Brunelleschi was trained as a sculptor in a Florentine workshop and was a member of the goldsmiths' guild. In the competition for the second set of doors for the Florentine Baptistry, he virtually tied with Ghiberti, who executed the famous "Doors of Paradise." He may have worked in Rome with his friend Donatello. His interests extended to mathematics and engineering and the study of ancient monuments. He made early experiments with perspective in painting, and invented hydraulic machinery and elaborate clockwork, none of which survives. Above all Brunelleschi is remembered as an architect who established new classic canons of serene rhythms, clear geometry, and symmetry, often using the simplest materials: gray pietra serena and whitewashed plaster.
His career centered from 1409 onwards on the construction of the Duomo, and especially on the famous problem of the "cupola", as the dome is generally called, which attracted his engineering bent. His design, which offered to build the cupola in spiralling courses of brickwork forming two light shells, without a framework of scaffolding, won the competition in 1418, and in 1423 he was put in complete charge of the Duomo's building works. Its completion took most of his life. The main structure was finished by 1434 and then completed with Andrea del Verrocchio's lantern in 1436 and four half-domed tribunes in the apse in 1438.
While construction was proceeding, Brunelleschi designed and built the Pazzi Chapel in the cloister of the church of Santa Croce, begun in 1429; the Hospital of the Innocents (Spedale degli Innocenti, 1421-24, with glazed terracotta rondels by Andrea della Robbia; and the Church of San Lorenzo, 1421-40. Through Brunelleschi, the architectural character of Florence was transformed.
When he died he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore in a tomb so modest it was lost for centuries and only rediscovered in 1972.
His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's Vite.