If, as his admirers believe, Filippo Brunelleschi singlehandedly achieved the Renaissance in Tuscan architecture, the authors of this book inquire by what human powers and in what historic way he managed to accomplish this feat, and to what extent such attribution is valid. In tackling such a controversial figure, Prager and Scaglia try to determine on a comprehensive basis authentic facts about Filippo and his work: his position in technology, art, economy, and history. The book examines Brunelleschi's work as builder of Santa Maria del Fiore – his answers to questions left open by Italian cathedral builders of the preceding century. It explores, so far as the record allows, what instruction he received from Gothic masters of the Trecento and from Classic masters of Rome. Brunelleschi's Cupola work, the authors observe, synthesized elements from both styles, solved the static problems he inherited, and foreshadowed modern principles of construction.
The first part of the book considers Brunelleschi's “masonry” inventions (the masonry model, the invention of vaulting without armature, inventions relating to the Cupola structure, Filippo as structural engineer). The second part deals with Brunelleschi's building achievements to be more creative and his personality more corrosive than his critics have indicated. They find him a remarkable engineer who worked outstandingly in one architectural style while laying the foundations for another and who devised mechanical systems for delivery, hoisting, and placing building with speed and with safety.
The book also notes such sidelights as Brunelleschi's reactions to Ghiberti the sculptor, Acquettini the writer, and Cosimo de'Medici the statesman, how he dealt with numerous stonemasons, carpenters, blacksmiths, cartwrights, ox drivers, and boatmen, and how he appeared to contemporaries: the guild consults for whom he worked, Toscanelli the mathematician, Taccola the notary-artist-engineer pf Siena, Alberti the architect-philosopher, and Francesco de Giorgio, painter of madonnas and builder of fortresses in a subsequent generation.