1400 – 1500
Renaissance in Italy & the North

Brunelleschi's Santo Spirito


Filippo Brunelleschi, Santo Spirito, Florence, 1428-81

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker

Santo Spirito Sketch
Drawing of the Interior of the Church of Santo Spirito

When Brunelleschi was designing Santo Spirito, he applied a system of mathematical ratios to the different parts of the church. In other words, he used a mathematical ratio to govern the relationships between the different parts of the building, for example, the width of the nave is related to the height of the nave and so on.

It is important to recognize that Brunelleschi and other Renaissance humanists believed that God created the world according to mathematical principles, principles that governed harmony and beauty.

If you want to create musical harmony, they reasoned, you needed to think about the mathematical relationships (or ratios) between the notes (and this is true right? If you play a musical instrument like the piano, you know that in order to make two notes harmonious, you need to think about the mathematical relationship of the notes) so if you want to create harmony in architecture you have to think about the mathematical relationships (ratios) between the parts of the building.

What is so striking about this idea is that beauty lies in the relationships between the parts -- the proportions, and also the Humanist sense that we can know the mind of our creator and the laws of harmony that he created the universe with. 

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