebuilding and enlargement were decreed, boniface viii’s legate, cardinal valeriano, solemnly laid the first stone of the new cathedral on the feast of mary’s nativity, in 1296. In 1412 the new name of santa maria del fiore (our lady of the flower, or ‘of florence’) was officially assigned to the magnificent church that by then had arisen on the remains of the earlier basilica.
In 1420, pope martin v conferred the privileges of a Metropolitan Church, and Santa Maria del Fiore was finally consecrated on March 25, 1436, by Pope Eugenius IV.
 When the mosaic decoration of the baptistery was nearly complete, in the last decades of the 13th century, the Florentine government decided to build a new cathedral.

The old duomo, dedicated to Santa Reparata, was “crumbling with age”, as a document of the time attests. next to the now “lovely” saint john’s, moreover, santa reparata seemed “very crude”, as giovanni villani, a 14th-century writer, tells us.
And in that era of dramatic population growth, the old cathedral was “small in comparison to so great a city”, according to villani.

Thus the dream of an enormous church, far bigger than the cathedrals of pisa and siena, the rival tuscan cities, was born.

Florence wanted her duomo to be grander in size and in exterior adornment, “all in marble and with carved figures” (reliefs and statues), as Villani says.


Hypothetical View of the Old Cathedral of Santa Reparata Surrounded by the Rising Walls of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Santa Maria del Fiore as it appears in the fifteenth-century ‘Rustici Codex’

 The cathedral we see today is the result of 170 years of work. the first stone of the facade was laid on September 8, 1296, under the direction of Arnolfo di Cambio.

Arnolfo’s design was subjected to numerous modifications, however: the most obvious are visible on the church’s sides, where the first four windows are narrower and closer together than those toward the east, which are part of an enlargement of the plan due to francesco talenti in charge of construction after the mid-14th century.

The radiating eastern chapels were finished in the early 1400s, and the gigantic dome designed by filippo brunelleschi was completed in just 16 years, from 1418 to 1434;

“A structure so immense, so steeply rising toward the sky, that it covers all tuscans with its shadow”, as Leon Battista Alberti wrote at that time. the lantern, designed by brunelleschi, was built after his death (1446), and the gilt copper ball and cross by Verrocchio, containing holy relics, were set in place in 1466.

 The last part of Santa Maria del Fiore to be finished was the facade, done between 1871 and 1887 to Emilio de Fabris’ design, in a neo-gothic style reminiscent of the gothic decoration of the bell tower and side portals of the cathedral.

Like Arnolfo’s facade before it, this modem front honors the mother of christ: above the central portal is a figure of mary enthroned holding a flowered scepter, by Tito Sarrocchi. but the 19th-century program is largely historical and patriotic in character;

The mosaics, designed by Niccolò Barabino, represent: over the middle door, christ enthroned between mary and saint john the baptist, with Florentine saints; over the south door (viewer’s right), florentine artisans, merchants and humanists paying homage to the faith; and, above the north portal (viewer’s left), charity among the founders of florentine philanthropic institutions.



Entering the cathedral, one is struck by the building’s vastness and the sobriety of its furnishings. the color and rich patterning of the exterior, which serve to relate the mass of the structure to the smaller scale of surrounding buildings, here give way to a simplicity that underscores the titanic dimensions of this church (the largest in europe when it was completed in the 15th century; 153 meters long, 90 wide at the crossing, and 90 meters high from pavement to the opening of the lantern).

The relative bareness of the interior of santa maria del fiore corresponds to the austere spiritual ideal of florence in the middle ages and early renaissance; It suggests, in architectural terms, the spirituality of the great reformers of florentine religious life, from saint john gualbert to saint antoninus and fra girolamo savonarola.

The formal matrix is two-fold: on the one hand, the rude strength of romanesque country churches, and, on the other, an elegant simplicity typical of mendicant basilicas like santa croce (also designed by arnolfo di cambio).

The enrichment of the interior with splendid pavements in colored marble, and temple-niches on the walls, in fact belongs to a later period, under the patronage of the grand dukes in the 16th century.


Santa maria del fiore was built with public funds as a “state church”, and important works of art in the side aisles constitute a “civic program” honoring illustrious men.

This program includes: frescoed equestrian monuments to the military leaders, sir john hawkwood (by paolo uccello, 1436) and niccolò da tolentino (by andrea del castagno, 1456) (9) and (8) the painting by domenico di michelino showing dante, dated 1465 (10) sculptural portraits of giotto (3) brunelleschi (2), marsilio ficino (4), and antonio squarcialupi, cathedral organist (7), all works of the 15th and early 16th century. the portrait reliefs of arnolfo and emilio de fabris, (5) and (6) are 19th-century creations.

Besides this civic iconography, there is a religious program as well, occupying the area of the cathedral meant for worship. two large images at opposite ends of the central nave suggest the religious emphasis: a mosaic over the principal entrance, by gaddo gaddi in the early 1300s, and the circular, stained-glass window high above the main altar (the only one of the eight “eyes” of the drum visible from the nave), designed by donatello between 1434 and 1437. both these works depict the coronation of the virgin – mary’s elevation to glory after her death, that is.

a –  north door (façade)
b –  middle door (façade)
c –  south door (façade)
d –  bell tower door
e –  canon’s door
f –  almond door
g –  bale door4

a) mosaic by gaddo gaddi, the coronation of mary
b) frescos by santi di tito, music-making angels
c) clock, painted by paolo uccello
d) stained glass window by lorenzo ghiberti, the assumption of mary to heaven.

2  bust of brunelleschi.


3  bust of giotto.


4  bust of marsilio ficino.


5  bust of emilio de fabris.


6  bust of arnolfo di cambio.


7  bust of antonio squarcialupi.


8  fresco depicting niccolò da tolentino, by andrea del castagno.


9  fresco depicting sir john hawkwood, by paolo uccello.


10  monument to dante and the divine comedy, by domenico di michelino.


11  choir enclosure, by baccio bandinelli.


12  high altar.


13  bishop’s chair or “cathedra”.


14  crucifix by benedetto da maiano.


15  a) bronze doors by luca delia robbia; b) relief by luca delia robbia, the resurrection of christ.


16  the “mass sacristy” with 15th century intarsias


17  the altar of saint zanobius and of the blessed sacrament: a) the urn with saint zanobius’relics, by lorenzo ghiberti; b) last supper by giovanni balducci (1560-1603).


18  relief by luca delia robbia, the ascension of christ.


19  entrance to the excavation of the former cathedral, santa reparata.

                                                                   the door of the mandorla 

                         oculus, northeast quadran                                  view from south

Dome Trouble

“The construction of the dome of florence cathedral was one of the germinal events of renaissance architecture…the problem had been posed in the middle of the fourteenth century when the definitive plan for the octagonal crossing had been laid down. the diameter of the dome at 39.5 metres (130 feet) precluded the traditional use of wooden structuring to support the construction of the vault, while the use of buttresses as in northern gothic cathedrals was ruled out by the building’s design.”


                                                                 Overview of Dome

Dome Interior

Dome and The Drum



brickwork, octagonal drum, from southest

detail, from south

The cathedral’s 44 windows constitute the most extensive stained glass program in 14th and 15th-century italy. the windows depict old and new testament saints (in the nave and transepts), and scenes from the life of christ and mary (in the circular windows of the drum). the list of artists includes the greatest florentines of the early renaissance: donatello, ghiberti, paolo uccello and andrea del castagno. from the crossing, under the dome, one has a sweeping view, and the iconological purpose of the window program becomes apparent: to evoke the spiritual light in christ, mary and the saints which enlightens believers.

Plan of the Frescoes

a – the elders of revelation 4.
b – angelic choirs with the instruments of christ’s passion.
c – christ, mary and the saints.
d – virtues, beatitudes and gifts of the holy spirit.
e – vices and hell.
f – windows in the drum:
1) donatello, coronation of mary.
2) paolo uccello, resurrection of christ.
3) andrea del castagno, deposition.
4) paolo uccello, nativity of christ.
5) paolo uccello, annunciation (destroyed).
6) lorenzo ghiberti, presentation in the temple.
7) lorenzo ghiberti, agony in the garden.
8) lorenzo ghiberti, ascension

Plan & Section

Section Drawing

Arnolfo’s Plan with Talenti’s Enlargements


the apse of the cathedral                        the duomo


exterior view looking at facade, with a glimpse of dome above

1296— cathedral begun on design byarnolfo di cambio.

1357— project continued on a modified plan by francesco talenti

1366-7— talenti’s definitive design emerged calling for an enormous octagonal dome

1418— competition for construction of dome

1420— technical solution for vaulting proposed by brunelleschi approved and construction begun

1436— church consecrated

 By: Shishir, Ravi & Atal

Reader Interactions


  1. Anonymous says

    How hard is it to respect the
    How hard is it to respect the PROPER NOUN? I don’t know how, with such an astute and thorough analysis of the building and its contributors, the writer could ignore a basic principle of writing: capitalization of names. Somebody, please edit!

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