A typical example of Italian Gothic, the architecture of Florence Cathedral, also known as Santa Maria del Fiore, hails from the initial project by Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302), who worked on the previous building, considerably expanding the structures.
Finished in 1367, the Duomo was covered in coloured marble based on the example on the older Baptistery, with the exception of the facade that remained unfinished and was given its current appearance as late as the nineteenth century.
The Cupola still had to be built, whose drum had been constructed in 1421. Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi proved the winners of the competition held among the city’s architects, but it was Brunelleschi who came up with the definitive plan and extraordinary technique with which the Cupola was erected, completed in 1436. The apses of the cathedral are clearly articulated from the exterior, and visitors should note the so-called Porta della Mandorla, which earns its name from the aureola encircling the figure of the Madonna in Nanni di Banco’s Assumption relief (1380-1421).
Structurally, Santa Maria del Fiore is a basilica, although it is lacking the traditional axial apses and instead has a rotund triconch closed at the east side. The church is shaped into three naves, divided by large pillars. At the base of the pillars the architectural elements begin, which culminate in the ogival vaults. The dimensions are enormous: 153 metres long and 38 metres wide. The north and south apses are 90 metres apart. The simple and austere interior gives a distinct feeling of emptiness. The large Florentine bays (barely three metres lower than Beauvais Cathedral, the highest in French Gothic style) had to cover an immense space with very little in the way of support. The nave was designed as a room in which emptiness prevailed over the nevertheless considerable architectural elements. The rhythm of the supports is rather different to the stone forest that was typical in French Gothic.
Florence Cathedral is the first of its kind in terms of dimension and structure. Along the entire perimeter of the church there’s a gallery, at the height of the cross vault. The floor in multi-coloured marble was designed by Baccio d'Agnolo and continued, from 1526 to 1560, by his son Giuliano, Francesco da Sangallo and other masters (1520-26). During the restoration work following the 1966 flood, the discovery was made that some marbles taken from the unfinished façade, demolished at that time, had been used, upside down, in the floor.
Among the artworks housed in the Cathedral, take a look, on the left wall, at the two frescoes representing the equine monuments of the mercenaries Giovanni Acuto and Niccolò da Tolentino, which were executed by, respectively, Paolo Uccello (1436) and Andrea del Castagno (1456.) Paolo Uccello is also responsible for the frescoed clock on the interior facade, with four robust heads of saints. The Cathedral’s sculptures still on show include the lunettes by Luca della Robbia placed over the doors to the Sacristy. Removed and housed in the Opera del Duomo Museum, you’ll find Michelangelo’s great Pietà (1553). Equally beautiful are the stained glass windows, mostly created between 1434-55, which follow designs by artists such as Donatello, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello. The inlaid wardrobes in the Sacristy, on the other hand, were made according to the designs of Brunelleschi, Antonio del Pollaiolo and others.
The interior of the dome was frescoed between 1572-79 by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and Federico Zuccari (ca. 1540-1609), and represents the Universal Judgement. As emblematic of Florence as Brunelleschi’s dome, is the bell tower known as Giotto’s Bell Tower. In fact, Giotto created the first project for the bell tower even if only the first register was finished before his death in 1337. Work continued under Andrea Pisano (ca. 1290-ca. 1349) and Francesco Talenti (active between 1325-1369) who brought the work to a close.