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Brunelleschi, Santo Spirito

Filippo Brunelleschi's Santo Spirito, Florence, 1428-81 Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Steven: We've in Santo Spirito, one of Brunelleschi's last churches; in fact, I believe only one column was raised by the time he passed away. Beth: And we see a lot of the same things that we see in the Old Sacristy or in the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi. The use of this dark grayish green pietra serena that creates the columns and the mouldings and the cornices. Just yesterday we were in the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo, which is also these white walls and the pietra serena and also very muscular, energetic space, and when we're here today in Santo Spirito, I can really see that Michelangelo was building on what Brunelleschi did. Steven: There is a kind of willingness to allow what would formally have been the trim of the wall to become a visual force in itself. Beth: The church is a basilica in its plan, with a dome over the crossing, but Brunelleschi, in his typical interest in geometry, used the square that forms the crossing as the basic unit of measurement throughout the church. Steven: There's also a relationship between those widths and the elevation of the church. Rigorous continuity in the geometry throughout. Beth: A sense of circles and semicircles and squares and rectangles that all relate to one another. Steven: Brunelleschi has created a mathematical system that is so self-evident and makes so much sense that there aren't other options. Beth: The mathematics determine the space, and I think that that idea of beauty residing in the relationships between the parts of the church, not in any one feature, but in those proportional relationships, is something that is very important to Brunelleschi, and is also something that Brunelleschi is deriving from his study of ancient Roman architecture. Steven: This is a building that feels to me about the relationship also between the line of the pietra serena and the plain of the stucco in between, but unlike some of Brunelleschi's earlier work, the pietro serena has expanded; it's become more muscular. Beth: You can see the pietra serena expanding, almost as if it's growing over the arches, so it almost reaches the stringcourse molding below the cornice. Steven: There seems to be that expansion of the pietra serena in the stringcourses above; in the extra cornices that exist above each of the capitals of each of the columns, and even at the bases of the column, the pietra serena seems to expand outward into the paving itself until the pietra serena is no longer functioning, really, as line against plain, but becoming a kind of sculptural form. In fact it gives the entire church a kind of visual density. Beth: It's a space that has a tension between energy in the pietra serena and the simplicity of the spatial elements. I think it's also really important to talk about how classic this looks; we really have a sense of being in an ancient Roman building, but there is a kind of severity here. We don't see fluting in the columns or in the pilasters. Steven: And the pietra serena's tone is a serious tone. This church is one of the great expressions of early Renaissance architecture. It's sometimes seen as a summation of the vocabulary that Brunelleschi created over his lifetime, which was revolutionary. (piano music)