Florence Baptistery - Table of Contents

Exterior - Florence Baptistery
AKA Baptistery of San Giovanni (St. John)

Florence, Italy

Erected:

1059-1129
Original dual use:
Intended for the liturgical function of baptism, in the 11th century it also acted as the city’s Cathedral. Such a large building was required because vast crowds attended the administration of baptism, which in those days took place only twice a year.

Architect:

Unknown

Style:

Tuscan Romanesque
Bronze doors style:
Romanesque
Bronze doors designers:
South - Andrea Pisano, 1330
North - Lorenzo Ghiberti,  1403 and 1424
East - Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425-1452

On this page, below:

Baptistery History

Bronze Doors History

Lantern

Top horizontal section

Middle horizontal section

Bottom horizontal section

South entrance bay

North entrance bay

East entrance bay

February 2020 Photos

Baptistery History

It was long believed that the Baptistry was originally a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, the tutelary god of ancient Florence.

It was first described in 897 as a minor basilica, the city’s second basilica after San Lorenzo, outside the northern city wall, and predates the church Santa Reparata. On March 4, 897, the Count Palatine and envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor sat there to administer justice.

The granite  pilasters were probably taken from the Roman forum located at the present site of Piazza della Repubblica.

The structure in Romanesque style was evidence of the growing economic and political importance of Florence.

It was reconsecrated on November 6, 1059, by Pope Nicholas II, a Florentine. According to legend, the marbles were brought from Fiesole, conquered by Florence in 1078. Other marble came from ancient structures.

The construction was finished in 1128 when it was consecrated as the Baptistery of Florence and as such is the oldest religious monument in Florence.

Up until the end of the 19th century, all catholics in Florence were baptized within its doors. It also hosted the baptism of  Dante Alighieri, who mentions it in his Divine Comedy:
No smaller or no larger they seemed to me
Than are those booths for the baptismal fonts
Built in my beautiful San Giovanni (Inferno, Canto XIX, 16-18)
EXTERIOR DESIGN

The Baptistry has a compact octagonal shape (eight equal sides) that conceals a very old symbolic reference: the octagon in the early Christian tradition is the eighth day, when Christ resurrected and started to live forever. This is a clear reference to the rite of baptism.

The sides, originally constructed in sandstone, are clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay, reworked in
Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128.

The pilasters on each corner, originally in grey stone, were decorated with white and dark green marble in a zebra-like pattern by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1293.

An
octagonal  lantern was added to the pavilion roof around 1150.

The baptistry was enlarged with a rectangular entrance porch in 1202, leading into the original western entrance of the building, which became an apse after the opening of the eastern door, and faced the cathedral’s western door by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the 15th century.

Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, three bronze double doors were added, with bronze and marble statues placed above them [only the statues on the eastern entrance remain in 2020].
- Florence Infereno, The Baptistery of Florence  (online April 2020)



Bronze Doors History
 
The powerful guild of Calimala (Cloth-Merchants) held the patronage of the Baptistery for centuries, and it was they who commissioned the magnificent gilded bronze doors, as well as many of the works of art inside.

The earliest of the three doors is the one on the south side, modelled in 1330 and then cast by Andrea Pisano. It was set up in 1336 on the east side, and moved in 1452 to make way for Lorenzo Ghiberti’s ‘gates of Paradise’.

Lorenzo himself made the north door between 1403 and 1424, after he had won the famous competition of 1401, in which his submission was preferred to those of Brunelleschi, Jacopo della Quercia and other artists. The north door consists of twenty quatrefoils panels with scenes from the Life of Christ, the Four Evangelists and the Doctors of the Church. This scheme seems to have cramped Ghiberti’s talent for naturalistic representation, which however was given free rein in his great masterpiece, the third Baptistery door.

In this one, called by Michelangelo ‘the gates of Paradise’, Ghiberti was able fully to express his gifts as a goldsmith and a sculptor, distributing in ten large panels some of the principal scenes from the Old Testament, from the Labours of Adam and Eve to the Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Commissioned by the Calimala in 1425, it was finally finished and installed in 1452."  - The Museums of Florence (online April 2020)




On three of the four sides there are three large doors famous for their decorations. The most important door has always been considered the eastern doors, the ones that lead to the Duomo. All of the doors have been originally located on the Eastern side before being moved.

Above the doors stood three different groups of statues. These are all beautiful statues that we highly recommend you view at the Opera del Duomo Museum where all of the originals are conserved; the statues found on the Baptistery today [eastern entrance] are copies but most of them unfortunately have not been yet replaced.
- Visit Florence (online April 2020)





2002 photo
The statues over the north and south doors, including these,  were removed and placed in the Museum Opera del Duomo in 2008






RightCathedral
The Baptistery has eight equal sides with a rectangular addition on the west side [left side in  photo].   ...   
The original western entrance of the building, became an apse after the opening of the eastern door    ...   
The sides, originally constructed in sandstone, are clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay, reworked in
Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128.   ...   

The design work on the sides is arranged in groupings of three, starting with three distinct horizontal sections :
Top section:  In the upper fascia [vertical frieze or band under a roof edge, or which forms the outer surface of a cornice], there are also three small windows, each one in the center block of a three-panel design.

Middle section: The middle section features three blind arches on each side, each arch containing a window. These have alternate pointed and semicircular tympani. Below each window is a stylized arch design.

Bottom section: A certain amount  of variation because there are three entrances  included.




Lantern


Lantern
An octagonal lantern was added to the pavilion roof around 1150   ...   Gilded cross and ball finial



Lantern
Engaged  Corinthian columns



Lantern





Top horizontal section
 In the upper sections, there are also three small windows, each one in the center block of a three-panel design.


Top horizontal section
Cornice   ...   Frieze   ...   Corinthian  pilasters   ...   White Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay   ...   Window at bottom of each middle panel



Top horizontal section
Each bay's three horizontal sections differ in small details.  Compare these geometric shapes to the ones in photo above this one.




Top horizontal section
Greek (fluted) Corinthian pilaster




Middle horizontal section

 The middle section features three blind arches on each bay, each arch containing a window. Each window has alternate pointed and semicircular tympani. Below each window is a stylized arch design.



Middle horizontal section
The pilasters on each corner, originally in grey stone, were decorated with white and dark green marble in a zebra-like pattern by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1293   ...   Three larger and threee smaller groups of blind arcades   ...   Note pilasters separating the windows



Middle horizontal section
Pilaster detail    ...   Cornice  with egg-and-dart molding   ..  Corinthian capital



Middle horizontal section
Center window with rounded arch and engaged columns




Middle horizontal section
A different bay's center window with rounded arch and engaged columns



Middle horizontal section
One example of the rectangular windows




Bottom horizontal section


Bottom horizontal section
Unlike this bay, three other bays include entrances



Bottom horizontal section
Corinthian capital   ...   Plastic spikes deter pigeons from squatting




South entrance bay


South entrance bay
Right: Cathedral




South entrance bay - Bottom  horizontal section



South entrance bay



South entrance bay
Current south doors - Pisano, 1336
North doors - Ghiberti, 1424
East  doors - Ghiberti, 1452

The earliest of the three doors is the one on the south side, modelled in 1330 and then cast by Andrea Pisano. It was set up in 1336 on the east side, and moved in 1452 to make way for Lorenzo Ghiberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’.   ...
The decoration of Andrea’s door consists of 28 quatrefoil panels of Scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, with the Theological and Cardinal Virtues beneath.




South entrance bay



South entrance bay
Mosaic  angels



South entrance bay
The angel announces to Zachariah, father of John the Baptist   ...   Zachariah is struck mute (Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1)



South entrance bay



South entrance bay



South entrance bay



South entrance bay
Visitation   ...   Birth of John the Baptist




South entrance bay
John preaches to the Pharisees   ...   John Announces Christ



South entrance bay
Hope   ...   Faith




South entrance bay
Fortitude



South entrance bay




South entrance bay
 Dance of Salome   ...   Decapitation of St. John



South entrance bay
Presentation of St John's head to Herod Antipas.   ...   Salome takes the head to Herodias



South entrance bay
Transport of the body of St. John   ...    Burial



South entrance bay
Charity   ...   Humility




North entrance bay


North entrance bay



North entrance bay



North entrance bay
In Christianity, an eagle may be s symbol for Saint John the Evangelist   ...   Plastic spikes are pigeon barriers   ...   Egg-and-dart curved molding



North entrance bay



North entrance bay



North entrance bay



North entrance bay    ...   Detail below:


North entrance bay
Cornice features leaf-and-dart molding and egg-and-dart molding



North entrance bay
Current south doors - Pisano, 1330
North doors - Ghiberti, 1424
East  doors - Ghiberti, 1452

North doors - REPRODUCTIONS
"Lorenzo [Ghiberti] himself made the north door between 1403 and 1424, after he had won the famous competition of 1401, in which his submission was preferred to those of Brunelleschi, Jacopo della Quercia and other artists.    ...   The north door consists of twenty quatrefoils panels with scenes from the Life of Christ, [plus eight panels from] the Four Evangelists and the Doctors of the Church. This scheme seems to have cramped Ghiberti’s talent for naturalistic representation, which however was given free rein in his great masterpiece, the third Baptistery door." - The Museums of Florence: Baptistery of San Giovanni (online April 2020)   



North entrance bay



North entrance bay
Baptism of Christ   ...   Temptation of Christ



North entrance bay
Annunciation   ...   Nativity



North entrance bay
 St. John Evangelist with symbolic eagle  ...   St. Matthew with symbolic angel




North entrance bay
St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church



North entrance bay



North entrance bay
Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem   ...   Last Supper



North entrance bay
Chasing the merchants from the Temple   ...    Jesus walking on water and saving Peter



North entrance bay
Adoration of the magi   ...   Dispute with the doctors



North entrance bay
 St. Luke, with symbolic ox   ...   St. Mark, with symbolic winged lion




East entrance bay


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



East entrance bay
Above the "Gates of Paradise": "Baptism of Christ" by Andrea Sansovino and an "Angel" by Innocenzo Spinazzi, added in 1792   ...   Two statue details below:


East entrance bay
"Angel, " by Innocenzo Spinazzi



East entrance bay

"Baptism of Christ," by Andrea Sansovino



East entrance bay
EagleIn Christianity, an eagle may be s symbol for Saint John the Evangelist  


East entrance bay
Current south doors - Pisano, 1330
North doors - Ghiberti, 1424
East  doors - Ghiberti, 1452


"Gates of Paradise" - REPRODUCTIONS


"At the beginning of the 15th century, the Arte of Calimala (the Wool Merchants' Guild) announced a public competition to design the Baptistery's northern doors.  Ghiberti won the hearts of the judges (though he was already the favorite, since he had already created the doors that were facing the Duomo) and was awarded the commission to create the northern doors.

"These last doors were so magnificent, it was quickly decided they were even better than the previous doors Ghiberti had designed and were to take place of honor, facing the Duomo. "The Gates of Paradise received their name by Michelangelo who is believed to have exclaimed: "they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise".

The doors consist of 10 rectangular panels, displayed in two lines. They depict scenes of the Old Testament from left to right and from top to bottom. In each panel, Ghiberti described more than one scene so that there are over fifty scenes depicted.

All around the frame of the doors Ghiberti added 24 small bronze busts of famous Florentines, including his own self-portrait.

The original panels of the Gates of Paradise are now displayed at the Opera del Duomo Museum, the ones in situ are copies." -
Visit Florence (online April 2020)

Five details below:


East entrance bay



East entrance bay
Adam and Eve   ...   Top: God the Father   ...   Lower left: Creation of Adam   ...   Lower right:  Creation of Eve, taken from the rib of Adam



East entrance bay
Cain and Abel



East entrance bay
Noah



East entrance bay
Abraham



East entrance bay




East entrance bay



East entrance bay
Composite capital





Photos and their arrangement 2020 Chuck LaChiusa
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