space Studies
Sources Dates Indices Topics1 Topics2 Reference Texts


Project Description

Contents of the digital archive

The Years of the Cupola is a textual and structured digital archive of the documentary sources of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. The period covered, 1417-1436, corresponds to the two decades during which Brunelleschi's dome was designed and constructed. The project includes all the documentary records of the cathedral's Opera, or Board of works, which oversaw not only the work site for the construction of the cupola and the rich furnishings and artworks that adorned the church, but also the residence of the clergy in the nearby canonry and other real estate owned by the Opera, as well as important outside projects ordered by the city's communal government, from fortifications throughout the territorial state to the papal apartments in the convent of Santa Maria Novella. The sources document the provision of building materials, the management of the work force, the institutional structure of the Opera itself and its efforts to collect the publicly decreed financing due it, its presence in the liturgical context and its relations with the city of Florence, that saw itself reflected in the great civic enterprise of the cathedral.

In 1331 the construction of Santa Maria del Fiore, promoted and supported by the Commune from the time of the foundation of the new cathedral in 1296-1298, was entrusted by the city's government to the rich and powerful Wool Guild (Arte della Lana), which in turn founded the Opera to carry out the task of supervision and management on a permanent basis. This ancient lay and civic body, though often reformed over the centuries, has always remained responsible for the care and administration of the cathedral and still possesses the archive that documents every historical phase of its activities. With The Years of the Cupola the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore has undertaken to enhance the use and appreciation of its own archival patrimony by providing a first, substantial electronic edition of its historical sources.

Structure of the digital archive

The project consists of the complete edition of the Opera's administrative sources conserved for the period under consideration, accompanied by a system of structured analysis that presents its contents to the user and provides easy access to them. The basic unit of the digital archive is the single document or act, fully transcribed according to philological criteria and available for direct textual research. A series of analytical tools facilitates the search for individual documents within the corpus: there are richly articulated indices of names, places and institutions which can be interrogated in different modes; analyses of content by topics in expanding categories, where the specific terms found in the texts are recorded and grouped in handy and easily perused glossaries; reference tools such as document summaries, hypertext indication of direct relations amongst sources and indices of documentary and chronological references contained in the acts. The indexing and the analysis, though carried out in standard modern Italian, follow the diction of the original texts, preserving the full variety of forms for the user's perusal in the search phase.

History of the edition

The Years of the Cupola was undertaken late 1994 as a pilot project under the aegis of the Opera del Duomo, in the context of the celebrations of the VII centenary of the foundation of the cathedral. From the outset its data structure was a customized version of the DBT textual database developed by Eugenio Picchi at the Institute for Computational Linguistics of the Nation Research Council. A first campaign of data input for a sample two-year period was presented to the public during the centenary study week held in June of 1997. The Opera subsequently decided to support the continuation of the project for the full period of 1417-1436.

Already in 2001 the work in progress was made accessible to the internet public in the form of an interactive HTML representation derived from the DBT database archives, using a conversion program expressly conceived by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. This electronic edition, resident both on the server of the Opera del Duomo and that of the Berlin institute, originally comprising about 5,000 documents, grew by various stages through 2009, when the completed project reached the quota of over 21,000 acts for the full period from 1417 to 1436. Since then numerous revisions have been made to the data, so that the present Archive site constitutes a new edition of the digital archive and should be cited with the date 2015.

Special features

Over its history the site has also seen functional enrichments, the first of which, in 2002, was the English language option for the introductory, explanatory and navigational texts and for the summaries of the Latin and vernacular documents. In 2004 a prototype for the online consultation of images of the original manuscripts was added as a feature introducing the multimedia possibilities of the digital photographic tools used by the project staff. This supplement to the original textual program answered the challenge posed by the state of conservation of the archival manuscripts, many of which were so damaged by the flood of 1966 that traditional photography alone would be of little use for reading the faded script.

The promise of this innovative environment for the viewing of complex, interrelated photographic records of the original manuscripts was fulfilled in the 2014 edition, with online consultation of the complete set of 10,500 images covering all the acts published in the textual archive. With the virtual archive of images The Years of the Cupola acquired a new dimension, gaining immediacy and offering new possibilities for verification and research on the part of scholarly users and didactic potential for a vast public. For this dual-level viewing tool and the nature of the materials accessible, including pre-flood photography and "virtual restoration" of faded script, see Virtual archive of images, also available from the homepage.

Finally, the present 2015 edition of The Years of the Cupola incorporates another development of the site, the publication of systematic "foundation studies" on important themes contained in the archival material. These essays are presented within a coordinated structure that facilitates navigation and toggling between the documentary texts and the scholarly analysis of the essays based upon them. At present the Studies section offers a presentation piece by the curator of the Opera archive, an essay exemplifying new typologies of research made possible by the complete edition of an administrative archive over a sustained period of time, as well as three new contributions by the collaborators of the project that analyze the rich documentation on the supply of lumber from the Casentino forests to the cathedral worksite, the composition of the workforce and conditions of employment for the period of the Cupola construction, the definition of the canons' "cloister" and the clergy's common life in this area in the early XV century. Additional contributions are in preparation, and it is hoped that this area of the site can establish itself as a modern research library based upon the edition's documentary corpus, open to a wide range of scholars.

Selected publications on the project

For further information on the nature and development of The Years of the Cupola project and its use as a study tool, the following publications can be consulted:

Margaret Haines and Gabriella Battista, "Cresce la Cupola: documentazione online per la fabbrica di Santa Maria del Fiore a Firenze", in Costruire il dispositivo storico tra fonti e strumenti, eds. Jasenka Gudelj and Paola Nicolin (Acts of the conference Fare Storia 3, held in 2004 at the Scuola di Studi Avanzati in Venice), Milan, Bruno Mondadori, 2006, pp. 43-74.
The above publication is the basis of the revised and expanded study, "Un'altra storia", now available, with the kind permission of the publisher, in the "Studies" section of this site. A German translation of the latter text, "Die Kuppel des Florentiner Doms und ihre Handwerker", appears in Wissensgeschichte der Architektur, 3, Vom Mittelalter bis zur Frühen Neuzeit, eds. Jürgen Renn, Wilhelm Osthues, Hermann Schlimme (Max Planck Research Library in the History and Development of Knowledge, Studies 5), Berlin, Edition Open Access, 2014, pp. 467-524.

Margaret Haines, "Gli anni della cupola. Archivio digitale delle fonti dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Edizione di testi con indici analitici e strutturali", Reti Medievali. Rivista, 3, 2002, 2, online edition:
< http://www.rmojs.unina.it/index.php/rm/article/view/264/ >.

Margaret Haines, "Gli anni della Cupola: una banca dati testuale della documentazione dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore", in Bollettino d'informazioni del Centro di Ricerche per i Beni Culturali, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, VII, 1999, 1-2, pp. 95-140.
The above text was republished in the acts of the 1997 centenary celebrations of Santa Maria del Fiore: La cattedrale e la città, Atti del convegno internazionale di studi per il VII centenario del Duomo di Firenze (Florence, 16-21 June 1997), I**, eds. Timothy Verdon and Annalisa Innocenti, Edifir, Florence, 2001, pp. 692-736.

Video of the presentation of The Years of the Cupola project at the conference Archivi digitali per la fortuna del mondo antico e della tradizione artistica held at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, 3-4 December 2012.

The following studies published in independent venues are based on the systematic examination of the data of the online edition:

Margaret Haines, "Oligarchy and Opera: Institution and Individuals in the Administration of the Florentine Cathedral", Florence and Beyond. Culture, Society and Politics in Renaissance Italy. Essays in Honour of John M. Najemy, ed. David S. Peterson with Daniel E. Bornstein, Toronto, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008, pp. 153-177.

Gabriella Battista, "I provveditori dell'Opera durante gli Anni della Cupola", E l'informe infine si fa forma... Studi intorno a Santa Maria del Fiore in ricordo di Patrizio Osticresi, eds. Lorenzo Fabbri and Annamaria Giusti, Florence, Mandragora, 2012, pp. 33-40.

Margaret Haines, "Lavorare sulla Cupola: sicurezza e coraggio al tempo di Brunelleschi", E l'informe infine si fa forma... Studi intorno a Santa Maria del Fiore in ricordo di Patrizio Osticresi, eds. Lorenzo Fabbri and Annamaria Giusti, Florence, Mandragora, 2012, pp. 180-189.

Margaret Haines, "Myth and Management in the Construction of Brunelleschi's Cupola", I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance, 14-15, 2011-2012, pp. 47-101.

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