Detail of a hoist


Creator:  Buonaccorso Ghiberto
Title:  Brunelleschi’s Hoist
Date:  c. 1500
Medium:  architectural sketch
Photo Source:  Artstor/Pratt Institute Libraries Digital Image Collection

This sketch, from the notebooks of a contemporary Florentine architect Buonaccorso Ghiberti (and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s grandson) shows a detail of one of the many engineering innovations invented by Brunelleschi during the construction of the dome.  This hoist was “ingenious in design, featuring multiple pulleys, a counterweight, and a braking system”. (King, 145)

It has been said that “Brunelleschi’s fame owes as much to his inventions of machinery as to his architecture.  He introduced several innovations derived from clockmaking, such as overdrive transmission and changeable gears”. (Battisti, 130)  To reach the heights of the dome with the tools, stone and timber needed to build it, Brunelleschi devised ingenious machines that could lift them to such a height with little effort.  His ox powered hoist, for example,  could reverse gears with ease, without changing the direction of the ox.  (King, 59)

Working under the arduous conditions of the partially built dome, Brunelleschi needed to  devise ingenious solutions to continual engineering problems.  “The problem of raising, day after day, considerable weights from the Cathedral floor to the various working levels therefore had to be solved by other means.  As the options existing at the times were clearly inadequate to the magnitude of the task, Brunelleschi had to devise new solutions”. (Fanelli and Fanelli, 194)

Works Cited:

Battisti, E.  Filippo Brunelleschi. Phaidon Press Ltd. 2011
Fanelli, G and Fanelli, M. Brunelleschi’s Cupola, Past and Present of an Architectural Masterpiece.  Mandragora s.r.l. 2004
King, R.  Brunelleschi’s Dome. Penguin.  2000

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