Florence Baptistery - Table of Contents

Florence Baptistery
AKA Florence Baptistry / Baptistery of San Giovanni (St. John) / Baptistry - Duomo

Florence, Italy


Begun in the 11th century and finished, in the decorative parts, two centuries later.




Tuscan Romanesque
TEXT Beneath Illustrations

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Domed octagon, enwrapped on the exterior by a graceful arcade, three arches to a bay.

The corner piers accentuating the apexes of the octagon are boldly striped in the Pisan fashion.

The white Carrara marble and green Prato marble date to the 12th century.

Northern door, by Lorenzo Ghiberti

St. John preaching (1510) by Rustici, a pupil of Leonardo

East doors (Door of Paradise): Story of Abraham.

East doors: Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel.

East doors: Story of Jacob and Esau.

East door panel: Story of Noah

East door panel: King Solomon solemnly receives
the Queen of Sheba

East door panel: Story of Saul and David

South door panel

South door panel

South door panel


Dante celebrated the Baptistery in a phrase, "my beautiful San Giovanni" in "The Inferno" (XIX 17).

On this site there was probably, first of all, a Roman building, followed by a small Paleo Christian church (5th century). The actual baptistery was begun in the 11th century and finished, in the decorative parts, two centuries later.

It was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and was the Cathedral of Florence until 1128.

The domical vault is some 90 feet in diameter, its construction a feat remarkable for its time and an inspiration for the great architect Brunelleschi, who later would devise the immense dome of the Cathedral of Florence

It has three entrances, one each on the north, south, and east sides; on the west side an oblong sanctuary replaces the original semicircular apse.

A distinctive Florentine decorative feature is the marble encrustation that patterns the walls. These simple oblong and arcuated shapes not only outline the paneled surfaces, but assert the structural lines of the building and the levels of its elevation,

Three sets of doors provide access to the baptistery. All door panels are replicas (originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo).

East doors: "Gates of Paradise" (1425-1452), Lorenzo Ghiberti's second pair of doors.

When gilded, the glittering movement of the reliefs created an effect of great splendor and elegance.

The door is divided into 10 framed squares in each of which some Episodes of the Old Testament are represented

After 1425 Ghiberti abandoned the quatrefoil pattern of the earlier doors and divided the space into ten square panels each containing a relief set in plain moldings. The individual panels of Ghiberti's doors, such as "Isaac and His Sons," clearly recall painting in their depiction of space as well as in their treatment of the narrative.

In his relief, Ghiberti creates the illusion of space partly by pictorial perspective and partly by sculptural means, Buildings are represented according to the painter's one-point perspective construction, but the figures (in the lower section of the relief, which actually projects slightly toward the viewer) appear almost in the full round, some of their heads standing completely free. As the eye progresses upward, the relief increasingly becomes flatter until the architecture in the background is represented by barely raised lines, creating a sort of "sculptor's aerial perspective" in which forms are less distinct the deeper they are in space.

Ghiberti has achieved a greater sense of depth than has ever before been possible in a relief, His principal figures, however, do not occupy the architectural space he has created for them; rather, they are arranged along a parallel plane in front of the grandiose architecture.

South doors:

The oldest door is the Southern one (through which the visitor enters) and is the work of Andrea Pisano (1330-36). In Gothic frames, we see 28 panels of which the 20 upper ones represent stories of the Life of John the Baptist, while, in the 8 lower panels we see the personification of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues

North Doors:

The North door is the first (1403-2') of the two due to Lorenzo Ghiberti and his collaborators (among whom were Donatello and Paolo Uccello). This work was assigned to Ghiberti following the famous Florentine competition of 1402 in which Brunelleschi and Jacopo della Quercia also took part.

This door has 28 panels, of which the 20 upper ones are devoted to "Facts of the New Testament" while the 8 lower panels represent the "Evangelists and the Doctors of the Church."


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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