Vasari loved a good feud. He discusses the friendship—and inevitable rivalry—between
. In 1401, the trio, among other artists, were summoned to Florence to compete for a commission to design the doors to the Baptistery of San Giovanni. Donatello and Brunelleschi agreed that Ghiberti’s submission was the best, and the consuls hired him to reimagine the doors. Yet this amity didn’t last long.
Brunelleschi’s greatest accomplishment, the famous dome atop Florence’s cathedral, was the result of a subsequent competition. The building had been under construction since the late 13th century, and its patrons needed someone who could figure out how to vault the gigantic dome. Brunelleschi worked in secret to solve the architectural problem. He even suggested that the consuls in charge of the project hire other architects—simply, according to Vasari, so that “they might bear witness to [Brunelleschi’s] exceptional talent, rather than because he thought they might discover a means of vaulting the dome.” But in 1420, when Brunelleschi described his solution in “his method,” it was mocked as “that of a madman.”
Brunelleschi wasn’t daunted. Since the officials wouldn’t take him seriously, he drafted a written version of his proposal. The confidence of his design wooed them, and Brunelleschi finally won the commission. The officials, however, didn’t trust that a single individual could pull off the architectural feat. They paired Brunelleschi with Ghiberti, giving each man the same salary. Brunelleschi began scheming about how to kick his collaborator off the project. One morning, Brunelleschi feigned illness and stayed home from work. When his workmen asked Ghiberti how to proceed, he said he wouldn’t make any decisions without Brunelleschi. Officials questioned Ghiberti’s competence, and, much to his rival’s pleasure, was ultimately disgraced.