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Santa Maria Del Fiore

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The document by which the council of the municipality of Florence decided the erection of her Cathedral, in 1294, is an historic monument in which is reflected the generous spirit of the Florentines.

Considering that all the acts and works of a people who boast of an illustrious origin should bear the character of grandeur and wisdom, we order Arnolfo, director of the works of our commune, to make the model, or a design of the building, which shall replace the church of Santa Reparata. It shall display such magnificence that no industry nor human power shall surpass it... A government should undertake nothing unless in response to the desire of a heart more than generous, which expresses in its beatings the heart of all its citizens united in one common wish: it is from this point of view that the architect charged with the building of our cathedral must be regarded."

It must be admitted that it would be difficult to express a more noble idea and a more elevated sentiment than this.

The name of the Cathedral is evidently an allusion to the lily, the heraldic emblem of Florence. The ceremony of laying the first stone took place on September 8th, 1298; Pope Boniface VIII. was represented by his legate, Cardinal Pietro Valeriano. Arnolfo's plan was a Latin cross with three naves, each nave divided into four arcades with sharp pointed arches. In the centre of the cross, under the vault of the dome, was reserved a space enclosed by a ringhiera, having open sides, with an altar in its axis, and in each of its little arms five rectangular chapels were placed. The walls were naked, and the architecture alone served for decoration; the effect, however, was altogether imposing.

Arnolfo did not finish his work; he died about 1230, leaving the church completed only as far as the capitals destined to support the arches. In 1332 Giotto was nominated to succeed him, and for about two hundred years the work was continued without interruption, under the direction of the most worthy men.

It is to Giotto that we owe that extraordinary annex to the Duomo, so celebrated throughout the world under the name of Campanile; its foundation was laid in 1334, after the little church of San Zanobio was razed. It is 85 metres high; Giotto, however, had calculated 94 metres in his plan and intended to finish the square column with a pyramid, like the Campanile of Saint Mark's in Venice; but he was unable to complete his work, and his successor, Taddeo Gaddi, suppressed this appendix. The Campanile has six divisions; the first and the second, which are easily examined, are ornamented with sculpture executed by Andrea Pisano, after Giotto's designs...

Even at the risk of banality, the saying attributed to Charles V. when he entered Florence after the siege should be mentioned here; he paused before the Campanile, contemplated it for a long while, and then exclaimed: " They should make a case for the Campanile and exhibit it as a jewel."

Mounting to the top of the tower, we can count, one by one, the domes, the towers, and the monuments, and gaze upon the beautiful landscape which surrounds the city of flowers. There are in this tower seven bells, the largest of which, cast in 1705 to replace the one that had been broken, does not weigh less than 15,860 pounds.

Among the architects who succeeded Giotto, we must count the master of masters, who was, perhaps, the most incontestably illustrious of the Fifteenth Century architects - Filippo Brunelleschi. It was in 1421 that he began the superb dome which crowns the Cathedral. This was his masterpiece, surpassing in audacity and harmony all the monuments of modern art. Everyone knows that this dome is double: the interior casing is spherical, and between it and the exterior dome are placed the stairways, chains, counter-weights, and all the accessories of construction which render it enduring. It was only fifteen years after the death of the great Philippo that this dome was finished (1461). It inspired Michael Angelo for Saint Peter's in Rome, and Leon Battista Alberti took it for his model in building the famous temple of Rimini which he left unfinished. Andrea del Verocchio, the beautiful sculptor of the Enfant au dauphin and the Tomb of the Medicis in the old sacristy, designed and executed the ball, and Giovanni di Bartolo completed the node on which the Cross stands.

The church contains several tombs, among others those of Giotto, commissioned to Benedetto da Maiano by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and that of the famous organist, Antonio Squarcialupi, a favourite of Lorenzo to whom "The Magnificent" wrote an epitaph. It is thought that the Poggio rests in Santa Maria del Fiore. The sarcophagus of Aldobrandino Ottobuoni is near the door of the Servi.

I have said that the walls are naked, that is to say that architecture does not play a great part on them, but the building contains a number of works of the highest order by Donatello, Michelozzo, Ghiberti, della Robbia, Sansovino, Bandinelli, and Andrea del Castagno. It was by the door of the Servi that Dominico di Michelino on January 30, 1465, painted Dante, a tribute paid tardily to the memory of the prince of poets by the society of Florentines, who were none other than the workmen employed in the construction of the Cathedral. Under these arches where Boccaccio made his passionate words resound to the memory of the author of the Divina Comedia, Michelino painted Dante clothed in a red toga and crowned with laurel, holding in one hand a poem and with the other pointing to the symbolical circles. The inscription states that the execution of this fresco is due to one of Dante's commentators, Maestro Antonio, of the order of the Franciscans.



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