by Paul Robert Walker
The author of 20 books on subjects ranging from the Italian Renaissance to the American West, Walker here pairs off proto-architect Filippo Brunelleschi and doormaker Lorenzo Ghiberti in an often engaging version of Quattrocento Smackdown. Pitting the two masters against each other in the competition for the sculpted bronze doors of the baptistery, Walker re-creates the intrigues of 15th-century Florence as the young, possibly illegitimate Ghiberti walks away with the lucrative commission and creates one of the Western world’s great pieces of art. Spurred by his loss to Ghiberti, Brunelleschi goes on to greater fame and even greater fortune as the architect of the dome for Florence’s cathedral (and rediscovers linear perspective in his spare time). Though Brunelleschi and Ghiberti share billing in the title, Walker is clearly more enamored of the former, and the bulk of the story is his. Using an estimable cache of documentary materials and a supporting cast that includes the sculptor Donatello and the painter Masaccio, Walker makes a fine circumstantial case for an artistic feud. Whether such a “feud” really existed will never be known. Recommended for public libraries and young adult collections.