Brunelleschi's Dome by Derek Lind - Topic

Brunelleschi’s Dome

Seasoned travellers to Italy ought to be able to visualise the magnificent dome on top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the Duomo).

It dominates, even defines, the city of Florence. But for me, the mention of this dome recalls Salvador Dali’s painting – Exploding Raphaelesque Head [1]and its surrealist depiction of a woman’s head that reveals the interior of a dome. The superimposition of these elements implies continuity between internal and external dimensions, with a shaft of light pouring into the cavity perhaps suggesting inspiration.

The woman is a Madonna in Raphaelite style, and the dome is the Pantheon in Rome. Raphael, among the foremost artists of the Renaissance is entombed in the Pantheon, all of which appear to correlate with Dali’s self-conscious declaration that one day he might “be considered the Raphael of [his] period.”[2] Dali’s painting effectively combines time past with time present, architecture with anatomy, the interiority of the mind with the interiority of a Roman Temple, and a link with the universe in the form of a light beam. Even Dali’s long fascination with quantum physics and the concept of a fourth dimension are hinted at by the disintegrating shards of the subject.[3]

Derek Lind’s song Brunelleschi's Dome[4] works on me in the same sort of way. This is a song combining elements of architecture, art history, engineering, travel, blues-style music, and even a reference to the Beatles. Listening to him sing, I wondered if Lind points, in his own way, to a fourth dimension. Certainly, Lind’s humorous lyrics and delivery have very thoughtful undertones.

Brunelleschi's Dome appears on a deeply personal album entitled Solo. The title refers to Lind’s status after his beloved wife Ra passed away suddenly, as much as to his performing original songs supported by a skilled band. The album’s content refers to the grim reality of pressing on alone in life.

The song itself with its slightly cocky delivery appears a little out of place here among memories which are tinged with loss and grief. Derek himself describes Brunelleschi's Dome as a “throwaway song,” however, the more I have listened to this album, the more convinced I am that it commands a place at the table. I contrast this with The Only Song I Got or There Are No Words with their attempts at expressing the inarticulate but also consider how its lyrics reveal an overall continuity of thought.

Brunelleschi’s story begins for us in 1418, when Florentine fathers announced a contest for an ideal dome design. Tradition holds that the cathedral itself had been built without the technology to create a dome of the requisite dimensions. Furthermore, the Duomo lacked flying buttresses usually necessary to distribute a dome’s considerable weight. In the end, an ingenious construction of a second dome within the outer one allowed the structure to support its own weight incorporating innovations of interlocking bricks among other measures, all of which were revolutionary to engineering. In other words, the building committee, anticipating that one day somebody with superior skills would just turn up, took a leap of faith endorsing this project while not knowing how they would complete it. Regarding its many innovations, Brunelleschi kept the details to himself. He deliberately obfuscated some of the infrastructure so that even today much of his engineering ingenuity remains unknown. To ascend the same staircase the historic builders used and to stand on the balcony overlooking that roof must be an exhilarating experience for anyone… “Hey Jude, I’m walking on Brunelleschi's Dome!”

Derek told me “Hey Jude” here primarily refers to his grandson, but it is also a nod to the Beatles. I am nevertheless drawn to the context of Derek’s own loss and loneliness and intrigued by the function of this song-within-a-song.

“Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.”[5]

Thus, Lind draws us into his private world, a trip of a lifetime, a vertigo sufferer, the euphoria of “walking the dome,” and possibly texting an invitation to Jude and his parents to a celebratory dinner. Inwardly, I find myself groaning at the thought of fitting extra famous artworks into an already bloated travel itinerary. Meanwhile, I feel the brooding, as though this were to be the last trip of its kind, for while the phrase “last supper” anticipates a family celebration, the artwork itself anticipates a particularly dark night of suffering.

And yet the song functions like a stand-up comedian, one who softens up everybody with jokes, and, having bypassed all their defences, suddenly throws in something quite serious, even profound. We might perceive a separation between the rooftop experience and the one on the cobblestones below. We might reflect on the debt of gratitude we owe towards those who cannot accompany us on our adventures but who generously say to us, “go ahead, go walk on Brunelleschi’s dome.” Though frustration is certainly not the centre of attention, the song makes me wonder about those unshared experiences on account of our inhabiting different spaces. This, I believe, forms the subtext of several other songs in the Solo collection.

This song has a context like the Psalms, which in turn, reminisce, laugh, groan, question, and rejoice. I urge my readers not just to listen to Brunelleschi's Dome but to the album in its entirety. They will move from a beginning where “there are no words” to a concluding invitation “come to me” that refers to Jesus (Matt 11:28-29 NRSV). They may wonder about paradoxes like “abandon me to fall into grace.” And they may note in passing that strutting on the balcony of the dome has now become a quiet walk of faith with Jesus. This rephrasing of the original Matthean passage is particularly beautiful:

Come to me
You unloved and mistaken
I love you
Come to me.

So, when the music finally fades to silence and leaves me alone with my thoughts, Brunelleschi's Dome whispers about a path to redemption through grace. As I listen to its family narrative, its overlapping historical data, and its bluesy instrumentation, a painting as if conceived by Dali emerges; elements assembled in such a way that they present different views simultaneously. And what grows from Lind’s raw experience is trust in a God who walks with people upon rooftops, as well as down in the street.

At times we are privileged to walk upon the domes as well, we are elevated by platforms others have constructed. We get to do “our thing” because others have previously laboured, often at great sacrifice. It can properly be argued that, occasionally, one should start a project not quite knowing how it will be completed, though there are plenty of times not to begin. One such project, the completion of which we easily lose sight of is the Christian life. As a song, Brunelleschi's Dome is complete, a gem buried in a field of disappointments. Listen to it. Better still, get the album and hear this song in its own context of sighing, weeping, and longing for the eventual restoration of all things!

Peter Jelleyman graduated from Laidlaw College in 2012 with a BTheol. He currently works as a Data Analyst for Rhema Media in Auckland. Peter enjoys poetry and music, and is particularly interested in what musicians are saying and how they are saying it. Peter blogs in his spare time and relishes any occasion in which he can explore the sonic world of musical synthesizers.

[1] An example of the artwork here online and below it an image of the Pantheon. The catalog notes are succinct and informative. Dalí & Raphael, Catalogue Raisonné, Fundicio Gala-Salvador Dalí.

[2] Salvador Dalí, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, 1948 quoted in: Dalí & Raphael.

[3] The fourth dimension is a concept tracing much of its modern acceptance to theories postulated by Albert Einstein. Einstein labelled the dimension “time,” “but noted that time is inseparable from space.” Dali’s fascination with a fourth dimension is exemplified in his painting of Christ of Saint John of the Cross who he envisages crucified on a fourth dimensional cube. Much could be said on this topic which embraces the subject of quantum physics, and science fiction’s fascination with time-travel, and mysticism. It suffices to say that Dali explored visualisations of the fourth dimension in many of his paintings.

Can Our Brains See the Fourth Dimension? Molly Edmonds, HowStuffWorks.

[4] Brunelleschi's Dome - YouTube

Lyrics and music - Derek Lind
Down below, they’re all snarled up in traffic
Driving to distraction
But I’m above all that
I’m on the main attraction
I’m walking on Brunelleschi’s Dome

Yeah, I’m walking on Brunelleschi’s Dome
It’s Florence
A couple hours north of Rome
I’m walking on Brunelleschi’s Dome

My darling stands below
On the cobblestones alone
She declined the climb, citing
Claustrophobia and vertigo
But she said, go ahead

Go walk on Brunelleschi’s Dome
So I did

Yeah, I’m walking on Brunelleschi’s Dome …
I’m gonna go to Paris, gonna go to Rome
Gonna see it all before I get home
Gonna see the Duchamps in the
Gonna see the Degas in the d’Orsay too
But right now I’m walking
on Brunelleschi’s Dome

Vivian is the mother of my son’s son
She’s from Italy too
From the city of Milan
Next time we see ‘em
We’ll go out for a drink
And a celebratory dinner
Maybe catch the last supper
Hey Jude, I’m walking on Brunelleschi’s

[5] Hey Jude, a popular Lennon-McCartney song advises a young man to cheer up and not “carry the world on [his] shoulders.” It specifically recommends he “take a sad song and make it better,” “let her into [his] heart,” and “go and get her.” So many of Derek Lind’s memories recall the love of a woman and her enduring shadow that he might almost be taking their advice to “let her under your skin.” Hey Jude lyrics Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Unison Rights S.L