Brunelleschi and his Dome

Return to Publications

This poem is dedicated to my young Florentine friends Choppy and Giovanni

Florentines had civic pride,
Something that they didn't hide.
Building churches was the rage,
Even if it took an age.
Dignitaries riding through
Noticed there was lots to do.
There's Saint Mary of the Flower,
Crouched below an ancient tower.
Plans all done, walls all laid,
Large-scale models also made.
Sprawling nave, splendid choir,
But it lacks that thing up higher!
Builders never could decide
How to vault a space so wide.
Men had tried for years and years,
Always ending up in tears.
So she stayed without a dome,
Like some ruin of ancient Rome.

Time went on, and then there came
Someone who would soon earn fame:
Brunelleschi, really smart,
Talented in every art.
His good friend was Donatello,
Still quite young, but what a fellow!
He and Donatello went
Down to Rome, and there they spent
Months and months so they could see
Treasures from Antiquity.
Donatello then went home,
Brunelleschi stayed in Rome.
Off he trekked through fields all muddy,
Finding things he liked to study.
Columns, plinths and arches, too—
Everything he saw he drew.
Back to Florence much inspired,
Brunelleschi never tired.
Architecture was his life
(After all, he had no wife).

Soon the Florentines declared,
Everyone should get prepared.
Seeking talent was their mission.
There would be a competition.
Vault Saint Mary of the Flower,
Make her rise above the tower.
Builders, goldsmiths, sculptors, too,
Showed the judges what they'd do.
Brunelleschi won the prize
With a trick that caught their eyes.
Asked to make an egg stand up
On its own without a cup,
Tap one end was all he did,
And the egg stood as was bid.
Brunelleschi, what a man!
He was tops, no also-ran.
Losers wept and went back home,
Brunelleschi planned the dome.
Thought a lot and took his pen,
Wrote out orders for his men.
Bring me bricks and bring me mortar.
Give a big tip to the porter.

Hoists were built and bricks were brought,
Florentines rushed to the spot.
Curious, they watched and cheered.
Critics, too, were there and jeered.
Brunelleschi's was a scheme
Which no man could ever dream.
Daringly, with special skill
Workmen laid the bricks until
All eight sections were complete.
Wonderful! Oh, what a feat!
Brunelleschi felt relieved;
Critics, though, were rather peeved.
There's a hole right at the top!
Cried the critic Cucco Zop
Brunelleschi's failed, I bet!
When it rains we'll all get wet.
Brunelleschi saw the light:
Cucco Zop was full of spite.
Come with me, my learnèd friend,
Come and see what I intend.
Cucco Zop, though feeling leery
Came with him up to his eyrie.
Paper, paper everywhere,
Cucco Zop looked for a chair.
Brunelleschi sighed, Oh, dear,
It's a little messy here.
To the window both men walked,
Brunelleschi talked and talked.
Pointing to the dome he said,
All I did was use my head.
In the rain and in the snow,
You'll stay dry from tip to toe.
This is not the Pantheon,
Where the wet is never gone.
Underneath my splendid dome
It's as safe and snug as home.
That great hole right at the top
Doesn't mean that I'm a flop.
Here's the lantern I designed.
It will surely ease your mind.
It will hold the dome together,
Make it safe in any weather.
Cucco Zop smirked with relief.
I was right, you're just a thief!
Brunelleschi shouted, WHAT?
Are you crazy, or some NUT?
Cucco Zop, who picked his nose,
Shouted, IT'S ANTONIO'S!
Brunelleschi, that's real low,
Stealing from Antonio!
Brunelleschi swung his fist.
By good fortune he just missed.
Quick they climbed down to the ground,
Growling like a fox and hound.

Brunelleschi in the end,
With his temper on the mend,
Showed the critic Cucco Zop
That the project for the top
Really was his own invention,
Stolen with the worst intention
By his helper, fiercely jealous.
I believe one day he'll tell us,
But for now let matters rest.
Just remember, I'm the best!

Return to Publications
Return to Home page

This page last updated: July 2, 2009.