Masters caught drunk at work. Brunelleschi: “What a shame! They have been warned: I fired them on the spot!”

The digital archive The years of the Cupola. 1417-1436 contains more than 21.000 documents. It includes several editions of texts, with analytical and structured indices, digitalized copies of the manuscripts and studies based on the documentary corpus.

Thanks to a careful preservation work made through centuries, and thanks to the passionate work of those who dedicate efforts for this collection nowadays, we exactly know what happened in every single day during the construction of Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Wine Heritage Lab has selected documents with a high wine content as a benefit for ante litteram #winelovers. As we shall see, wine is once again the best travel companion during historical events.

Brunelleschi’s Dome seen from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. detail.

A.D. 1417, February 10th

This is the first news in chronological order, where wine appears as the protagonist. We are told that, on February 10th 1417, the priest Matteo Pucci was agreed and given 12 pounds to buy four bottles of wine by the stonemasons of Opera del Duomo.

I reproduce below the text, for the happiness of the most erudite readers:

Presbitero Matteo Puccii libras duodecim pro lagenis quattuor vini vermigli dati et donati magistris et scarpellatoribus Opere.

Abstract of the document dated February 10th 1417

I’ Bicchieraio – The Glassmaker

Moreover, we know about a Payment for the purchase of crockery, more precisely, drinking glasses and flasks occurred on April 7th 1418. The Guild allocated two pounds in favour of Antonio di Michele Nesi, a glass manufacturer. I would give any Coravin tool in exchange for a conversation with this man, expert in moulding the glass to create pots, jugs, glasses and bowls.

I’m trying to figure out how such a unique knowledge could be concentrated in this artisan/artist. I don’t exactly know where Antonio’s workshop could have been placed. What I know for sure is that still today you can walk down the ancient streets of Florence and smell odours that time has not erased or hear that ancient way of speaking with correctly open or closed vowels, with a correct use of grammar and politically incorrect verbal expressions! 

Anyway, Mr Nesi was paid for providing glasses for St. Dionigi feast (The document goes on with other details).

Here comes the funny thing: it was in 1426, precisely on April 23rd, when was given an authorization to the masters to take wine up to the Cupola, provided it is watered down by one third.

Quod non possit collari nec portari vinum super cupola nisi sit per tertiam partem linfatum.

The translation is transparent: one could not bring wine up to the Cupola, except if it was watered down by one third. The reason behind this is straightforward as well: a logical security measure considering the risks for the workers in building the masonry.

The clerk in charge, a certain Filippozzo Bastari, was ordered to verify that the workers abided by this rule; otherwise, he could punish them with the payment of ten pounds on the workers’ own pocket! The money were then transferred to the Guild of the Dome. Our predecessors were really able to make crowdfunding! On second thought, this sort of donation was really useful to replenish the coffers of a large-scale business, committed to the building of a masterpiece – true beauty- to be proud of. However, the Cupola has been built with a seemingly simple constructive logic, which remains unexplained still today.

The nerds will be happy one more time: here is the original text, “hot off” the archive:

Item prefati operarii simili modo et forma considerantes pericula que possint cotidie imminere magistris muratoribus qui stant super cupola ad murandum propter vinum quod necessario ritenetur super dicta cupola quod deinceps Filippozius de Bastariis scribanus dicte Opere non permictat quoquo modo portari aut per collam edifitii aut alio modo vinum quod non sit linfatum per tertiam partem ad minus, sub pena librarum decem f.p. eidem de facto aufferendarum et prefate Opere applicandarum.

Here is the most important news ! Another document, dating back from June 5th 1426, is written in a more erudite Latin and tells about an Authorization to the master builder to distribute undiluted wine to the masters at work up on the cupola under his personal responsibility. Battista d’Antonio took responsibility for the workers’ sobriety: they would have been fired immediately, if caught drunk. The decision was taken after a board, where the stonemasons voted for such agreement.

Here is some significative abstract in Latin:

operarii Opere Sancte Marie del Fiore de Florentia existentes collegialiter congregati et cohadunati in loco eorum audientie pro factis dicte Opere utiliter peragendis (…) dato, misso, facto et celebrato inter eos solempni et secreto scruptineo ad fabas nigras et albas et obtento partito deliberaverunt ad hoc ut cupola sine minori impedimento quam possibile est possit laborari et maior utilitas Opere prefate afferatur, deliberaverunt quod quolibet die super dicta cupola magna possit portari vinum non linfatum pro dando potum magistris dicte Opere qui laborant super dicta cupola eo modo et forma, prout videbitur discretioni Batiste Antonii caputmagistro dicte Opere;

And again,

on July 10th 1421, we read again about wine, when the Guild made a: Gift of a demijohn of red wine to masters and unskilled workers for removing the centering of the third tribune:

Item quod magistyris et manovalibus dicte Opere pro disarmando tertiam tribunettam gratis et sumptibus dicte Opere tradatur et concedatur una lagena vini.

And again…

…on July 17th 1433 the Guild of the Dome paid for the purchasing of wine to be given to the masters of the Cupola (written in Italian vernacular):

stanziaro uno barile di vino per ‘maestri della chupola per mettere la chatena de’ macigni in su la chupola.

“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


As you have seen, today we have gone back in time, as we enjoy doing. We went back in one of the crucial moments in the history of art. Brunelleschi was the man who dared to defy gravity, brick by brick. At that very moment, man has chosen not to be happy with his abilities and to overcome his skills by climbing the heights of the sky; he was pushed by a deep spirituality or, perhaps, megalomania – it doesn’t matter.

What really matters is that Brunelleschi’s Dome stands still today and the Cupola, with its presence, has caught us in all our admiration and emotion.

Brunelleschi’s Dome seen from the Bell Tower

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