Updated: Apr 8, 2020
The year 2020 marks 600 years since construction of Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous dome (duomo in Italian) of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) began in Florence. The duomo was completed 16 years later.
The duomo is a symbol of the height of Renaissance Italy, architectural resurgence, perseverance and overcoming doubt. The construction of the cathedral building was started in 1296. Most of the structure was complete by the end of the 14th century, but one major component remained unfinished – the duomo.
The Renaissance, including the Italian Renaissance, began in 14th century Italy and the period lasted until about the 17th century (History.com Editors, 2018). This period in history consisted of monumental strides into so many facets of European life and throughout the known world. The building of the duomo was a marquis event. However, in 1420 people were coming out of the Middle Ages and probably held much doubt, little ambition and thwarted hope that the duomo would ever be completed. The idea of Humanism had not fully taken hold on society. Most people still held the notion that they were not in control of themselves and maybe had the feeling that they were not empowered to expand their minds or be creative. In Florentine society, some very influential and powerful people were embracing the Renaissance idea of Humanism. A few examples were Cosimo de’ Medici ("Cosimo de' Medici," themedicifamily.com) and Filippo Brunelleschi. For purposes of constructing the duomo, Brunelleschi looked beyond the Middle Ages and into the distant past for the solution to the duomo problem.
The Pantheon in Rome is estimated to have been completed around 126 A.D. The dome of the Pantheon is a single shell. Brunelleschi studied the dome of the Pantheon and its components. He used this model mastered by the ancient Romans to complete the duomo of Florence. Brunelleschi reinforced the duomo by using marble and sandstone in a double shell, reinforced by tension rings that consist of wood, stone and iron. While this is a simple way to describe the complexity of the construction of the dome, the point here is that Brunelleschi used technology that had basically been buried in time to create the world’s largest brick dome (presently) and one of the most notable symbols of the Renaissance that still stands to this day. Throughout the 16 year process of constructing the duomo, Brunelleschi had the ingenuity of developing tools and scaffolding for the construction, which contributed to the re-invented way of completing cathedral domes ("Filippo Brunelleschi," pbs.org).
The vision and support of Cosimo coupled with the bravery, steadfastness and intellect of Brunelleschi have a distinctive effect 600 years after the first brick was laid. For starters, the duomo still stands. Despite 600 years of weather consisting of harsh storms and several earthquakes, we can still admire and climb into and atop the duomo to this day. In fact, I climbed to the very top of the duomo in its narrow and windy stairs to the cupola on a visit to Florence in February 2018. Moreover, the technology that was used is approximately 2,000 years old! It is also worth mentioning the fact that the Pantheon still stands intact almost 2,000 years after its completion. I highly recommend visiting both the cathedral and the Pantheon. (As an aside, the famous painter Raphael Sanzio who died 500 years ago this year and who will be featured in a future blog post, is buried inside the Pantheon.)
The idea of re-invention is not new. Brunelleschi took a 1,300-year (at the time) idea and transformed it with reinforcements to create the duomo. The television, radio and phone have been re-invented time and time again. Then there is the re-invention of people. Brunelleschi was a great example of not only physical re-invention of the cathedral dome, but also of himself. Several years before starting construction on the duomo, Brunelleschi competed for the design and development of the ornate bronze baptistry doors (the baptistry outside of the Santa Maria del Fiori), but coincidentally lost against his rival Ghiberti. For purposes of the duomo contract, Brunelleschi studied, travelled and befriended and marketed himself to the infamous and wealthy Medici family. Obviously, he was successful.
The Italian Renaissance is a representation of re-birth out of the Dark and Middle Ages. It was Humanism: a time of individual thought and revolutionary art, architecture, science, music, literature, poetry, and politics. It was also a time of overcoming the “black death” and a turning point from authoritarian to representative rule, as well as the beginning of the age of discovery. In other words, while not perfect, the Renaissance unleashed great minds to change the world.
Employers and Human Resources professionals can take the principles of some of the major players during the Renaissance to influence the entrepreneurial spirit and empowerment in their employees. They can use the forward thinking, open mindedness and supportive aspect of Cosimo de’ Medici and the enthusiastic, worldly thinking and creative spirit of Filippo Brunelleschi to empower employees to be free in the development of processes, inventions or re-invention of products, ways of working, acquiring talent and customers, sales, etc. The entrepreneurial spirit in the workplace has the benefits of drive, a sense of ownership, motivation, completion, a sense of worth and increased morale. Providing the ability to take ownership and use the imagination in the workplace for creative purposes also has the benefits of sustaining high performing employees and retaining those employees, which will have an edge over competitors and drive profits. Empowerment can unleash the minds of your employees to be the next Brunelleschi and so many like him who had knowledge and drive of the competitive spirit.
Employees should understand that the ability to be creative may come with parameters and that not every idea may be accepted. Moreover, some managers and leaders may be more close-minded or place limits on creativity than others. Employees should do their best at due diligence, research and then marketing one or a few ideas that matter and have the intent of making sense, return on investment, overall profitability and customer satisfaction. In other words, employees should not overkill or be overbearing with constantly conveying ideas – especially those that may not have much thought or work put into them.
In February 2019, Marina Krakovsky (SHRM), wrote an article on how United Airlines has started to influence and empower its workforce of 90,000 to create their own solutions (within certain parameters) for customer service. This followed the unfortunate event when a United customer was forcibly removed from a plane. As a result of this autonomy provided to employees, United started to see an upward trend in customer satisfaction (Krakovsky, 2019).
The spirit of Brunelleschi is a great example of how employees can reinvent themselves. In this competitive world where employees are not sure if they will have a job from one day to the next, it is crucial to be on the cutting edge. Reinvention of ones-self can take on many forms. Like Brunelleschi, it can be self-study and research. Reinvention can also be furthering one’s formal education, picking up a new skill or language, obtaining a certification, starting a business or a new career, moving within their current employer to different responsibilities, or moving on to a different employer. Whatever the case may be, individuals should look at themselves and figure out the best way to be on the cutting edge with the goal of creating the next duomo.
"Filippo Bruneelleschi," pbs.org, Devillier Donegan Enterprises, Accessed: 18 January 2020.