Arts Classical Music Music

Min Kwon: Moving Music and Musicians Forward 

Min Kwon is much more than an accomplished pianist and performer. The Korean-born artist who came to America at the age of 14 to pursue her musical dreams has checked every box of success in her field: advanced degrees from the best conservatories in the country; solo performances with prestigious orchestras at venerated venues around the world; and critical acclaim, with accolades like Steinway Artist to her credit.

About halfway through her career however, Kwon realized there was more to being a musician than playing and performing at the highest possible level. With immense gratitude for the guidance she had been given in her life and a desire to help others, Kwon founded the Center for Musical Excellence in 2010 to provide high-caliber training and mentorship to gifted young musicians. A decade later in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, Kwon’s charitable and innovative instinct was once again ignited, and she conceived the America/Beautiful project as an antidote to the despair and divisiveness transpiring in her adopted country.

In this Q+A, Kwon talks more about how America/Beautiful and the Center for Musical Excellence came about, her music-filled childhood and training, some of her performance highlights, her self-care practices, and more. As this accomplished musician proves, a truly radiant life is one in which the spotlight shines not only on oneself but is turned outward toward others.

AM: At what age did your piano training start, and how much of your childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood were dedicated to practice and study?

MK: I was 3 when I first touched a piano. I grew up in Korea with a mother who ran a music school from home specializing in young children, so I was exposed to the sound of music literally from the womb. My mother noticed that as a young child I had perfect pitch, and when I would hear students making a mistake or playing a wrong note, I would grimace. Also at a very young age I started to be able to play back what I was hearing.

My mother started me with piano lessons first and then violin and cello, as well as singing in the choir. This was a huge part of my childhood, and I was playing in the orchestra and practicing constantly. By sixth grade, my mother said I need to pick one instrument to focus on, so I chose piano. That year I auditioned for a middle-school competitive art school, almost like a mini Juilliard (that had visual art, dance, and music), and I studied there for one year.

I had been reading about conservatories in America, specifically The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and The Juilliard School in New York City, and it became my dream to train there. That year my father’s business, which had a branch in New Jersey, transferred him to America. So when I was 14 we moved to the States, and I auditioned for Curtis and got accepted. I graduated at 19 with a bachelor’s degree in music and then went on to get a masters and doctorate from Juilliard.

Min Kwon
(Photo by Gail Hadani)

AM: As you went through your schooling and moved up the ranks in these very competitive environments, did you ever doubt your decision or want to change career paths?

MK: There were definitely difficult and challenging times, but never a moment when I doubted being a musician. There was just no question in my mind that this was what I was meant to do and this was my destiny. I knew it from a young age because, for me, music — whether playing it or listening to it — felt as natural and necessary as breathing.

Yes, the standard is extremely high at conservatories like Curtis and Juilliard, but ultimately you’re not competing with everyone else. You’re competing with yourself. You’re constantly stretching yourself and pushing the limits to see how far you can take this talent. That path can be a very lonely road. Sometimes you do want to give up and just go have fun and do what everyone else is doing. One needs very strong determination and passion more than anything to stay committed.

AM: What has been one of your proudest moments as a piano soloist in your career?

MK: As a performer, every concert is meaningful. I find just as much joy and reward playing for a few patients at the hospital as I do playing for a full house at Carnegie Hall. It’s very difficult to pick one, but if I had to, it would be when I made my debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at 16 while at Curtis because that signaled to me that I could do what I love in my new home in America. It meant so much to me to be playing with one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world at such a young age. I remember going in to the rehearsals prior to the concert and everyone played so incredibly from beginning to end, we had a perfect run through. It felt like a performance! The whole experience was like a dream.

Min Kwon
(Photo by Gail Hadani)

AM: You started the Center for Musical Excellence in 2010 to mentor and support young musicians. How did this come about, and why do you think it’s important for budding professionals to have a support system around them as they prepare for a career in the arts?

MK: Creating the Center for Musical Excellence came at a defining moment for me well into my career. I was asking myself what should I do with this music and [the] opportunities I’ve been given. Playing piano requires so many solitary hours honing skills and practicing. My whole life I wanted to prove I could do this at the highest level, so I trained at the highest level and wanted to play the hardest pieces. But what it finally came down to is, how can I be happy doing this? I realized the answer was helping others. Because I came to America to fulfill a dream with music and had so many guiding lights and people who helped me, I felt I could do the same for others and help mentor young musicians, open doors for them, and support and encourage them.

I attended the best schools and received the finest education, but no one taught me how to find my way once I graduated and actually make a life of this. This is an extremely important tool to give to aspiring artists and musicians. I believe the happier and healthier you are, the better you’re able to communicate through music, as that is your voice. Being a musician is all-consuming and requires physical, emotional, and mental strength. There’s a great quote I heard once that has stuck with me because it is so true: “To be a great musician you need the mind of an architect, the heart of a poet, and the body of an athlete.” So that means all of those aspects of your being must be aligned and healthy. I want to help these young people not only play music at their best but also make sure they are grounded, well-adjusted human beings that feel supported socially.

AM: Tell us a little bit about the America/Beautiful project: how and why you started it, and what future plans you have for it.

MK: The project was born out of the pandemic. My husband is a doctor, and every day I watched him come home from the hospital more depleted than the day before. At the same time my work came to a screeching halt and I was craving human connection. Every day was just Zoom meetings and virtual learning with my two daughters, and a lot of dark news and events. I started thinking there has to be something more helpful I can do as a musician at this extremely difficult time. As a doctor or first responder, you can go out into the world and physically help people. But an artist’s responsibility has always been putting a lens on humanity. I wanted to create something so that my daughters or the next generation reading about this time in America would not just see all the death and destruction and the country in shambles. I wanted to birth something hopeful.

I reached out to nearly 100 composers that I considered to be some of the most powerful, relevant voices of our time. 75 of them were eager to participate (some said no, they couldn’t even imagine America Beautiful at that time), and I asked them each to compose a variation of the classic “America the Beautiful” anthem based on either the tune or the words. Everybody was home and in distress  so this gave them something to focus on and put their creativity to. I asked them to think about what America means at its essence and core. Even though not all the pieces are beautiful, it’s important to express the entire picture so we can see it and learn from it.

These composers come from such diverse backgrounds and range in age from 23 to 93. They represent over 30 different cultures and countries because when their parents or grandparents immigrated to America they brought their traditions and culture with them. It became this powerful snapshot of the time America was in and it helped us to share this experience and process it together. I started jokingly calling this the United Composers of America — in this group were Grammy winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, all of these extremely accomplished people who came together around a common goal. I wanted to symbolize that although we are all very different and there are many of us, we can be one. A Latin phrase became the motto for this project: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Min Kwon with a piano
(Photo by Gail Hadani)

I then performed seven of these composers’ pieces live and/or live streamed at various venues, including at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, beginning on July 4 2021 and continuing at other locations through the summer and fall. Live-stream videos were filmed at such venues as the Catacombs at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts, where the view from the piano overlooked the Atlantic Ocean; and the majestic hills of Somerset Hills, New Jersey. I hope and plan to continue premiering the rest of the pieces for live audiences in 2022 and beyond.

AM: In what ways do you think music, especially classical music, can be uplifting and therapeutic during difficult times?

MK: Although there are so many incredible qualities in other art forms like writing and fine art, I think music can more directly touch people because it’s sonic. The melody and harmony and vibrations are all moving and breathing. A painting is painted once and then it’s static. Music is alive. Even the same piece of music played at a different time can sound and be received differently, which is incredible.

Min Kwon
(Photo by Gail Hadani)

AM: How do you juggle the demands of professional musician, teacher, mentor, and mother? What are some of your go-to wellness or self-care practices?

MK: I make sure I create time and space for myself. And that could mean anything from going to a yoga class or workout to just sitting quietly. The world is full of noise and, especially as a musician, my ears are always perked up to every sound around me. So sometimes just sitting in stillness and silence is the best self-care. I also really enjoy spending quality time with my young daughters, it is very life-affirming for me. They are dancers and they inspire me by the lovely shapes they make and how they move to the music. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

AM: What is the most important lesson or example you hope to one day pass on to your daughters and the artists you mentor?

MK: I want my daughters and young musicians to understand that we all need one another in this life. It’s all about relating, and the more you learn about the other, the better equipped you’ll be. As musicians, we’re trained to really listen — listen to different voices, listen to each other. As a pianist, my left has to relate to the right hand. I think choirs and orchestras are such a beautiful form of musical expression for that reason. They have to harmonize and blend, even if the instruments are different. It goes back to the America/Beautiful theme: out of many, there is one sound. That’s what an orchestra is, and that’s what community and society could be. It is a beautiful thing to “belong,” and I believe music helps us do this in the most magical way.

For more information on Min Kwon, visit,, and

Allison Malafronte is a writer, editor, and artist based in New Jersey. For more information, visit


The Story Behind ‘Joan of Arc’

Anyone who has ever stood in front of Jules Bastien-Lepage’s (1848-1884) monumental “Joan of Arc” painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art likely already knows the mesmerizing impact it can have on viewers. At just over eight feet high and nine feet wide, it’s a towering, ambitious tour de force of narrative painting, with incredible naturalistic detail and one of the most captivating facial expressions ever captured on canvas. The subject is of course the medieval French martyr and patron saint Jeanne d’Arc, who led France to victory against England in 1429 and was later burned at the stake. Although Bastien’s “Joan of Arc” was well-received by the public when it was revealed in 1879, it did solicit some criticism from the powers that be at the Paris Salon. Nevertheless, today “Joan of Arc” stands as one of the finest examples of naturalistic style and European history painting in the canon of art history.  

Jules Bastien-Lepage grew up in the rural province of Lorraine, France, and displayed a penchant for drawing pastoral scenes at an early age. Eventually making his way to the bustling city of Paris to study art at the age of 19, he attended classes at Jean-Léon Gérôme’s French academy, the famed École des Beaux-Arts, built on the methods of the Old Masters. Three years later, Bastien applied for the first time to the Paris Salon, which was considered one of the preeminent exhibitions and competitions in 19th-century Europe, along with the Prix de Rome. He would win his first Paris Salon medal in 1874 for his “Portrait of My Grandfather” which proved to be a turning point in his career.  

After several more successful showings at the Paris Salon but two personally disappointing Prix de Rome results, Bastien had an epiphany. Questioning his academic training, if not downright resenting it, he declared that he was leaving the “heap of formulas” he learned at the École des Beaux-Arts to pursue a more naturalistic and truthful approach to realism. Gravitating toward the work of artists who created honest depictions of everyday life, such as Millet and Courbet, he distanced himself from both classicism and the modern Impressionists, while unknowingly building a bridge from the French Academy to the Barbizon School. 

Acclaimed works created in this manner kept coming—including “The Potato Gatherers”, “Haymakers”, and “Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt”—and at the age of 31 Bastien painted arguably his most famous work. “Joan of Arc” not only captures the stylistic vision he was working toward but also pays homage to a subject close to home. At the time, France had recently been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War (which the artist himself fought in), and creating a sense of national patriotism was paramount. Bastien stepped up with an emblematic reminder of one of the country’s greatest war victories led by Joan of Arc, who was also from the province of Lorraine. Rather than paint her as the victorious Hundred Years’ War heroine in her signature silver armor, or even as the martyr on trial at the end of her life at 19, he decided instead to depict her as a young peasant girl at the promising age of 13. This is when she started to hear voices from above and believed God was calling her to lead France in a victorious battle against the English. 

Bastien painted the young shepherdess standing in her parents’ garden, looking up with pensive, earnest eyes, eager to accept this divine mission and help save her people. Similar to the stories of several Biblical characters — the shepherd boy David standing up to the Philistine giant Goliath; Esther going before King Xerxes asking to set the Jewish people free; the Virgin Mary visited by the angel Gabriel with news that she was carrying the Son of God —Joan of Arc’s life served as a timeless reminder to the French people of how God often chose humble, faithful, courageous people for great purposes.

Just as Joan of Arc’s life was tragically cut short, so too was Bastien’s. He was just 36 when a lingering kidney condition took his life. Although the artist was probably still ascending to his peak, “Joan of Arc” leaves us with a visual summary of all he valued and took pride in as a painter and Frenchman. “I am not afraid of death,” he stated months before his passing. “Dying is nothing — the important thing is to survive oneself, and who can be sure of establishing a claim upon posterity? But there! I am talking nonsense! So long as our work is true, nothing else matters.”

“Joan of Arc” by Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879. Oil on canvas. 100 x 110 in. On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 800. (Public Domain)

Have you ever seen Joan of Arc in person? Want to suggest great works of art for future issues? Leave a comment at

Allison Malafronte is a writer, editor, and artist based in New Jersey.

Composers Arts Classical Music

The Red Priest

Legend has it that composer Antonio Vivaldi was born during an earthquake. For an Italian, he was also remarkable in that he possessed a head of flaming red hair. This rock star of the baroque era, known as the “Red Priest,” would enjoy a meteoric rise, and then fade into obscurity. But this Venetian, a contemporary of Bach and Handel, would eventually go on to surpass their fame—and double their record sales.

While Vivaldi would die in poverty in 1741, he achieved great fame and success during his lifetime. Just like the pop stars of today, those flames seldom burn for very long, and there were no recordings or radio stations back then to carry his name forward. More often than not, there would be just one handwritten manuscript for each work of the great composers, and we are very lucky any survived at all.

Vivaldi wrote some of the most beautiful, passionate, dramatic, and some even said “dangerous” music of the era. He was a virtuoso violinist who played with an almost pyrotechnical fervor.  One tourist pamphlet from that time actually listed him as “one of the great things to see while in Venice.”

In his time, he was a cult figure who lived in a mansion overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal, which is pretty swanky for a musician. In the end, those who could recall his name, a handful of music historians, remembered him as a somewhat eccentric cleric and a freakishly good violinist who, along with his exquisite music—almost 800 works of incomparable beauty—had somehow vanished into the mists of time. This was the baroque era, and who knows what else was lost to that interminable mist. But such it was for the Red Priest, and for almost 200 years, no one spoke his name.

In the autumn of 1926, Alberto Gentili, a music professor at the University of Turin, was sent to the Salesian College of San Carlo to evaluate a collection of music. In a basement vault, Gentili was presented with an enormous library of little-known musical texts. There, the professor discovered 14 volumes of dust-covered compositions bearing the name of Antonio Vivaldi—the Red Priest.

It is almost impossible to imagine today, given Vivaldi’s fame and enormous popularity, that until as late as Gentili’s discovery in 1926, Vivaldi and his incredible work had virtually vanished from history. Gentili was able to deduce, by the numbering conventions on the manuscripts, that there must be more of Vivaldi’s work to be found. Vivaldi had divided his inheritance, but, after much work, Alberto Gentili was able to secure Vivaldi’s remaining works from his various heirs. There are now 27 volumes kept at the National Museum of Turin.

In 1948, we saw the arrival of the LP, or long-playing record. Louis Kaufman, an American violinist who had played on many movie hits, including “Gone With the Wind,” was the first to record Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” in 1947, and it went straight to the top of the classical music charts. Vivaldi had been reborn, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” thus became one of the first-ever “concept” albums, and he actually made notes on the sheet music to indicate his intent, such as, “Summer, chirping birds, including cuckoos and turtle doves and … barking dogs.” Yes, barking dogs. Then come the tempestuous winds of summer storms, all duly notated with heart-stirring arpeggios of such intricate, flurrying beauty that you can almost feel the hot wind on your cheek. And then winter, complete with chattering teeth, stamping feet, and a pizzicato (plucked strings) of falling rain.

Vivaldi is thought to have suffered with asthma; he depicts not only the beauty of summer, but the oppressive heat and the air filled with annoying insects. Those too, are named on the score in detail: bluebottles, mosquitos, and gnats. He wrote a series of sonnets to accompany the musical works, and while the imagery is palpable, it is often somewhat bleak. But his glittering musical technique, stunning harmonic melodies, and pure passion are at once beguiling and intoxicating, often blistering, and absolutely astonishing.

“The Four Seasons” is one of the most played pieces of classical music in the world; it has featured in countless movies and commercials, and thus could be so familiar that one might easily pass it by. But I would implore you to take the time to give it your full attention.

I always recommend finding performances by quintets or small orchestras. It is always so much easier to feel the emotion and hear the detailed ornamentation of the work, and this is maybe truer for Vivaldi. Without the passionate attack of the violins, which is so often lost among a full orchestra, the melodies of the main themes can seem a little sweet; perhaps that’s why they became so popular.

Vivaldi was a virtuoso violinist and composer of uncanny skill who undoubtedly wanted every detail of his expression to be heard, and it is entirely worth letting your ear catch every note. Who would want to miss a single barking dog or annoying bluebottle fly?

“The Four Seasons,” truly an iconic masterpiece, is thrilling and dramatic, and the world is so much richer for its resurgence. It is difficult to fathom that it was written as early as it was, and that it almost faded into oblivion. There is some irony in the fact that it was so ahead of its time.

Vivaldi’s story highlights the somewhat precarious nature of life. That idea, however, exists alongside the notion that great mysteries are actually very real, and that sparkling jewels are still out there in the great hidden treasure trove of our existence, waiting to be discovered.

Pete McGrain is a professional writer/director/composer best known for the film “Ethos,” which stars Woody Harrelson. Currently living in Los Angeles, Pete hails from Dublin, Ireland, where he studied at Trinity College.


Paintings Arts

Socrates and Freedom of Discourse

Occasionally history gifts us an individual compelled by the type of genius that influences our civilization for centuries to come. Socrates, who lived in Athens, Greece approximately 2,500 years ago, was one such individual. What we know about Socrates mostly comes from Plato, one of his students.

Socrates was a controversial figure. Many who talked to Socrates personally could not resist loving and respecting him, but he would come to be hated politically and was eventually condemned to death. Who was Socrates, and how might his life offer us wisdom today?

Socrates, the Wisest

After defeating Persia, Athens became the most powerful city-state in Greece. Led by Pericles, Athens began to excel militarily, politically, and culturally. In a very short period, Athens would create a culture that would be remembered for millennia.

One of the most important features of Athens during this time was the free flow of ideas, encouraged by Pericles, and Athens pursued and embodied an ideal of free speech. Socrates, after serving in the Athenian army, would benefit from this freedom of speech as he would dialogue with some of the greatest thinkers of his time, and would question many Athenian citizens in pursuit of wisdom.

For Socrates, the only thing that mattered was ethical virtue. He believed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and that questions concerning ethical virtue—not preconceived and absolute notions—are the beginning of human wisdom. Socrates presumed that he knew nothing, and this presumption led the Oracle of Delphi to confirm that Socrates was the wisest person in Athens. The Oracle’s declaration prompted Socrates to begin a life of philosophy.

Socrates also credited any wisdom he had in part to his “daimonion”—what Cicero would translate into a “divine something”—who accompanied Socrates since he was a child. Socrates describes his daimonion in Plato’s “Apology” as “a sort of voice that comes to me, and when it comes it always holds me back from what I am thinking of doing, but never urges me forward.” The daimonion served as an ethical guide for Socrates, and always prevented him from acting in ways that might cause harm.

Socrates walked the streets of Athens and engaged its citizens in ethical dialogues featuring questions such as: “What is Freedom?” “What is Justice?” “What is Courage?” Many of these dialogues would end with the interlocutors opposite Socrates having to change their preconceived answers because of Socrates’s line of questioning, which often exposed their lack of wisdom.

Socrates Corrupts the Youth

Many who possessed the leisure to engage with Socrates were young, wealthy men. Alcibiades, the nephew of Pericles, was a promising young man; he was handsome, rich, politically ambitious, and was elected as one of the generals of Athens. Socrates learned of his political ambitions and sought to dialogue with him; Socrates wanted to show Alcibiades that he was not ready to fulfill his ambitions until he deeply considered and reflected upon the essence of justice.

In 1776, French artist François-André Vincent painted Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates. On the right side of the composition, Vincent depicts a middle-aged Socrates accompanied by his daimonion, who waits to prevent Socrates from saying or doing anything harmful. Socrates speaks to Alcibiades, positioned on the left side of the painting. Dressed in an elegant general’s attire, Alcibiades appears to listen to Socrates—he stares directly at Socrates—but his body turns away.

Alcibiades’s shield is hanging on the wall in the background, and his left hand appears to conceal his sword from Socrates. Does Alcibiades move to conceal his sword to indicate his promise to consider justice in achieving his ambitions? Or is his attempt to conceal his sword indicative of his political ambitions absent justice?

Alcibiades did indeed pursue his political ambitions without the deep consideration of justice that Socrates asked of him. He planned to conquer Sicily, but religious statues were mutilated before he set sail, which was considered by the masses to be a bad omen. Alcibiades’s political opponents linked him to these acts of blasphemy and demanded that he stand trial. To avoid this fate, he decided to not return to Athens and instead sided with Sparta, which incurred tremendous damage to Athens.

It wasn’t long before Alcibiades was condemned by the Spartans for having an affair with the Spartan queen. He eventually fled to Persia, and aided them as an enemy of Greece. Before being assassinated in Persia, Alcibiades had fought on three sides of the same war. Alcibiades seemed less concerned about justice and more concerned about what was politically expedient.

Is this why the painting depicts his body turning away from Socrates? Does this body language suggest a lack of full attention from Alcibiades? Socrates would later be blamed for impiety toward the gods of Athens and for corruption of the youth. One of these corrupted youths, though never mentioned by name, was presumed to be Alcibiades. Socrates would be tried and condemned to death for these offenses.

The Trial of Socrates

The Athenians had pride in their ideal of free speech. The abilities to freely express and exchange ideas were paramount to Athenian culture and success. After the small Spartan army defeated Athens, however, many Athenians began to admire the dominant and militant power structure of Sparta.

Socrates was called to trial shortly after the Spartans defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War. He was accused of failing to acknowledge the gods of Athens, introducing new divinities, and, of course, corrupting the youth. His accusers brought up his daimonion, which wasn’t one of the acknowledged gods of Athens, and pointed out that many of the people that attacked Athenian democracy were, at least at one time or another, youths associated with Socrates.

Socrates defended himself, stating that these accusations were untrue. Why did so many Athenians believe them to be true, then? Why did so many Athenians hate him? Socrates made the case that the reason Athenians came to despise him despite his best efforts to serve them was because of the media. The play “Clouds” by Aristophanes, for instance, depicted Socrates as an impious buffoon who corrupted the youth and was not to be taken seriously.

Socrates admitted that he pursued wisdom through inquiry with those who would listen—mostly young, wealthy men who would practice a similar line of inquiry with him in pursuit of wisdom. He argued that this was not corrupting but benefiting the democracy of Athens.

As a democracy, the ruling majority forces its vices as well as virtues upon the citizens. It takes a dedicated few, not the many, to pursue ethical virtue and pass it to the next generation. This, of course, requires questioning the very vices the majority believes to be absolute truth.

Socrates also argued that he was not impious; he had devoted his life in obedience to the god at Delphi and to his daimonion, who ethically guided him throughout his life as he attempted to serve the Athenian public. He wanted others, as well as himself, to come to an ever-deeper understanding of virtue so that Athens could reach its full potential and thrive.

The trial of Socrates was an instance in which an Athenian was prosecuted for the alleged harm indirectly caused by the exchange of ideas—for freely speaking. The people of Athens, who once valued the ideal of free speech, required him to denounce his beliefs or die by way of poison. Socrates chose poison.

The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates was painted in 1787 by the neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825). It depicts the moment in which Socrates, surrounded by his followers and family, is handed a chalice of hemlock to drink—which he willingly accepted since his daimonion did not try to stop him from doing so. Socrates not only accepts the chalice of hemlock, but points to the heavens and discourses on the immortality of the soul before he drinks. He is shown in a white robe and with the musculature of an ideal youth, which suggest his strong and pure character. Of all the figures depicted, he is illuminated most by the light emanating from the top of the composition.

Socrates discussed ideal forms that existed behind the surface forms we see in everyday life. He suggested that there was a greater truth that illuminated all other things, and that this truth was only accessible to those—the “philosopher kings”—who lived their lives in accordance with higher truths.

In the famous “Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s “Republic,” Socrates suggests that reality for us is like being chained in a cave and being made to watch a wall on which shadows are cast by a flame behind us. We all mistake the shadows for the truth of reality, not realizing that the actual truth begins with the flame behind us, and that there is another, truer world beyond this one.

The “philosopher king” becomes the one who frees themselves from the cave and sees the flame as the source of the shadows, and the reality of the world beyond the confines of the prison. The question remains: How many of the previous prison inmates could accept the truth of the cave while still being shackled within?

In the painting, David has depicted Socrates as the philosopher king who escaped the shackles that kept him confined to the shadows of the cave wall; we can see the shackles on the ground. Socrates saw the truth, tried to communicate that truth, and was punished with poison.

In the upper left corner of the composition, there is an oil lamp that has almost run its course; an extinguished oil lamp is often used in art as a symbol of the ephemerality of life and imminent death. David depicted the oil lamp as the only object that casts a shadow upon the wall—which aligns with Socrates’s final discourse, in which he states that the soul is immortal and death is an illusion.

There is also a lyre on the bed next to Socrates, who was often thought of as an exemplar of logic and reason, but he had a recurring dream that encouraged him to make music. He thought the dream was referring to the music of philosophy, and it was only after the trial that he considered that the dream was referring to actual music, and he attempted to learn a melody as he waited to die.

There’s speculation that Socrates’s turn to music at the end of his life suggests that logic and reason are not absolute and can only take us so far in understanding what it means to be human. The complete human experience requires both science and art as well as freedom of discourse in search of the true essence of both.

Eric Bess is a practicing representational artist and a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts (IDSVA).


Classical Music Arts

Ode to Joy – Beethoven Symphony No. 9

Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op.125 – IV. Presto – Allegro Assai

Paintings used in this video:
00:00 Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road
02:45 Thomas Moran, American (born England) – Grand Canyon of the Colorado River
04:13 Thomas Cole, Distant View of Niagara Falls 1830 Thomas Cole
06:13 Frederic Edwin Church – Niagara Falls
09:52 Thomas Moran, Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881, oil on canvas
13:20 Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada, California
19:59 Albert Bierstadt, Rocky Mountains, “Lander’s Peak”

Literature Lifestyle

Our Bookshelf

‘Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson’

Mitch Albom learns to transcend the greed and selfishness of the world through human goodness as he absorbs the life lessons of his favorite professor, Morrie Schwarts, in the weeks before Schwarts dies of ALS.

(Courtesy of Mitch Albom)

‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’

This exemplar of the self-help and personal-productivity genre gives readers timeless advice with universal appeal. Centered around an ethos of the ends are deserved through ethical means, Stephen Covey offers guidance to achieve goals and life success through a focus on character.

(Simon & Schuster)

‘Everything Is Figureoutable’

Marie Forleo, born and raised as a Jersey girl, became a self-made millionaire through hard work, unshakable optimism, and her mantra: “Everything is figureoutable.” Forleo shows you how to face problems with a creative, goal-oriented outlook that can make chasing dreams a practical pursuit.


‘Who Moved My Cheese?’

The key to success in any business is to understand how to manage change. This book uses a distinctive story to understand the ways people react to change and to see the outcomes of the choices they make. Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?” helps you understand how being calm and thinking through things can turn challenges into opportunities.

(Adult Putnam)

‘A Whole New Mind’

“A Whole New Mind” explores the concept of “right brain thinking” and how making use of it can give you a very clear advantage in the workplace. Moving from the information age into the concept age requires being able to go beyond data and facts, and into telling stories that will move people to action. From sales to the classroom, the ability to go beyond the data and tell stories that can move people to agree, make purchases, or learn from those stories will become the competitive advantage in the future.

(Penguin Random House)


A head injury left Jim Kwik “the boy with the broken brain.” School troubles drove him to learn how to learn. Now one of the world’s pre-eminent brain coaches, Kwik shows you that with the right motivation, mindset, and methods, you can make learning your superpower. It’s the difference between a trained and an untrained mind.

(Hay House Inc.)

‘The Power of Meaning’

“Meaning” can sound like such a vast and abstract concept, but the truth is that there are sources of meaning all around us, and Emily Esfahani Smith brings the “four pillars” of meaning to life with stories of people’s lives transformed through dinners, stargazes, community, storytelling, and more. Her uplifting book draws on ancient wisdom and shows how it plays out in our everyday lives.

(Broadway Books)

‘On Reading Well’

This is a book that should be gifted to every student. Each chapter takes on a classic virtue as Karen Swallow Prior recommends 12 classic works and shows why it is not just what you read, but how you read that cultivates virtue. Great literature can be transformative—if you read well.

(Baker Publishing Group)
Arts Classical Music

The Genius of Mozart

As we look back through time, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember the names of the famous. At a certain point in history, we seem only able to recollect the names of a handful of kings or queens. Recalling musicians, you might only make it back as far as The Beatles before memories begin to fade. How many names can you remember before Elvis or Frank Sinatra? What about the 1930’s? And what about 200 years ago?

Once we get back that far, the fog gets really thick. We might be able to remember the names of three or four scientists, and about the same number of writers and painters. But I’ll wager that even the average person will come up with the names of at least two composers: Mozart and Beethoven.

Am I alone in thinking that if someone is still famous after 200 years, they must have done something pretty interesting? The truth is that if people are still talking about your work two centuries later, you must have been some kind of genius. Of all of the great composers, Mozart (1756–1791) was particularly remarkable. His contribution to the art of music is almost beyond measure, and his work can still be heard to this very day. And that is extraordinary.

The Mozart family on tour: Leopold, Wolfgang, and Nannerl. Watercolour by Louis Carrogis dit Carmontelle, ca. 1763. (Public Domain)

It might be fanciful to imagine that without Mozart, you can’t actually get to The Beatles. But we can certainly say that Mozart played an enormous role in laying the groundwork for just about everything that would come after him. If we remove the compositions of Mozart, and the contributions he made to musical structure, harmony, and melody, musical history would be very different. Thankfully, there is an incredible catalogue of recorded music that we can all listen to—all written well before the gramophone was invented.

The idea that there is something stuffy, highbrow, or elitist about classical music is still prevalent, and concerts can seem quite formal; there are certainly no mosh pits. But classical music has its own versions of frivolous pop songs, rock ballads, mischievous innuendos, protest music, and tear-jerkers. Mozart was the master of them all, and arguably invented some of these thematic genres.

It is easy to draw a parallel between the early pop songs of Mozart and The Beatles; they all seem somewhat frivolous and gay. But just as The Beatles did not stop at “Love Me Do,” and matured to write much more complex works like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” so did Mozart. Most experts are completely astonished at how quickly and how far he actually progressed.

Photograph by Bernard Gotfryd of the Beatles performing, 1964. (Public Domain)

But here’s the thing: Just like Mozart, The Beatles’ early works—those catchy little pop songs everyone can whistle—are not actually simple at all. In fact, as any musician will tell you, they only sound simple—until you try to write one. To write great music that simple, it turns out, is a really rare gift.

Mozart’s seemingly endless capacity for writing memorable melodies displays his tremendous genius. Because, just like The Beatles, when you start breaking down those simple-sounding compositions, you begin to notice the changing time signatures and sophisticated harmonies and counterpoints that are not simple at all, but seamlessly executed musical acrobatics. It is this hidden complexity that adds satisfying substance to a composition that might otherwise seem light and full of air.

To illustrate the difficulty of this feat, it is worth noting that the experts of the time thought Mozart’s work was far too complex; he was criticized for being too cerebral, and they said that the “common people” would never be able understand his music. And yet, the common people were thrilled at his work, and he was adored across the whole of Europe. For the experts, this was a complete enigma; it turned out that ordinary people are far more instinctively musical than they believed.

Mozart’s simplest melodies often have complex harmonies moving underneath them. Where the melodies are more complex, he usually kept the underlying structures simple, making the entire piece completely accessible, cohesive, and captivating to the ear. Mastering music at a young age, he was able to take sound—something as complex as Pythagorean mathematics—and make it touch people’s hearts, time and time again.

Further, he is known to have composed complete concertos in just four days, writing the complete musical score for an entire orchestra—upwards of 30 or 40 musicians. We can still see many of his original manuscripts; astonishingly, his drafts are written out from beginning to end without a single revision or correction, and Mozart didn’t make major revisions to these drafts. It is simply impossible to fathom his remarkable musical skill.

Mozart wrote his first compositions at age 5 and was touring and playing for royalty by age 6. He wrote more than 600 compositions, including symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and three famous operas—most of which are considered the pinnacles of their genres—all before his mysterious death at just 35.

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), another famous composer of the time, wrote: “Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years,” and I would say we’re still waiting. But, of course, all of this can seem completely academic without actually spending time listening to Mozart’s music.

“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (“A Little Night Music”) is one of Mozart’s most popular works. From the jaunty opening Allegro to the delicate Romance Andante, it covers just about every possible emotion, and conveys the composer’s mind-blowing ability to combine engaging melodies with a myriad of seemingly effortless and surprising twists and turns that are very pleasing to the ear.

It is completely understandable why it was thought that Antonio Salieri (1750–1825), another composer of that era, murdered Mozart in a jealous, frustrated rage. This is entirely a myth, of course, but it illustrates how unbelievably good Mozart was at his craft.

It is well worth seeking out his works written for string quartet or quintet. Full orchestral performances are wonderful, but the genius of the details is much easier to grasp with just four or five players. It is more proof of Mozart’s genius that even when played by a small group of musicians, his work still really, really rocks.

I recommend tracking down any of the piano pieces performed by either Martha Argerich or Mitsuko Uchida. The second movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 21 will probably be familiar, and is beyond beautiful. And then there are the sonatas; the list is just endless.

Piano Sonata number 4 in E flat Major (k.282) is probably close to the top of my list; the Adagio is sublime. Though it is played just by solo piano, it encompasses a tremendously rich and complex expression of delightful musicality, yet the lilting passages are one of the reasons I hold out hope that God exists.

Life is not simple and is often a struggle, and even for the simplest “common” person, life is complicated. I hear that reality reflected in Mozart’s work. However sweet it can be in one moment, it is never cloying or patronizing, and it is only ever a heartbeat away from tragedy. And yet, in the middle of the tragedy, there will be an Adagio that takes your face in its hands and lifts it up. This is his genius, and the reason why, over 200 years later, we still remember his name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.



The Life of Filippo Brunelleschi, Sculptor and Architect

Many men are created by nature small in person and in features, who have a mind full of such greatness and a heart of such irresistible vehemence, that if they do not begin difficult—nay, almost impossible—undertakings, and bring them to completion to the marvel of all who behold them, they have never any peace in their lives; and whatsoever work chance puts into their hands, however lowly and base it may be, they give it value and nobility. Wherefore no one should turn up his nose when he encounters people who have not, in their aspect, that primal grace or beauty which nature should give, on his coming into the world, to a man who works at any art, seeing that there is no doubt that beneath the clods of the earth are hidden veins of gold. And very often, in those who are most insignificant in form, there are born so great generosity of mind and so great sincerity of heart, that, if nobility be mingled with these, nothing short of the greatest marvels can be looked for from them, for the reason that they strive to embellish the ugliness of the body with the beauty of the intellect; as it is clearly seen in Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, who was no less insignificant in person than Messer Forese da Rabatta and Giotto, but so lofty in intellect that it can be truly said that he was sent to us by Heaven in order to give new form to architecture, which had been out of mind for hundreds of years; for the men of those times had spent much treasure to no purpose, making buildings without order, with bad method, with sorry design, with most strange inventions, with most ungraceful grace, and with even worse ornament. And Heaven ordained, since the earth had been for so many years without any supreme mind or divine spirit, that Filippo should bequeath to the world the[Pg 196] greatest, the most lofty, and the most beautiful building that was ever made in modern times, or even in those of the ancients, proving that the talent of the Tuscan craftsmen, although lost, was not therefore dead. Heaven adorned him, moreover, with the best virtues, among which was that of kindliness, so that no man was ever more benign or more amiable than he. In judgment he was free from passion, and when he saw worth and merit in others he would sacrifice his own advantage and the interest of his friends. He knew himself, he shared the benefit of his own talent with many, and he was ever succouring his neighbour in his necessities. He declared himself a capital enemy of vice, and a friend of those who practised virtue. He never spent his time uselessly, but would labour to meet the needs of others, either by himself or by the agency of other men; and he would visit his friends on foot and ever succour them.

It is said that there was in Florence a man of very good repute, most praiseworthy in his way of life and active in his business, whose name was Ser Brunellesco di Lippo Lapi, who had had a grandfather called Cambio, who was a learned person and the son of a physician very famous in those times, named Maestro Ventura Bacherini. Now Ser Brunellesco, taking to wife a most excellent young woman from the noble family of the Spini, received, as part payment of her dowry, a house wherein he and his sons dwelt to the day of their death. This house stands opposite to one side of S. Michele Berteldi, in a close past the Piazza degli Agli. The while that he was occupying himself thus and living happily, in the year 1398 there was born to him a son, to whom he gave the name Filippo, after his own father, now dead; and he celebrated this birth with the greatest gladness possible. Thereupon he taught him in his childhood, with the utmost attention, the first rudiments of letters, wherein the boy showed himself so ingenious and so lofty in spirit that his brain was often in doubt, as if he did not care to become very perfect in them—nay, it appeared that he directed his thoughts on matters of greater utility—wherefore Ser Brunellesco, who wished him to follow his own vocation of notary, or that of his great-great-grandfather, was very much displeased. But seeing him continually investigating ingenious problems of art and mechanics, he made him learn arithmetic and writing, and[Pg 197] then apprenticed him to the goldsmith’s art with one his friend, to the end that he might learn design. And this gave great satisfaction to Filippo, who, not many years after beginning to learn and to practise that art, could set precious stones better than any old craftsman in that vocation. He occupied himself with niello and with making larger works, such as some figures in silver, whereof two, half-length prophets, are placed at the head of the altar of S. Jacopo in Pistoia; these figures, which are held very beautiful, were wrought by him for the Wardens of Works in that city; and he made works in low-relief, wherein he showed that he had so great knowledge in his vocation that his intellect must needs overstep the bounds of that art. Wherefore, having made acquaintance with certain studious persons, he began to penetrate with his fancy into questions of time, of motion, of weights, and of wheels, and how the latter can be made to revolve, and by what means they can be set in motion; and thus he made some very good and very beautiful clocks with his own hand.

Not content with this, there arose in his mind a very great inclination for sculpture; and this took effect, for Donatello, then a youth, being held an able sculptor and one of great promise, Filippo began to be ever in his company, and the two conceived such great love for each other, by reason of the talents of each, that one appeared unable to live without the other. Whereupon Filippo, who was most capable in various ways, gave attention to many professions, nor had he practised these long before he was held by persons qualified to judge to be a very good architect, as he showed in many works in connection with the fitting up of houses, such as the house of Apollonio Lapi, his kinsman, in the Canto de’ Ciai, towards the Mercato Vecchio, wherein he occupied himself greatly while the other was having it built; and he did the same in the tower and in the house of Petraia, at Castello without Florence. In the Palace that was the habitation of the Signoria, he arranged and distributed all those rooms wherein the officials of the Monte had their office, and he made doors and windows there in the manner copied from the ancient, which was then little used, for architecture was very rude in Tuscany. In Florence, a little later, there was a statue of lime-wood[Pg 198] to be made for the Friars of S. Spirito, representing S. Mary Magdalene in Penitence, to be placed in a chapel; and Filippo, who had wrought many little things in sculpture, desiring to show that he was able to succeed in large works as well, undertook to make the said figure, which, when put into execution and finished, was held something very beautiful; but it was destroyed afterwards, together with many other notable works, in the year 1471, when that church was burnt down.

He gave much attention to perspective, which was then in a very evil plight by reason of many errors that were made therein; and in this he spent much time, until he found by himself a method whereby it might become true and perfect—namely, that of tracing it with the ground-plan and profile and by means of intersecting lines, which was something truly most ingenious and useful to the art of design. In this he took so great delight that he drew with his own hand the Piazza di S. Giovanni, with all the compartments of black and white marble wherewith that church was incrusted, which he foreshortened with singular grace; and he drew, likewise, the building of the Misericordia, with the shops of the Wafer-Makers and the Volta de’ Pecori, and the column of S. Zanobi on the other side. This work, bringing him praise from craftsmen and from all who had judgment in that art, encouraged him so greatly that it was not long before he put his hand to another and drew the Palace, the Piazza, and the Loggia of the Signori, together with the roof of the Pisani and all the buildings that are seen round that Piazza; and these works were the means of arousing the minds of the other craftsmen, who afterwards devoted themselves to this with great zeal. He taught it, in particular, to the painter Masaccio, then a youth and much his friend, who did him credit in this art that Filippo showed him, as it is apparent from the buildings in his works. Nor did he refrain from teaching it even to those who worked in tarsia, which is the art of inlaying coloured woods; and he stimulated them so greatly that he was the source of a good style and of many useful changes that were made in that craft, and of many excellent works wrought both then and afterwards, which have brought fame and profit to Florence for many years.

(After Filippo Brunelleschi. Florence: S. Maria Novella)

View larger image

Now Messer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, returning from his studies,[Pg 199] and chancing one evening to be at supper in a garden with some of his friends, invited Filippo, who, hearing him discourse on the mathematical arts, formed such an intimacy with him that he learnt geometry from Messer Paolo; and although Filippo had no learning, he reasoned so well in every matter with his instinct, sharpened by practice and experience, that he would many times confound him. And so he went on to give attention to the study of the Christian Scriptures, never failing to be present at the disputations and preachings of learned persons, from which he gained so much advantage, by reason of his admirable memory, that the aforesaid Messer Paolo was wont to extol him and to say that in hearing Filippo argue he appeared to be hearing a new S. Paul. He also gave much attention at this time to the works of Dante, which he understood very well with regard to the places described and their proportions, and he would avail himself of them in his conversations, quoting them often in making comparisons. He did naught else with his thoughts but invent and imagine ingenious and difficult things; nor could he ever find an intellect more to his satisfaction than that of Donato, with whom he was ever holding familiar discourse, and they took pleasure in one another and would confer together over the difficulties of their vocation.

Now in those days Donato had finished a Crucifix of wood, which was placed in S. Croce in Florence, below the scene of the child being restored to life by S. Francis, painted by Taddeo Gaddi, and he wished to have the opinion of Filippo about this work; but he repented, for Filippo answered that he had placed a ploughman on the Cross; whence there arose the saying, “Take wood and make one thyself,” as it is related at length in the Life of Donato. Whereupon Filippo, who would never get angry, whatever might be said to him, although he might have reason for anger, stayed in seclusion for many months until he had finished a Crucifix of wood of the same size, so excellent, and wrought with so much art, design, and diligence, that Donato—whom he had sent to his house ahead of himself, as it were to surprise him, for he did not know that Filippo had made such a work—having an apron full of eggs and other things for their common dinner, let it fall as he gazed at the work, beside himself with marvel at the ingenious and masterly[Pg 200] manner that Filippo had shown in the legs, the trunk, and the arms of the said figure, which was so well composed and united together that Donato, besides admitting himself beaten, proclaimed it a miracle. This work is placed to-day in S. Maria Novella, between the Chapel of the Strozzi and that of the Bardi da Vernia, and it is still very greatly extolled by the moderns. Wherefore, the talent of these truly excellent masters being recognized, they received a commission from the Guild of Butchers and from the Guild of Linen-Manufacturers for two figures in marble, to be made for their niches, which are on the outside of Orsanmichele. Having undertaken other work, Filippo left these figures to Donato to make by himself, and Donato executed them to perfection.

(After Lorenzo Ghiberti. Florence: Bargello)

View larger image

After these things, in the year 1401, now that sculpture had risen to so great a height, it was determined to reconstruct the two bronze doors of the Church and Baptistery of S. Giovanni, since, from the death of Andrea Pisano to that day, they had not had any masters capable of executing them. This intention being, therefore, communicated to those sculptors who were then in Tuscany, they were sent for, and each man was given a provision and the space of a year to make one scene; and among those called upon were Filippo and Donato, each of them being required to make one scene by himself, in competition with Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo[17] della Fonte, Simone da Colle, Francesco di Valdambrina, and Niccolò d’Arezzo. These scenes, being finished in the same year and being brought together for comparison, were all most beautiful and different one from the other; one was well designed and badly wrought, as was that of Donato; another was very well designed and diligently wrought, but the composition of the scene, with the gradual diminution of the figures, was not good, as was the case with that of Jacopo della Quercia; a third was poor in invention and in the figures, which was the manner wherein Francesco di Valdambrina had executed his; and the worst of all were those of Niccolò d’Arezzo and Simone da Colle. The best was that of Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti, which had design, diligence, invention, art, and the figures very well wrought. Nor was that of Filippo much inferior, wherein he had represented Abraham sacrificing[Pg 201] Isaac; and in that scene a slave who is drawing a thorn from his foot, while he is awaiting Abraham and the ass is browsing, deserves no little praise.

(After Filippo Brunelleschi. Florence: Bargello)

View larger image

The scenes, then, being exhibited, Filippo and Donato were not satisfied with any save with that of Lorenzo, and they judged him to be better qualified for that work than themselves and the others who had made the other scenes. And so with good reasons they persuaded the Consuls to allot the work to Lorenzo, showing that thus both the public and the private interest would be best served; and this was indeed the true goodness of friendship, excellence without envy, and a sound judgment in the knowledge of their own selves, whereby they deserved more praise than if they had executed the work to perfection. Happy spirits! who, while they were assisting one another, took delight in praising the labours of others. How unhappy are those of our own day, who, not sated with injuring each other, burst with envy while rending others. The Consuls besought Filippo to undertake the work in company with Lorenzo, but he refused, being minded rather to be first in an art of his own than an equal or a second in that work. Wherefore he presented the scene that he had wrought in bronze to Cosimo de’ Medici, who after a time had it placed on the dossal of the altar in the old Sacristy of S. Lorenzo, where it is to be found at present; and that of Donato was placed in the Guild of the Exchange.

The commission being given to Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo and Donato, who were together, resolved to depart from Florence in company and to live for some years in Rome, to the end that Filippo might study architecture and Donato sculpture; and this Filippo did from his desire to be superior both to Lorenzo and to Donato, in proportion as architecture is held to be more necessary for the practical needs of men than sculpture and painting. After he had sold a little farm that he had at Settignano, they departed from Florence and went to Rome, where, seeing the grandeur of the buildings and the perfection of the fabrics of the temples, Filippo would stand in a maze like a man out of his mind. And so, having made arrangements for measuring the cornices and taking the ground-plans of those buildings, he and Donato kept labouring[Pg 202] continually, sparing neither time nor expense. There was no place, either in Rome or in the Campagna without, that they left unvisited, and nothing of the good that they did not measure, if only they could find it. And since Filippo was free from domestic cares, he gave himself over body and soul to his studies, and took no thought for eating or sleeping, being intent on one thing only—namely, architecture, which was now dead (I mean the good ancient Orders, and not the barbarous German, which was much in use in his time). And he had in his mind two vast conceptions, one being to restore to light the good manner of architecture, since he believed that if he could recover it he would leave behind no less a name for himself than Cimabue and Giotto had done; and the other was to find a method, if he could, of raising the Cupola of S. Maria del Fiore in Florence, the difficulties of which were such that after the death of Arnolfo Lapi there had been no one courageous enough to think of raising it without vast expenditure for a wooden framework. Yet he did not impart this his invention to Donato or to any living soul, nor did he rest in Rome till he had considered all the difficulties connected with the Ritonda, wondering how the vaulting was raised. He had noted and drawn all the ancient vaults, and was for ever studying them; and if peradventure they had found pieces of capitals, columns, cornices, and bases of buildings buried underground, they would set to work and have them dug out, in order to examine them thoroughly. Wherefore a rumour spread through Rome, as they passed through the streets, going about carelessly dressed, so that they were called the “treasure-seekers,” people believing that they were persons who studied geomancy in order to discover treasure; and this was because they had one day found an ancient earthenware vase full of medals. Filippo ran short of money and contrived to make this good by setting jewels of price for certain goldsmiths who were his friends; and thus he was left alone in Rome, for Donato returned to Florence, while he, with greater industry and labour than before, was for ever investigating the ruins of those buildings. Nor did he rest until he had drawn every sort of building—round, square, and octagonal temples, basilicas, aqueducts, baths, arches, colossea, amphitheatres, and every temple[Pg 203] built of bricks, from which he copied the methods of binding and of clamping with ties, and also of encircling vaults with them; and he noted the ways of making buildings secure by binding the stones together, by iron bars, and by dove-tailing; and, discovering a hole hollowed out under the middle of each great stone, he found that this was meant to hold the iron instrument, which is called by us the ulivella,[18] wherewith the stones are drawn up; and this he reintroduced and brought into use afterwards. He then distinguished the different Orders one from another—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian; and so zealous was his study that his intellect became very well able to see Rome, in imagination, as she was when she was not in ruins. In the year 1407 the air of that city gave Filippo a slight indisposition, wherefore, being advised by his friends to try a change of air, he returned to Florence. There many buildings had suffered by reason of his absence; and for these, on his arrival, he gave many designs and much advice.

In the same year a congress of architects and engineers of the country was summoned by the Wardens of Works of S. Maria del Fiore and by the Consuls of the Guild of Wool, to discuss methods for raising the cupola. Among these appeared Filippo, giving it as his advice that it was necessary, not to raise the fabric directly from the roof according to the design of Arnolfo, but to make a frieze fifteen braccia in height, with a large round window in the middle of each of its sides, since not only would this take the weight off the supports of the tribunes, but it would become easier to raise the cupola; and models were made in this way, and were put into execution. Filippo, being restored to health after some months, was standing one morning in the Piazza di S. Maria del Fiore with Donato and other craftsmen, when they began to talk of antiquities in connection with sculpture, and Donato related how, when he was returning from Rome, he had made the journey through Orvieto, in order to see that marble façade of the Duomo, a work greatly celebrated, wrought by the hands of diverse masters and held to be something notable in those times; and how, in passing afterwards by Cortona, he entered the Pieve and saw a very beautiful ancient sarcophagus,[Pg 204] whereon there was a scene in marble—a rare thing then, when there had not been unearthed that abundance which has been found in our own day. And as Donato went on to describe the method that the master of that work had used in its execution, and the finish that was to be seen therein, together with the perfection and the excellence of the workmanship, Filippo became fired with an ardent desire to see it, and went off on foot just as he was, in his mantle, cap, and wooden shoes, without saying where he was going, and allowed himself to be carried to Cortona by the devotion and love that he bore to art. And having seen the sarcophagus, and being pleased with it, he made a drawing of it with the pen, and returned with that to Florence, without Donato or any other person knowing that he had been away, for they thought he must have been drawing or inventing something.

Having thus returned to Florence, he showed him the drawing of the sarcophagus, which he had made with great patience, whereat Donato marvelled not a little, seeing how much love Filippo bore to art. After this he stayed many months in Florence, where he kept making models and machines in secret, all for the work of the cupola, exchanging jokes the while with his fellow-craftsmen—for it was then that he played the jest of “the Fat Man and Matteo”—and going very often, for recreation, to assist Lorenzo Ghiberti in polishing some part of his doors. But hearing that there was some talk of providing engineers for the raising of the cupola, and being taken one morning with the idea of returning to Rome, he went there, thinking that he would be in greater repute and would be more sought for from abroad than he would be if he stayed in Florence. When he was in Rome, therefore, the work came to be considered, and so, too, the great acuteness of his intellect, for he had shown in his discourse such confidence and such courage as had not been found in the other masters, who, together with the builders, were standing paralyzed and helpless, thinking that no way of raising the cupola could ever be found, nor beams to make a bridge strong enough to sustain the framework and the weight of so great an edifice; and having determined to make an end of the matter, they wrote to Filippo in Rome, praying him to come to Florence. He, desiring nothing better,[Pg 205] returned with great readiness; and the Wardens of Works of S. Maria del Fiore and the Consuls of the Guild of Wool, assembling on his arrival, explained to Filippo all the difficulties, from the greatest to the smallest, which were being raised by the masters, who were in his presence at the audience together with them. Whereupon Filippo spoke these words: “My Lords the Wardens, there is no doubt that great enterprises ever present difficulties in their execution, and if any ever did so, this of yours presents them, and even greater than perchance you are aware of, for the reason that I do not know whether even the ancients ever raised a vault so tremendous as this will be; and although I have often pondered over the framework necessary both within and without, and how it may be possible to work at it securely, I have never been able to come to any resolution, and I am aghast no less at the breadth than at the height of the edifice, for the reason that, if it could be made round, we might use the method used by the Romans in raising the dome over the Pantheon in Rome, that is, the Ritonda, whereas here we must follow the eight sides, and bind the stones together with ties and by dove-tailing them, which will be something very difficult. But remembering that this is a temple consecrated to God and to the Virgin, I am confident, since this is being done in memory of her, that she will not fail to infuse knowledge where it is lacking, and to give strength, wisdom, and genius to him who is to be the author of such a work. But how can I help you in this matter, since the task is not mine? I tell you, indeed, that if the work fell to me, I would have resolution and courage enough to find the method whereby the vault might be raised without so many difficulties; but as yet I have given no thought to it, and you would have me tell you the method! And when at last your Lordships determine to have it raised, you will be forced not only to make trial of me, for I do not think myself able to be the sole adviser in so great a matter, but also to spend money and to ordain that within a year and on a fixed day many architects shall come to Florence, not merely Tuscans and Italians, but Germans, French, and of every other nation; and to propose this work to them, to the end that, after discussing and deciding among so many masters, it may be begun, being entrusted to him who shall give the most direct[Pg 206] proof of ability or possess the best method and judgment for such an undertaking. Nor could I give you other counsel or a better plan than this.”

The plan and the counsel of Filippo pleased the Consuls and the Wardens of Works, but they would have liked him in the meanwhile to have made a model and to have given thought to the matter. But he showed that he cared nothing for it; nay, taking leave of them, he said that he had received letters soliciting him to return to Rome. Whereupon the Consuls, perceiving that their prayers and those of the Wardens did not avail to detain him, caused many of his friends to entreat him; but Filippo would not give way, and one morning (on May 26, 1417) the Wardens decreed him a present of money, which is found entered to the credit of Filippo in the books of the Office of Works; and all this was to conciliate him. But he, steadfast in his resolution, took his departure none the less from Florence and returned to Rome, where he studied continuously for that undertaking, making arrangements and preparing himself for the completion of the work, thinking, as was true, that no other than himself could carry it out. And as for his counsel that new architects should be summoned, Filippo had advanced it for no other reason but that they might serve to prove the greatness of his own intellect, and not because he thought that they would be able to vault that tribune or to undertake such a charge, which was too difficult for them. And thus much time was consumed before those architects arrived from their countries, whom they had caused to be summoned from afar by means of orders given to Florentine merchants who dwelt in France, in Germany, in England, and in Spain, and who were commissioned to spend any sum of money, if only they could obtain the most experienced and able intellects that there were in those regions from the Princes of those countries, and send them to Florence.

By the year 1420, all these ultramontane masters were finally assembled in Florence, and likewise those of Tuscany and all the ingenious craftsmen of design in Florence; and so Filippo returned from Rome. They all assembled, therefore, in the Office of Works of S. Maria del Fiore, in the presence of the Consuls and of the Wardens, together with a select[Pg 207] body of the most ingenious citizens, to the end that these might hear the mind of each master on the question and might decide on a method of vaulting this tribune. Having called them, then, into the audience, they heard the minds of all, one by one, and the plan that each architect had devised for that work. And a fine thing it was to hear their strange and diverse opinions about the matter, for the reason that some said that piers must be built up from the level of the ground, which should have the arches turned upon them and should uphold the wooden bridges for sustaining the weight; others said that it was best to make the cupola of sponge-stone, to the end that the weight might be less; and many were agreed that a pier should be built in the centre, and that the cupola should be raised in the shape of a pavilion, like that of S. Giovanni in Florence. Nor were there wanting men who said that it would have been a good thing to fill it with earth mingled with small coins, to the end that, when it had been raised, anyone who wanted some of that earth might be given leave to go and fetch it, and thus the people would carry it away in a moment without any expense. Filippo alone said that it could be raised without so much wood-work, without piers, without earth, without so great expenditure on so many arches, and very easily without any framework.

It appeared to the Consuls, who were expecting to hear of some beautiful method, and to the Wardens of Works and to all those citizens, that Filippo had talked like a fool; and deriding him with mocking laughter, they turned away, bidding him talk of something else, seeing that this was the plan of a madman, as he was. Whereupon Filippo, feeling himself affronted, answered: “My Lords, rest assured that it is not possible to raise the cupola in any other manner than this; and although you laugh at me, you will recognize, unless you mean to be obstinate, that it neither must nor can be done in any other way. And it is necessary, if you wish to erect it in the way that I have thought of, that it should be turned with the curve of a quarter-acute arch, and made double, one vault within, and the other without, in such wise that a man may be able to walk between the one and the other. And over the corners of the angles of the eight sides the fabric must be bound together[Pg 208] through its thickness by dove-tailing the stones, and its sides, likewise, must be girt round with oaken ties. And it is necessary to think of the lights, the staircases, and the conduits whereby the rain-water may be able to run off; and not one of you has remembered that you must provide for the raising of scaffoldings within, when the mosaics come to be made, together with an infinite number of difficulties. But I, who see the vaulting raised, know that there is no other method and no other way of raising it than this that I am describing.” And growing heated as he spoke, the more he sought to expound his conception, to the end that they might understand it and believe in it, the greater grew their doubts about his proposal, so that they believed in him less and less, and held him to be an ass and a babbler. Whereupon, having been dismissed several times and finally refusing to go, he was carried away bodily from the audience by their servants, being thought to be wholly mad; and this affront was the reason that Filippo could afterwards say that he did not dare to pass through any part of the city, for fear lest someone might say: “There goes that madman.”

The Consuls remained in the Audience Chamber all confused, both by the difficult methods of the original masters and by this last method of Filippo’s, which they thought absurd, for it appeared to them that he would ruin the work in two ways: first, by making the vaulting double, which would have made it enormous and unwieldy in weight; and secondly, by making it without a framework. On the other hand, Filippo, who had spent so many years in study in order to obtain the commission, knew not what to do and was often tempted to leave Florence. However, wishing to prevail, he was forced to arm himself with patience, having insight enough to know that the brains of the men of that city did not abide very firmly by any one resolution. Filippo could have shown a little model that he had in his possession, but he did not wish to show it, having recognized the small intelligence of the Consuls, the envy of the craftsmen, and the instability of the citizens, who favoured now one and now another, according as it pleased each man best; and I do not marvel at this, since every man in that city professes to know as much in these matters as the experienced masters know, although those who truly[Pg 209] understand them are but few; and let this be said without offence to those who have the knowledge. What Filippo, therefore, had not been able to achieve before the tribunal, he began to effect with individuals, talking now to a Consul, now to a Warden, and likewise to many citizens; and showing them part of his design, he induced them to determine to allot this work either to him or to one of the foreigners. Wherefore the Consuls, the Wardens of Works, and those citizens, regaining courage, assembled together, and the architects disputed concerning this matter, but all were overcome and conquered by Filippo with many arguments; and here, so it is said, there arose the dispute about the egg, in the following manner. They would have liked Filippo to speak his mind in detail, and to show his model, as they had shown theirs; but this he refused to do, proposing instead to those masters, both the foreign and the native, that whosoever could make an egg stand upright on a flat piece of marble should build the cupola, since thus each man’s intellect would be discerned. Taking an egg, therefore, all those masters sought to make it stand upright, but not one could find the way. Whereupon Filippo, being told to make it stand, took it graciously, and, giving one end of it a blow on the flat piece of marble, made it stand upright. The craftsmen protested that they could have done the same; but Filippo answered, laughing, that they could also have raised the cupola, if they had seen the model or the design. And so it was resolved that he should be commissioned to carry out this work, and he was told that he must give fuller information about it to the Consuls and the Wardens of Works.

Going to his house, therefore, he wrote down his mind on a sheet of paper as clearly as he was able, to give to the tribunal, in the following manner: “Having considered the difficulties of this structure, Magnificent Lords Wardens, I find that it is in no way possible to raise the cupola perfectly round, seeing that the surface above, where the lantern is to go, would be so great that the laying of any weight thereupon would soon destroy it. Now it appears to me that those architects who have no regard for the durability of their structures, have no love of lasting memorials, and do not even know why they are made. Wherefore I have determined to turn the inner part of this vault in pointed sections,[Pg 210] following the outer sides, and to give to these the proportion and the curve of the quarter-acute arch, for the reason that this curve, when turned, ever pushes upwards, so that, when it is loaded with the lantern, both will unite to make the vaulting durable. At the base it must be three braccia and three quarters in thickness, and it must rise pyramidically, narrowing from without, until it closes at the point where the lantern is to be; and at this junction the vaulting must be one braccio and a quarter in thickness. Then on the outer side there must be another vault, which must be two braccia and a half thick at the base, in order to protect the inner one from the rain. This one must also diminish pyramidically in due proportion, so that it may come together at the foot of the lantern, like the other, in such wise that at the summit it may be two-thirds of a braccio in thickness. At each angle there must be a buttress, making eight in all: and in the middle of every side there must be two buttresses, making sixteen in all: and between the said angles, on every side, both within and without, there must be two buttresses, each four braccia thick at the base. The two said vaults, built in the form of a pyramid, must rise together in equal proportion up to the height of the round window closed by the lantern. There must then be made twenty-four buttresses with the said vaults built round them, and six arches of grey-stone blocks, stout and long, and well braced with irons, which must be covered with tin; and over the said blocks there must be iron ties, binding the said vaulting to its buttresses. The first part of the masonry, up to the height of five braccia and a quarter, must be solid, leaving no vacant space, and then the buttresses must be continued and the two vaults separated. The first and second courses at the base must be strengthened throughout with long blocks of grey-stone laid horizontally across them, in such wise that both vaults of the cupola may rest on the said blocks. At the height of every nine braccia in the said vaults there must be little arches between one buttress and another, with thick ties of oak, to bind together the said buttresses, which support the inner vault; and then the said ties of oak must be covered with plates of iron, for the sake of the staircases. The buttresses must be all built of grey-stone and hard-stone, and all the sides of the cupola must be likewise of hard-stone[Pg 211] and bound with the buttresses up to the height of twenty-four braccia; and from there to the top the material must be brick, or rather, spongestone, according to the decision of the builder, who must make the work as light as he is able. A passage must be made on the outside above the windows, forming a gallery below, with an open parapet two braccia in height, proportionately to those of the little tribunes below; or rather, two passages, one above the other, resting on a richly adorned cornice, with the upper passage uncovered. The rain water must flow from the cupola into a gutter of marble, a third of a braccio wide, and must run off through outlets made of hard-stone below the gutter. Eight ribs of marble must be made at the angles in the outer surface of the cupola, of such thickness as may be required, rising one braccio above the cupola, with a cornice above by way of roof, two braccia wide, to serve as gable and eaves to the whole; and these ribs must rise pyramidically from their base up to the summit. The two vaults of the cupola must be built in the manner described above, without framework, up to the height of thirty braccia, and from that point upwards in the manner recommended by those masters who will have the building of them, since practice teaches us what course to pursue.”

Filippo, having finished writing all that is above, went in the morning to the tribunal and gave them that paper, which they studied from end to end. And although they could not grasp it all, yet, seeing the readiness of Filippo’s mind, and perceiving that not one of the other architects had better ground to stand on—for he showed a manifest confidence in his speech, ever repeating the same thing in such wise that it appeared certain that he had raised ten cupolas—the Consuls, drawing aside, were minded to give him the work, saying only that they would have liked to see something to show how this cupola could be raised without framework, for they approved of everything else. To this desire fortune was favourable, for Bartolommeo Barbadori having previously resolved to have a chapel built in S. Felicita and having spoken of this to Filippo, the latter had put his hand to the work and had caused that chapel to be vaulted without framework, at the right hand of the entrance into the church, where the holy-water basin is, also made by his hand. In[Pg 212] those days, likewise, he caused another to be vaulted beside the Chapel of the High Altar in S. Jacopo sopra Arno, for Stiatta Ridolfi; and these works were the means of bringing him more credit than his words. And so the Consuls and the Wardens of Works, being assured by the writing and by the work that they had seen, gave him the commission for the cupola, making him principal superintendent by the vote with the beans. But they did not contract with him for more than twelve braccia of the whole height, saying to him that they wished to see how the work succeeded, and that if it succeeded as well as he promised they would not fail to commission him to do the rest. It appeared a strange thing to Filippo to see so great obstinacy and distrust in the Consuls and Wardens, and, if it had not been that he knew himself to be the only man capable of executing the work, he would not have put his hand to it. However, desiring to gain the glory of its construction, he undertook it, and pledged himself to bring it to perfect completion. His written statement was copied into a book wherein the provveditore kept the accounts of the debtors and creditors for wood and marble, together with the aforesaid pledge; and they undertook to make him the same allowance of money as they had given up to then to the other superintendents.

The commission given to Filippo becoming known among the craftsmen and the citizens, some thought well of it and others ill, as it has ever been the case with the opinions of the populace, of the thoughtless, and of the envious. The while that the preparations for beginning to build were being made, a faction was formed among craftsmen and citizens, and they appeared before the Consuls and the Wardens, saying that there had been too much haste in the matter, and that such a work as this should not be carried out by the counsel of one man alone; that they might be pardoned for this if they had been suffering from a dearth of excellent masters, whereas they had them in abundance; and that it was not likely to do credit to the city, because, if some accident were to happen, as is wont to come to pass sometimes in buildings, they might be blamed, as persons who had laid too great a charge on one man, without considering the loss and the shame that might result to the[Pg 213] public interest; wherefore it would be well to give Filippo a companion, in order to restrain his rashness.

Now Lorenzo Ghiberti had come into great repute, by reason of having formerly given proof of his genius in the doors of S. Giovanni; and that he was beloved by certain men who were very powerful in the Government was proved clearly enough, since, seeing the glory of Filippo waxing so great, they wrought on the Consuls and the Wardens so strongly, under the pretext of love and affection towards that building, that he was united to Filippo as his colleague in the work. How great were the despair and the bitterness of Filippo, on hearing what the Wardens had done, may be seen from this, that he was minded to fly from Florence; and if it had not been for Donato and Luca della Robbia, who comforted him, he would have lost his reason. Truly impious and cruel is the rage of those who, blinded by envy, put into peril the honours and the beautiful works of others in their jealous emulation! It was no fault of theirs, in truth, that Filippo did not break his models into pieces, burn his designs, and throw away in less than half an hour all that labour which had occupied him for so many years. The Wardens at first made excuses to Filippo and exhorted him to proceed, saying that he himself and no other was the inventor and the creator of so noble a building; but at the same time they gave the same salary to Lorenzo as to Filippo. The work was pursued with little willingness on the part of Filippo, who saw that he must endure the labours that it entailed, and must then divide the honour and the fame equally with Lorenzo. Making up his mind, however, that he would find means to prevent Lorenzo from continuing very long in the work, he went on pursuing it in company with him, in the manner suggested by the writing given to the Wardens. Meanwhile, there arose in the mind of Filippo the idea of making such a model as had not yet been made; wherefore, having put his hand to this, he had it wrought by one Bartolommeo, a carpenter, who lived near the Studio. In this model, which had all the exact proportions measured to scale, he made all the difficult parts, such as staircases both lighted and dark, and every sort of window, door, tie, and buttress, together with a part of the gallery.[Pg 214] Lorenzo, hearing of this, wished to see it, but Filippo refused to let him, whereupon he flew into a rage and ordered another model to be made for himself, to the end that he might not appear to be drawing his salary for nothing and to be of no account in the work. With regard to these models, Filippo was paid fifty lire and fifteen soldi for his, as we see from an order in the book of Migliore di Tommaso, dated October 3, 1419, whereas three hundred lire are entered as paid to Lorenzo Ghiberti for the labour and expense of his model, more in consequence of the friendship and favour that he enjoyed than of any profit or need that the building had of it.

This torment lasted before the eyes of Filippo until 1426, the friends of Lorenzo calling him the inventor equally with Filippo; and this annoyance disturbed the mind of Filippo so greatly that he was living in the utmost restlessness. Now, having thought of various new devices, he determined to rid himself entirely of Lorenzo, recognizing that he was of little account in the work. Filippo had already raised the cupola right round, what with the one vault and the other, to the height of twelve braccia, and he had now to place upon them the ties both of stone and of wood; and as this was a difficult matter, he wished to discuss it with Lorenzo, in order to see if he had considered this difficulty. And he found Lorenzo so far from having thought of such a matter, that he replied that he referred it to Filippo as the inventor. Lorenzo’s answer pleased Filippo, since it appeared to him that this was the way to get him removed from the work, and to prove that he did not possess that intelligence which was claimed for him by his friends, and to expose the favour that had placed him in that position. Now the masons engaged on the work were at a standstill, waiting to be told to begin the part above the twelve braccia, and to make the vaults and bind them with ties. Having begun the drawing in of the cupola towards the top, it was necessary for them to make the scaffoldings, to the end that the masons and their labourers might be able to work without danger, seeing that the height was such that merely looking down brought fear and terror into the stoutest heart. The masons and the other master-builders were standing waiting for directions as to the ties and the scaffoldings;[Pg 215] and since no decision was made either by Lorenzo or by Filippo, there arose a murmuring among the masons and the other master-builders, who saw no signs of the solicitude that had been shown before; and because, being poor people, they lived by the work of their hands, and suspected that neither one nor the other of the architects had enough courage to carry the work any further, they went about the building occupying themselves, to the best of their knowledge and power, with filling up and finishing all that had as yet been built.

One morning Filippo did not appear at the work, but bound up his head and went to bed, and caused plates and cloths to be heated with great solicitude, groaning continually and pretending to be suffering from colic. The master-builders, who were standing waiting for orders as to what they were to do, on hearing this, asked Lorenzo what they were to go on with: but he replied that it was for Filippo to give orders, and that they must wait for him. There was one who said, “What, dost thou not know his mind?” “Yes,” answered Lorenzo, “but I would do nothing without him”; and this he said to excuse himself, because, not having seen the model of Filippo, and having never asked him what method he intended to follow, he would never commit himself in talking of the matter, in order not to appear ignorant, and would always make a double-edged answer, the more so as he knew that he was employed in the work against the will of Filippo. The illness of the latter having already lasted for more than two days, the provveditore and many of the master-masons went to see him and asked him repeatedly to tell them what they were to do. And he replied, “You have Lorenzo, let him do something”; nor could they get another word out of him. Whereupon, this becoming known, there arose discussions and very adverse judgments with regard to the work: some saying that Filippo had gone to bed in his vexation at finding that he had not the courage to raise the cupola, and that he was repenting of having meddled with the matter; while his friends defended him, saying that his anger, if anger it was, came from the outrage of having been given Lorenzo as colleague, but that his real trouble was colic, caused by fatiguing himself overmuch at the work. Now, while this noise was going on, the building[Pg 216] was at a standstill, and almost all the work of the masons and stone-cutters was suspended; and they murmured against Lorenzo, saying, “He is good enough at drawing the salary, but as for directing the work, not a bit of it! If we had not Filippo, or if he were ill for long, what would the other do? Is it Filippo’s fault that he is ill?” The Wardens of Works, seeing themselves disgraced by this state of things, determined to go and find Filippo; and after arriving and sympathizing with him first about his illness, they told him in how great confusion the building stood and what troubles his illness had brought upon them. Whereupon Filippo, speaking with great heat both under the cloak of illness and from love of the work, replied, “Is not that Lorenzo there? Can he do nothing? And I marvel at you as well.” Then the Wardens answered, “He will do naught without thee”; and Filippo retorted, “But I could do well without him.” This retort, so acute and double-edged, was enough for them, and they went their way, convinced that Filippo was ill from nothing but the desire to work alone. They sent his friends, therefore, to get him out of bed, with the intention of removing Lorenzo from the work. Wherefore Filippo returned to the building, but, seeing that Lorenzo was still strongly favoured and that he would have his salary without any labour whatsoever, he thought of another method whereby he might disgrace him and demonstrate conclusively his little knowledge in that profession; and he made the following discourse to the Wardens in the presence of Lorenzo: “My Lords the Wardens of Works, if the time that is lent to us to live were as surely ours as the certainty of dying, there is no doubt whatsoever that many things which are begun would be completed instead of remaining unfinished. The accident of this sickness from which I have suffered might have cut short my life and put a stop to the work; wherefore I have thought of a plan whereby, if I should ever fall sick again, or Lorenzo, which God forbid, one or the other may be able to pursue his part of the work. Even as your Lordships have divided the salary between us, let the work also be divided, to the end that each of us, being spurred to show his knowledge, may be confident of acquiring honour and profit from our Republic. Now there are two most difficult things which have to be put into execution at the present[Pg 217] time: one is the making of the scaffoldings to enable the masons to do their work, which have to be used both within and without the building, where they must support men, stones, and lime, and sustain the crane for lifting weights, with other instruments of that kind; the other is the chain of ties which has to be placed above the twelve braccia, surrounding and binding together the eight sides of the cupola, and clamping the fabric together, so that it may bind and secure all the weight that is laid above, in such a manner that the weight may not force it out or stretch it, and that the whole structure may rest firmly on its own basis. Let Lorenzo, then, take one of these two works, whichever he may think himself best able to execute; and I will undertake to accomplish the other without difficulty, to the end that no more time may be lost.” Hearing this, Lorenzo was forced for the sake of his honour to accept one of these tasks, and, although he did it very unwillingly, he resolved to take the chain of ties, as being the easier, relying on the advice of the masons and on the remembrance that in the vaulting of S. Giovanni in Florence there was a chain of stone ties, wherefrom he might take a part of the design, if not the whole. And so one put his hand to the scaffoldings and the other to the ties, and each carried out his work. The scaffoldings of Filippo were made with so great ingenuity and industry, that the very opposite opinion was held in this matter to that which many had previously conceived, for the builders stood on them, working and drawing up weights, as securely as if they had been on the surface of the ground; and the models of the said scaffoldings were preserved in the Office of Works. Lorenzo had the chain of ties made on one of the eight sides with the greatest difficulty; and when it was finished, the Wardens caused Filippo to look at it. To them he said nothing, but he discoursed thereon with some of his friends, saying that it was necessary to have some form of fastening different from that one, and to apply it in a better manner than had been done, and that it was not strong enough to withstand the weight that was to be laid above, for it did not bind the masonry together firmly enough; adding that the supplies given to Lorenzo, as well as the chain that he had caused to be made, had been simply thrown away. The opinion of Filippo became known, and he[Pg 218] was charged to show what was the best way of making such a chain. Whereupon, having already made designs and models, he immediately showed them, and when they had been seen by the Wardens and the other masters, it was recognized into what great error they had fallen by favouring Lorenzo; and wishing to atone for this error and to show that they knew what was good, they made Filippo overseer and superintendent of the whole fabric for life, saying that nothing should be done in that work without his command. And as a proof of approbation they gave him one hundred florins, decreed by the Consuls and Wardens under date of August 13, 1423, by the hand of Lorenzo Paoli, notary to the Office of Works, and under the name of Gherardo di Messer Filippo Corsini; and they voted him an allowance of one hundred florins a year as a provision for life. Wherefore, giving orders for the building to be pushed on, he pursued it with such scrupulous care and so great attention, that not a stone could be put into place without his having wished to see it. Lorenzo, on the other hand, finding himself vanquished, and, as it were, put to shame, was favoured and assisted by his friends so powerfully that he went on drawing his salary, claiming that he could not be dismissed until three years had passed.

(After Filippo Brunelleschi. Florence)

View larger image

Filippo was for ever making, on the slightest occasion, designs and models of stages for the builders and of machines for lifting weights. But this did not prevent certain malicious persons, friends of Lorenzo, from putting Filippo into despair by spending their whole time in making models in opposition to his, insomuch that some were made by one Maestro Antonio da Verzelli and other favoured masters, and were brought into notice now by one citizen and now by another, demonstrating their inconstancy, their little knowledge, and their even smaller understanding, since, having perfection in their grasp, they brought forward the imperfect and the useless.

The ties were now finished right round the eight sides, and the masons, being encouraged, were labouring valiantly; but being pressed more than usual by Filippo, and resenting certain reprimands received with regard to the building and other things that were happening every day, they had conceived a grievance against him. Wherefore, moved by this[Pg 219] and by envy, the foremen leagued themselves together into a faction and declared that the work was laborious and dangerous, and that they would not build the cupola without great payment—although their pay had been raised higher than usual—thinking in this way to take vengeance on Filippo and to gain profit for themselves. This affair displeased the Wardens and also Filippo, who, having pondered over it, made up his mind one Saturday evening to dismiss them all. They, seeing themselves dismissed and not knowing how the matter would end, were very evilly disposed; but on the following Monday Filippo set ten Lombards to work, and by standing ever over them and saying, “Do this here,” and, “Do that there,” he taught them so much in one day that they worked there for many weeks. The masons, on the other hand, seeing themselves dismissed, deprived of their work, and thus disgraced, and having no work as profitable as this, sent mediators to Filippo, saying that they would willingly return, and recommending themselves to him as much as they were able. Filippo kept them for many days in suspense as to his willingness to take them back; then he reinstated them at lower wages than they had before; and thus where they thought to gain they lost, and in taking vengeance on Filippo they brought harm and disgrace on themselves.

The murmurings were now silenced, and meanwhile, on seeing that building being raised so readily, men had come to recognize the genius of Filippo; and it was already held by those who were not prejudiced that he had shown such courage as perchance no ancient or modern architect had shown in his works. This came to pass because he brought out his model, wherein all could see how much thought he had given to the planning of the staircases and of the lights both within and without, in order that no one might be injured in the darkness by reason of fear, and how many diverse balusters of iron he had placed where the ascent was steep, for the staircases, arranging them with much consideration. Besides this, he had even thought of the irons for fixing scaffoldings within, in case mosaics or paintings had ever to be wrought there; and in like manner, by placing the different kinds of water-conduits, some covered and some uncovered, in the least dangerous positions, and by duly accompanying these with holes and diverse apertures, to the end[Pg 220] that the force of the winds might be broken and that neither exhalations nor the tremblings of the earth might be able to do any harm, he showed how great assistance he had received from his studies during the many years that he stayed in Rome. And in addition, when men considered what he had done in the way of dove-tailing, joining, fixing, and binding together the stones, it made them marvel and tremble to think that one single mind should have been capable of all that the mind of Filippo had proved itself able to execute. So greatly did his powers continue to increase that there was nothing, however difficult and formidable, that he did not render easy and simple; and this he showed in the lifting of weights by means of counterweights and wheels, so that one ox could raise what six pairs could scarcely have raised before.

The building had now risen to such a height that it was a very great inconvenience for anyone who had climbed to the top to descend to the ground, and the builders lost much time in going to eat and drink, and suffered great discomfort in the heat of the day. Filippo therefore made arrangements for eating-houses with kitchens to be opened on the cupola, and for wine to be sold there, so that no one had to leave his labour until the evening, which was convenient for the men and very advantageous for the work. Seeing the work making great progress and succeeding so happily, Filippo had grown so greatly in courage that he was continually labouring, going in person to the furnaces where the bricks were being shaped and demanding to see the clay and to feel its consistency, and insisting on selecting them with his own hand when baked, with the greatest diligence. When the stonecutters were working at the stones, he would look at them to see if they showed flaws and if they were hard, and he would give the men models in wood or wax, or[19] made simply out of turnips; and he would also make iron tools for the smiths. He invented hinges with heads, and hinge-hooks, and he did much to facilitate architecture, which was certainly brought by him to a perfection such as it probably had never enjoyed among the Tuscans.

In the year 1423 the greatest possible happiness and rejoicing were[Pg 221] prevailing in Florence, when Filippo was chosen as one of the Signori for the quarter of San Giovanni, for May and June, Lapo Niccolini being chosen as Gonfalonier of Justice for the quarter of Santa Croce. And if he is found registered in the Priorista as “Filippo di Ser Brunellesco Lippi,” no one need marvel, seeing that he was called thus after his grandfather Lippo, and not “de’ Lapi,” as he should have been; which method is seen from the said Priorista to have been used in innumerable other cases, as is well known to all who have seen it or who know the custom of those times. Filippo exercised that office and also other magisterial functions that he obtained in his city, wherein he ever bore himself with most profound judgment.

Seeing that the two vaults were beginning to close in on the round window where the lantern was to rise, it now remained to Filippo (who had made many models of clay and of wood for both the one and the other in Rome and in Florence, without showing them) to make up his mind finally which of these he would put into execution. Wherefore, having determined to finish the gallery, he made diverse designs, which remained after his death in the Office of Works; but they have since been lost by reason of the negligence of those officials. In our own day, to the end that the whole might be completed, a part of it was made on one of the eight sides, but by the advice of Michelagnolo Buonarroti it was abandoned and not carried further, because it clashed with the original plan. Filippo also made with his own hand a model for the lantern; this was octagonal, with proportions in harmony with those of the cupola, and it turned out very beautiful in invention, variety, and adornment. He made therein the staircase for ascending to the ball, which was something divine, but, since Filippo had stopped up the entrance with a piece of wood let in below, no one save himself knew of this staircase. And although he was praised and had now overcome the envy and the arrogance of many, he could not prevent all the other masters who were in Florence from setting themselves, at the sight of this model, to make other in various fashions, and finally a lady of the house of Gaddi had the courage to compete with the one made by Filippo. But he, meanwhile, kept laughing at their presumption, and when many of his friends told[Pg 222] him that he should not show his model to any craftsmen, lest they should learn from it, he would answer that there was but one true model and that the others were of no account. Some of the other masters had used some of the parts of Filippo’s model for their own, and Filippo, on seeing these, would say, “The next model that this man makes will be my very own.” Filippo’s model was infinitely praised by all; only, not seeing therein the staircase for ascending to the ball, they complained that it was defective. The Wardens determined, none the less, to give him the commission for the said work, but on the condition that he should show them the staircase. Whereupon Filippo, removing the small piece of wood that there was at the foot of the model, showed in a pilaster the staircase that is seen at the present day, in the form of a hollow blow-pipe, having on one side a groove with rungs of bronze, whereby one ascends to the top, putting one foot after another. And because he could not live long enough, by reason of his old age, to see the lantern finished, he left orders in his testament that it should be built as it stood in the model and as he had directed in writing; protesting that otherwise the structure would collapse, since it was turned with the quarter-acute arch, so that it was necessary to burden it with this weight in order to make it stronger. He was not able to see this edifice finished before his death, but he raised it to the height of several braccia, and caused almost all the marbles that were going into it to be well wrought and prepared; and the people, on seeing them prepared, were amazed that it should be possible for him to propose to lay so great a weight on that vaulting. It was the opinion of many ingenious men that it would not bear the weight, and it appeared to them great good-fortune that he had carried it so far, and a tempting of Providence to burden it so heavily. Filippo, ever laughing to himself, and having prepared all the machines and all the instruments that were to be used in building it, spent all his time and thought in foreseeing, anticipating, and providing for every detail, even to the point of guarding against the chipping of the dressed marbles as they were drawn up, insomuch that the arches of the tabernacles were built with wooden protections; while for the rest, as it has been said, there were written directions and models.[Pg 223]

How beautiful is this building it demonstrates by itself. From the level of the ground to the base of the lantern it is one hundred and fifty-four braccia in height; the body of the lantern is thirty-six braccia; the copper ball, four braccia; the cross, eight braccia; and the whole is two hundred and two braccia. And it can be said with confidence that the ancients never went so high with their buildings, and never exposed themselves to so great a risk as to try to challenge the heavens, even as this structure truly appears to challenge them, seeing that it rises to such a height that the mountains round Florence appear no higher. And it seems, in truth, that the heavens are envious of it, since the lightning keeps on striking it every day. The while that this work was in progress, Filippo made many other buildings, which we will enumerate below in their order.

With his own hand he made the model of the Chapter-house of S. Croce in Florence, a varied and very beautiful work, for the family of the Pazzi; and the model of the house of the Busini, for the habitation of two families; and also the model of the house and loggia of the Innocenti, the vaulting of which was executed without framework, a method that is still followed by all in our own day. It is said that Filippo was summoned to Milan in order to make the model of a fortress for Duke Filippo Maria, and that he left this building of the Innocenti in charge of Francesco della Luna, who was very much his friend. This Francesco made an architrave-ornament running downward from above, which is wrong according to the rules of architecture. Wherefore Filippo, on returning, reproved him for having done such a thing, and he answered that he copied it from the Church of S. Giovanni, which is ancient. “There is one sole error,” said Filippo, “in that edifice, and thou hast followed it.” The model of this building, by the hand of Filippo, was for many years in the hands of the Guild of Por Santa Maria, being held in great account because a part of the fabric was still unfinished; but it is now lost. He made the model of the Abbey of the Canons-Regular of Fiesole, for Cosimo de’ Medici, the architecture being ornate, commodious, fanciful, and, in short, truly magnificent. The church is lofty, with the vaulting barrel-shaped, and the sacristy, like all the rest of the monastery, has its proper conveniences. But what is most important and most worthy of considera[Pg 224]tion is that, having to place that edifice on the downward slope of that mountain and yet on the level, he availed himself of the part below with great judgment, making therein cellars, wash-houses, bread-ovens, stables, kitchens, rooms for storing firewood, and so many other conveniences, that it is not possible to see anything better; and thus he laid the base of the edifice on the level. Wherefore he was afterwards able to make the loggie, the refectory, the infirmary, the noviciate, the dormitory, and the library, with the other principal rooms proper to a monastery, on one plane. All this was carried out by the Magnificent Cosimo de’ Medici at his own expense, partly through the piety that he showed in all matters in connection with the Christian faith, and partly through the affection that he bore to Don Timoteo da Verona, a most excellent preacher of that Order, whose conversation he was so anxious to enjoy that he also built many rooms for himself in that monastery and lived there at his own convenience. On this edifice Cosimo spent one hundred thousand crowns, as may be seen in an inscription. Filippo also designed the model for the fortress of Vico Pisano; and he designed the old Citadel of Pisa, and fortified the Ponte a Mare, and also gave the design for the new Citadel, closing the bridge with the two towers. In like manner, he made the model for the fortress of the port of Pesaro. Returning to Milan, he made many designs for the Duke, and some for the masters of the Duomo of that city.

The Church of S. Lorenzo had been begun in Florence at this time by order of the people of that quarter, who had made the Prior superintendent of that building. This person made profession of much knowledge in architecture, and was ever amusing himself therewith by way of pastime. And they had already begun the building by making piers of brick, when Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, who had promised the people of that quarter and the Prior to have the sacristy and a chapel made at his own expense, invited Filippo one morning to dine with him, and after much discourse asked him what he thought of the beginning of S. Lorenzo. Filippo was constrained by the entreaties of Giovanni to say what he thought, and being compelled to speak the truth, he criticized it in many respects, as something designed by a person who had perchance more learning[Pg 225] than experience of buildings of that sort. Whereupon Giovanni asked Filippo if something better and more beautiful could be made: to which Filippo replied, “Without a doubt, and I marvel that you, being the chief in the enterprise, do not devote a few thousand crowns to building a body of a church with all its parts worthy of the place and of so many noble owners of tombs, who, seeing it begun, will proceed with their chapels to the best of their power; above all, because there remains no memorial of us save walls, which bear testimony for hundreds and thousands of years to those who built them.” Giovanni, encouraged by the words of Filippo, determined to build the sacristy and the principal chapel, together with the whole body of the church, although only seven families were willing to co-operate, since the others had not the means: these seven were the Rondinelli, Ginori, Dalla Stufa, Neroni, Ciai, Marignolli, Martelli, and Marco di Luca, and these chapels were to be made in the cross. The sacristy was the first part to be undertaken, and afterwards the church, little by little. The other chapels along the length of the church came to be granted afterwards, one by one, to other citizens of the quarter. The roofing of the sacristy was not finished when Giovanni de’ Medici passed to the other life, leaving behind him his son Cosimo, who, having a greater spirit than his father and delighting in memorials, caused this one to be carried on. It was the first edifice that he erected, and he took so great delight therein that from that time onwards up to his death he was for ever building. Cosimo pressed this work forward with greater ardour, and while one part was being begun, he would have another finished. Looking on the work as a pastime, he was almost always there, and it was his solicitude that caused Filippo to finish the sacristy, and Donato to make the stucco-work, with the stone ornaments for those little doors and the doors of bronze. In the middle of the sacristy, where the priests don their vestments, he had a tomb made for his father Giovanni, under a great slab of marble supported by four little columns; and in the same place he made a tomb for his own family, separating that of the women from that of the men. In one of the two little rooms that are on either side of the altar in the said sacristy he made a well in one corner, with a place for a lavatory. In short, everything in this[Pg 226] fabric is seen to have been built with much judgment. Giovanni and the others had arranged to make the choir in the middle, below the tribune; but Cosimo changed this at the wish of Filippo, who made the principal chapel—which had been designed at first as a smaller recess—so much greater, that he was able to make the choir therein, as it is at present. This being finished, there remained to be made the central tribune and the rest of the church; but this tribune, with the rest, was not vaulted until after the death of Filippo. This church is one hundred and forty-four braccia in length, and many errors are seen therein, one being that the columns are placed on the level of the ground instead of being raised on a dado, which should have been as high as the level of the bases of the pilasters which stand on the steps, so that, as one sees the pilasters shorter than the columns, the whole of that work appears badly proportioned. All this was caused by the counsels of his successors, who were jealous of his name and had made models in opposition to his during his lifetime. For these they had been put to shame with sonnets written by Filippo, and after his death they took vengeance on him in this manner, not only in this work but in all those that remained to be carried out by them. He left the model for the presbytery of the priests of S. Lorenzo, and part of the building finished, wherein he made the cloister one hundred and forty-four braccia in length.

The while that this edifice was building, Cosimo de’ Medici determined to have a palace made for himself, and therefore revealed his intention to Filippo, who, putting aside every other care, made him a great and very beautiful model for the said palace, which he wished to place opposite to S. Lorenzo, on the Piazza, entirely isolated on every side. In this the art of Filippo had achieved so much that Cosimo, thinking it too sumptuous and great a fabric, refrained from putting it into execution, more to avoid envy than by reason of the cost. While the model was making, Filippo used to say that he thanked his fortune for such an opportunity, seeing that he had such a house to build as he had desired for many years, and because he had come across a man who had the wish and the means to have it built. But, on learning afterwards the determination of Cosimo not to put this project into execution, in[Pg 227] disdain he broke the design into a thousand pieces. Deeply did Cosimo repent, after he had made that other palace, that he had not adopted the design of Filippo; and this Cosimo was wont to say that he had never spoken to a man of greater intelligence and spirit than Filippo. He also made the model of the most bizarre Temple of the Angeli, for the family of the Scolari; but it remained unfinished and in the condition wherein it is now to be seen, because the Florentines spent the money which lay in the Monte for this purpose on certain requirements of their city, or, as some say, in the war that they waged formerly against the people of Lucca, wherein they also spent the money that had been left in like manner by Niccolò da Uzzano for building the Sapienza, as it has been related at length in another place. And in truth, if this Temple of the Angeli had been finished according to the model of Brunellesco, it would have been one of the rarest things in Italy, for the reason that what is seen of it cannot be sufficiently extolled. The drawings by the hand of Filippo for the ground-plan and for the completion of this octagonal temple are in our book, with other designs by the same man.

(After Filippo Brunelleschi. Florence)

View larger image

Filippo also designed a rich and magnificent palace for Messer Luca Pitti at a place called Ruciano, without the Porta a San Niccolò in Florence, but this failed by a great measure to equal the one that he began in Florence for the same man, carrying it to the second range of windows, with such grandeur and magnificence that nothing more rare or more magnificent has yet been seen in the Tuscan manner. The doors of this palace are double, with the opening sixteen braccia in length and eight in breadth; the windows both of the first and second range are in every way similar to these doors, and the vaultings double; and the whole edifice is so masterly in design, that any more beautiful or more magnificent architecture cannot be imagined. The builder of this palace was Luca Fancelli, an architect of Florence, who erected many buildings for Filippo, and one for Leon Batista Alberti, namely, the principal chapel of the Nunziata in Florence, by order of Lodovico Gonzaga, who took him to Mantua, where he made many works and married a wife and lived and died, leaving heirs who are still called the Luchi from his name. This[Pg 228] palace was bought not many years ago by the most Illustrious Lady Leonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence, on the advice of the most Illustrious Lord Duke Cosimo, her consort; and she increased the grounds all round it so greatly that she made a very large garden, partly on the plain, partly on the top of the hill, and partly on the slope, filling it with all the sorts of trees both of the garden and of the forest, most beautifully laid out, and making most delightful little groves with innumerable sorts of evergreens, which flourish in every season; to say nothing of the waters, the fountains, the conduits, the fishponds, the fowling-places, the espaliers, and an infinity of other things worthy of a magnanimous prince, about which I will be silent, because it is not possible, without seeing them, ever to imagine their grandeur and their beauty. And in truth Duke Cosimo could have chanced upon nothing more worthy of the power and greatness of his mind than this palace, which might truly appear to have been erected by Messer Luca Pitti, from the design of Brunellesco, for his most Illustrious Excellency. Messer Luca left it unfinished by reason of his cares in connection with the State, and his heirs, having no means wherewith to complete it, and being unwilling to let it go to ruin, were content to make it over to the Duchess, who was ever spending money on it as long as she lived, but not so much as to give hope that it would be soon finished. It is true, indeed, according to what I once heard, that she was minded to spend 40,000 ducats in one year alone, if she lived, in order to see it, if not finished, at least well on the way to completion. And because the model of Filippo has not been found, his Excellency has caused Bartolommeo Ammanati, an excellent sculptor and architect, to make another, according to which the work is being carried on; and a great part of the courtyard is already completed in rustic work, similar to the exterior. And in truth, if one considers the grandeur of this work, one marvels how the mind of Filippo could conceive so great an edifice, which is truly magnificent not only in the external façade, but also in the distribution of all the apartments. I say nothing of the view, which is most beautiful, and of the kind of theatre formed by the most lovely hills that rise round the palace in the direction of the walls, because, as I have said, it would take too long to try to describe them in full, nor[Pg 229] could anyone, without seeing this palace, imagine how greatly superior it is to any other royal edifice whatsoever.

It is also said that the machinery for the “Paradise” of S. Felice in Piazza, in the said city, was invented by Filippo in order to hold the Representation, or rather, the Festival of the Annunciation, in the manner wherein the Florentines were wont to hold it in that place in olden times. This was truly something marvellous, demonstrating the genius and the industry of him who was its inventor, for the reason that there was seen on high a Heaven full of living figures in motion, with an infinity of lights appearing and disappearing almost in a flash. Now I do not wish to grudge the labour of giving an exact description of the machinery of that engine, seeing that it has all disappeared and that the men who could speak of it from personal knowledge are dead, so that there is no hope of its being reconstructed, that place being inhabited no longer by the Monks of Camaldoli, but by the Nuns of S. Pier Martire; and above all since the one in the Carmine has been destroyed, because it was pulling down the rafters that support the roof.

For this purpose, then, Filippo had suspended, between two of the beams that supported the roof of the church, the half of a globe in the shape of an empty bowl, or rather, of a barber’s basin, with the rim downwards; this half-globe was made of thin and light planks fastened to a star of iron which radiated round the curve of the said half-globe, and these planks narrowed towards the point of equilibrium in the centre, where there was a great ring of iron round which there radiated the iron star that secured the planks of the half-globe. The whole mass was upheld by a stout beam of pine-wood, well shod with iron, which lay across the timbers of the roof; and to this beam was fastened the ring that sustained and balanced the half-globe, which from the ground truly appeared like a Heaven. At the foot of the inner edge it had certain wooden brackets, large enough for one person to stand on and no more, and at the height of one braccio there was also an iron fastening, likewise on the inner edge; on each of these brackets there was placed a boy about twelve years old, who was girt round with the iron fastening one braccio and a half high, in such wise that he could not have fallen down even if he had[Pg 230] wanted to. These boys, who were twelve in all, were placed on the brackets, as it has been said, and dressed like angels, with gilded wings and hair made of gold thread; and when it was time they took one another by the hand and waved their arms, so that they appeared to be dancing, and the rather as the half-globe was ever moving and turning round. Within it, above the heads of the angels, were three circles or garlands of lights, contained in certain little lamps that could not be overturned. From the ground these lights appeared like stars, and the brackets, being covered with cotton-wool, appeared like clouds. From the aforesaid ring there issued a very stout bar of iron, which had at the end another ring, to which there was fastened a thin rope reaching to the ground, as it will be told later. The said stout bar of iron had eight arms, spreading out in an arc large enough to fill the space within the hollow half-globe, and at the end of each arm there was a stand about the size of a trencher; on each stand was a boy about nine years old, well secured by an iron soldered on to the upper part of the arm, but loosely enough to allow him to turn in every direction. These eight angels, supported by the said iron, were lowered from the space within the half-globe by means of a small windlass that was unwound little by little, to a depth of eight braccia below the level of the square beams that support the roof, in such a manner that they were seen without concealing the view of the angels who were round the inner edge of the half-globe. In the midst of this cluster of eight angels—for so was it rightly called—was a mandorla of copper, hollow within, wherein were many holes showing certain little lamps fixed on iron bars in the form of tubes; which lamps, on the touching of a spring which could be pressed down, were all hidden within the mandorla of copper, whereas, when the spring was not pressed down, all the lamps could be seen alight through some holes therein. When the cluster of angels had reached its place, this mandorla, which was fastened to the aforesaid little rope, was lowered very gradually by the unwinding of the rope with another little windlass, and arrived at the platform where the Representation took place; and on this platform, precisely on the spot where the mandorla was to rest, there was a raised place in the shape of a throne with four steps, in the centre of which there[Pg 231] was a hole wherein the iron point of the mandorla stood upright. Below the said throne was a man who, when the mandorla had reached its place, made it fast with a bolt without being seen, so that it stood firmly on its base. Within the mandorla was a youth about fifteen years of age in the guise of an angel, girt round the middle with an iron, and secured by a bolt to the foot of the mandorla in a manner that he could not fall; and to the end that he might be able to kneel, the said iron was divided into three parts, whereof one part entered readily into another as he knelt. Thus, when the cluster of angels had descended and the mandorla was resting on the throne, the man who fixed the mandorla with the bolt also unbolted the iron that supported the angel; whereupon he issued forth and walked across the platform, and, having come to where the Virgin was, saluted her and made the Annunciation. He then returned into the mandorla, and the lights, which had gone out on his issuing forth, being rekindled, the iron that supported him was once more bolted by the man who was concealed below, the bolt that held the mandorla firm was removed, and it was drawn up again; while the singing of the angels in the cluster, and of those in the Heaven, who kept circling round, made it appear truly a Paradise, and the rather because, in addition to the said choir of angels and to the cluster, there was a God the Father on the outer edge of the globe, surrounded by angels similar to those named above and supported by irons, in such wise that the Heaven, the God the Father, the cluster, and the mandorla, with innumerable lights and very sweet music, truly represented Paradise. In addition to this, in order to be able to open and close that Heaven, Filippo had made two great doors, each five braccia both in length and breadth, which had rollers of iron, or rather, of copper, in certain grooves running horizontally; and these grooves were oiled in a manner that when a thin rope, which was on either side, was pulled by means of a little windlass, any one could open or close the Heaven at his pleasure, the two parts of the door coming together or drawing apart horizontally along the grooves. And these two doors, made thus, served for two purposes: when they were moved, being heavy, they made a noise like thunder; and when they were closed, they formed a platform for the[Pg 232] apparelling of the angels and for the making of the other preparations which it was necessary to carry out within. These engines, made thus, together with many others, were invented by Filippo, although others maintain that they had been invented long before. However this may be, it was well to speak of them, seeing that they have gone completely out of use.

But to return to Filippo himself; his renown and his name had grown so great that he was sent for from far distant places by all who wished to erect buildings, in their desire to have designs and models by the hand of so great a man; and to this end the most powerful means and friendships were employed. Wherefore the Marquis of Mantua, among others, desiring to have him, wrote with great insistence to the Signoria of Florence, by whom he was sent to that city, where he gave designs for dykes on the Po and certain other works according to the pleasure of that Prince, who treated him very lovingly, being wont to say that Florence was as worthy to have Filippo as a citizen as he was to have so noble and beautiful a city for his birthplace. In Pisa, likewise, Count Francesco Sforza and Niccolò da Pisa, being surpassed by him in the making of certain fortifications, commended him in his presence, saying that if every State possessed a man like Filippo it would be possible to live in security without arms. In Florence, also, Filippo gave the design for the house of the Barbadori, near the tower of the Rossi in the Borgo San Jacopo, but it was not put into execution; and he also made the design for the house of the Giuntini on the Piazza d’Ognissanti, on the Arno. Afterwards, the Captains of the Guelph party in Florence, wishing to build an edifice containing a hall and an audience-chamber for that body, gave the commission to Francesco della Luna, who began the work, and he had already raised it to the height of ten braccia above the ground, making many errors therein, when it was put into the hands of Filippo, who brought the said palace to that magnificent form which we see. In this work he had to compete with the said Francesco, who was favoured by many. Even so did he spend his whole life, competing now with one man and now with another; for many were ever making war against him and harassing him, and very often seeking to gain honour for them[Pg 233]selves with his designs, so that he was reduced in the end to showing nothing and trusting no one. The hall of this palace is no longer used by the said Captains of the Guelphs, because the flood of the year 1557 did so great damage to the papers of the Monte, that the Lord Duke Cosimo, for the greater security of the said papers, which are of the greatest importance, removed them to the said hall together with the institution itself. And to the end that the old staircase of this palace might serve for the said body of Captains—who gave up that hall in favour of the Monte and retired to another part of that palace—Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by his Excellency to make the very commodious staircase that now ascends to the said hall of the Monte. In like manner, from a design by the same man there was made a coffer-work ceiling which was placed, after the plans of Filippo, on certain fluted pillars of grey-stone.

One year the Lenten sermons in S. Spirito had been preached by Maestro Francesco Zoppo, who was then very dear to the people of Florence, and he had strongly recommended the claims of that convent, of the school for youths, and particularly of the church, which had been burnt down about that time. Whereupon the chief men of that quarter, Lorenzo Ridolfi, Bartolommeo Corbinelli, Neri di Gino Capponi, and Goro di Stagio Dati, with very many other citizens, obtained an order from the Signoria for the rebuilding of the Church of S. Spirito, and made Stoldo Frescobaldi provveditore. This man, by reason of the interest that he had in the old church, the principal chapel and the high-altar of which belonged to his house, took very great pains therewith; nay, at the beginning, before the money had been collected from the taxes imposed on the owners of burial-places and chapels, he spent many thousands of crowns of his own, for which he was repaid.

Now, after the matter had been discussed, Filippo was sent for and asked to make a model with all the features, both useful and honourable, that might be possible and suitable to a Christian church. Whereupon he urged strongly that the ground-plan of that edifice should be turned right round, because he greatly desired that the square should extend to the bank of the Arno, to the end that all those who passed that way from Genoa, from the Riviera, from the Lunigiana, and from the districts of Pisa[Pg 234] and Lucca, might see the magnificence of that building. But since certain citizens objected, refusing to have their houses pulled down, the desire of Filippo did not take effect. He made the model of the church, therefore, with that of the habitation of the monks, in the form wherein it stands to-day. The length of the church was one hundred and sixty-one braccia, and the width fifty-four braccia, and it was so well planned, both in the ordering of the columns and in the rest of the ornaments, that it would be impossible to make a work richer, more lovely, or more graceful than that one. And in truth, but for the malevolence of those who are ever spoiling the beautiful beginnings of any work in order to appear to have more understanding than others, this would now be the most perfect church in Christendom; and even as it stands it is more lovely and better designed than any other, although it has not been carried out according to the model, as may be seen from certain parts begun on the outside, wherein the design observed within has not been followed, as it appears from the model that the doors and the borders round the windows were meant to do. There are some errors, attributed to him, about which I will be silent, for it is believed that if he had completed the building he would not have endured them, seeing that he had brought all his work to perfection with so much judgment, discrimination, intellect, and art; and this work likewise established him as a genius truly divine.

Filippo was very humorous in his discourse and very acute in repartee, as he showed when he wished to hit at Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had bought a farm on Monte Morello, called Lepriano, on which he spent twice as much as he gained by way of income, so that he grew weary of this and sold it. Some one asked Filippo what was the best thing that Lorenzo had ever done, thinking perchance, by reason of the enmity between them, that he would criticize Lorenzo; and he replied, “The selling of Lepriano.” Finally, having now grown very old—he was sixty-nine years of age—he passed to a better life on April 16, in the year 1446, after having exhausted himself greatly in making the works that enabled him to win an honoured name on earth and to obtain a place of repose in Heaven. His death caused infinite grief to his country, which recognized and esteemed him much more when dead than it had[Pg 235] done when he was alive; and he was buried with the most honourable obsequies and distinctions in S. Maria del Fiore, although his burial-place was in S. Marco, under the pulpit opposite to the door, where there is a coat of arms with two fig-leaves and certain green waves on a field of gold, because his family came from the district of Ferrara, that is, from Ficaruolo, a township on the Po, as it is shown by the leaves, which denote the place, and by the waves, which signify the river. He was mourned by innumerable brother-craftsmen, and particularly by the poorer among them, whom he was ever helping. Thus then, living the life of a Christian, he left to the world the sweet savour of his goodness and of his noble talents. It seems to me that it can be said for him that from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans to our own there has been no rarer or more excellent master than Filippo; and he is all the more worthy of praise because in his times the German manner was held in veneration throughout all Italy and practised by the old craftsmen, as it may be seen in innumerable edifices. He recovered the ancient mouldings and restored the Tuscan, Corinthian, Doric and Ionic Orders to their original forms. He had a disciple from Borgo a Buggiano, called Il Buggiano, who made the lavatory of the Sacristy of S. Reparata, with certain boys who pour out water; and he made a head of his master in marble, taken from the life, which was placed after the death of Filippo in S. Maria del Fiore, beside the door on the right hand as one enters the church, where there is also the following epitaph, placed there by public decree in order to honour him after his death, even as he had honoured his country when alive:



To do him even greater honour, others have gone so far as to add these two other inscriptions:

[Pg 236]

Giovan Battista Strozzi made the second:


Other disciples of Filippo were Domenico dal Lago di Lugano; Geremia da Cremona, who worked very well in bronze, together with a Sclavonian who made many works in Venice; Simone, who died at Vicovaro while executing a great work for the Count of Tagliacozzo, after having made the Madonna in Orsanmichele for the Guild of the Apothecaries; Antonio and Niccolò, both Florentines, who, working in metal at Ferrara, made a horse of bronze for Duke Borso in the year 1461; and many others, of whom it would take too long to make particular mention. Filippo was unfortunate in certain respects, for, besides the fact that he ever had some one to contend with, some of his buildings were not completed in his time and are still unfinished. To mention only one, it was a great pity that the Monks of the Angeli, as it has been said, could not finish the temple begun by him, since, after they had spent on the portion that is now seen more than three thousand crowns, drawn partly from the Guild of Merchants and partly from the Monte, where their money was kept, the capital was squandered and the building remained, as it still remains, unfinished. Wherefore, as it was said in the life of Niccolò da Uzzano, if a man desires to leave such memorials behind him, let him do it for himself the while that he lives, and let him not put his trust in anyone; and what has been said of this edifice could be said of many others designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.[Pg 237]


The Flower Duet

If there is a world’s second-most beautiful piece of music, then which is the first, and who said so? Of course, that ranking would be entirely subjective, right?

I learned to compose by listening. When I need inspiration, I also listen. It doesn’t pay very well, as they say, but the benefits are pretty great; I get to listen to a lot of incredible music.

So, I remember a dear friend, who knew I was a musician, rushing breathlessly to my side, proclaiming, “I have found the most beautiful piece of music ever written!” There were some flourishes of her arms and flashing of her eyes as she prepared to enlighten me with her revelation.

I smiled and answered, simply, “The ‘Flower Duet?’” Her eyes widened as if I had actually been able to see into her soul, and she asked, “How could you possibly know that?”

(John William Waterhouse/Getty)

The “Flower Duet” is one of those compositions that aficionados would say has been overused. It has been featured widely, in advertisements by British Airways, movies such as Tarantino’s “True Romance,” and even in “The Simpsons”—so I am not sure whether the aficionados are being snobbishly superior or overprotective. Either way, the first hearing of the duet seldom fails to bring people to their knees.

Regardless, I informed my friend that the “Flower Duet” was the second-most beautiful piece of music ever written. At which point her eyes widened even further.

Leo Delibes, the genius the gods chose to compose the “Flower Duet,” was born in France in 1836—before the car, the telephone, or the airplane—yet the music is timeless. Yes, it is classical music, but even today’s classical composers struggle to achieve that level of complex elegance and beauty.

Tchaikovsky, upon hearing an earlier work of Delibes, the opera “Sylvia,” was noted for saying: “What charm, what grace, what melodic, rhythmic and harmonic richness. I was ashamed. If I had heard this music earlier, then I would not have written ‘Swan Lake.’” Delibes confounded everyone by going on to write the opera “Lakmé,” from which the famed “Flower Duet” was born.

“Lakmé” premiered at the Opera Comique in Paris in 1883. By May 1921, it had reached its 1,000th performance there.

“Lilium Auratum,” 1871, by John Frederick Lewis. (Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

The opera is a tragic love story, like many others of its time. During the first act, Lakmé, the daughter of a high priest, and her handmaid, Mallika, gather flowers at a riverbank. They sing the duet, imagining floating down the river beneath a white dome of jasmine flowers, listening to a beautiful birdsong. It is this song that enchants the young soldier who is hiding by the riverbank, and it is little wonder he is enchanted.

The orchestra plays in 6/8 time, which lilts like a breeze, almost a gentle waltz. The close harmonies of the voices quite literally shimmer at just a third apart, singing a melody that seems to echo the birdsong and the waters of the river. They rise and fall with a sweet yearning before soaring impossibly into the chorus section. The two voices, a soprano and a mezzo-soprano, seem almost to take flight in a melody that is both searing and fragile, thrilling and uplifting, but with a longing that brings real flesh and blood to a melody that could almost be too beautiful. The structure of the melody and vocal counterpoints continue upwards to one of opera’s most sensational and heart-stopping crescendos. The last notes seem to hang, frozen in the air for a long moment, before the motifs are repeated in a soft refrain that finally allows the listener to bathe in exquisite, liquid rapture. It is a breathtaking affect that shatters the intellect and cuts deep to the core, leaping the gap between stunning musical accomplishment and pure human emotional experience.

I recommend searching online for a performance of the piece by Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. It will not disappoint, I assure you.

While Delibes’ three main operas, “Sylvia,” “Coppélia,” and “Lakmé,” were received to great critical acclaim, they have not stood the test of time in the same way as some of the Italian compositions of that era, like “Tosca” or “Madame Butterfly.” “Lakmé,” for example, is set during the English colonial occupation of India. When that occupation ended, the world moved on, and modern politics and social mores, perhaps rightfully so, have left many such works begging for continued relevance.

However, while some operas and ballets might have lost favor, the arias from those works often go on to have lives of their own, and, thankfully, such is the case with the singular “Flower Duet.” It has rightfully earned its place at the center of the canon of classical repertoire, and is performed around the world to this day. There probably isn’t a soprano alive who does not dream of performing this iconic piece.

As a composer, I would feel blessed beyond words to pen just that one melody and retire, content that I had made a miraculous contribution.

And yet, as startlingly wonderful as the “Flower Duet” is, it might surprise you to know that there is always another piece of music, hiding just around the corner, waiting for a curious ear to find it. That is how blessed we are: For every act of mindless madness we can attribute to the human race, we can look back at a reservoir that is positively brimming over with our higher expressions, with incredible wisdom and beauty, expressed through literature, art, and music. That treasure trove is deep and wide.

And so, I assured my dear friend that it was a mathematical certainty that she would find yet another incredible melody that she would be sure was “the most beautiful piece of music ever written.” Ergo, the “Flower Duet” would become the second. But, how incredible would that be!

Pete McGrain is a writer/director/composer best known for the film “Ethos,” which stars Woody Harrelson. Currently living in Los Angeles, Pete hails from Dublin, Ireland, where he studied at Trinity College.


Arts Classical Music

Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66

Arts Literature Poetry

Song of the Open Road

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.

The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.


Arts Literature Poetry

Ode on a Grecian Urn


Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.