Deciphering the Documents
Just about everywhere you see a great work, if you look deep enough you will see great collaboration and you will see great talent that backed an idea. I think this is true of the Cupola. While Brunelleschi is considered a genius (and I happen to agree) there were many pieces to the Cupola puzzle. Many bricks were laid. There were the extraordinarily talented people who contributed to the daily work that had to happen for 16 years while the Cupola was built.
I think these people exist today, the ones who put their nose down and just get the work done. One such person is a woman I met early on in my work at the archives, the Harvard Scholar, Margaret Haines. To her friends she is Peggy.
Peggy is one of those angles who came to Florence as a young American in the 1960’s and wanted to help clean up the mess after the 1966 flood. She came here to rescue great works of art and I would say that one of the most important things she did was translate, uncover and decipher the documents of the Opera del Duomo.
Why is her work important? Well, without it we simply would not know the very facts that help explain some of the mysteries of the Cupola. While we know Brunelleschi was very secretive about his work and left nothing of his work behind except the finished piece, there is a record of the construction and the documents housed in the archive of L’Opera del Duomo.
The work of the Construction of the Cupola is well documented in a specific way; through financial records. Everything bought and paid for is accounted for and this is how we discover how the Opera Del Duomo dolled out funds, when, for what and to whom.
Peggy, along with her trusted research assistant Gabrialla Battista, over a 16 year period, meticulously went through every record, translated it into modern Italian and English from it’s original which was written in Latin and “Vulgare” (an older version of Italian first written around the time of Dante.
While in Florence I have been to many conferences and heard many claims about the Cupola, but there is no better source for the known truth about the Cupola than Peggy Haines. Her unique perspective and frankly, enormous patience, is the sole reason we can actually begin to truly discover many new and interesting things about the people, places and construction of this, oh so famous Cupola.
I’ve heard a lot of pontificating about the Cupola, a lot of myth and a lot of legend, but no one person has taught me more about the way it was than Peggy. It’s a testament also to all of the women I have met in Florence, who go about the patient detailed work that most men would avoid in favor of a quick and easy solution.
The fact is that the Cupola was a massive undertaking, a complex structure built on the complexity of a society with specific rules at a time it’s emerging into a new kind of thinking in and world changing era. One can not look at the Cupola and simply say, “Oh, it was done like this”. One must travel the roads and understand from a profound perspective just all that was going on in the macro as well as the widest possible view.
So, as I pass the Cupola in Piazza Duomo, besides thanking Filippo for the thinking behind it, I thank the others like Peggy who have devoted a part of their life to better understanding it’s origins. This cross referenced online project is hosted by the Max Planck institute in Berlin. You can go in and see the documents right here http://duomo.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de