Baptistery of San Giovanni
 
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The dome, entirely covered with mosaic showing the
Angelic Hierarchies, Scenes from Genesis, Scenes from the life of Joseph the Patriarch,
Scenes from the life of Christ, Scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, and the Last Judgement
 
 
THE 10 PANELS OF THE DOOR OF PARADISE
         
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Click on thumbnails to enlarge
 
1.
Adam and Eve
2.
Cain and Abel
3.
The drunkenness of Noah
4.
Abraham and Isaac
5.
Esau and Jacob
6.
Joseph sold into slavery
7.
Moses and the ten commandments
8.
The fall of Jericho
9.
David and Goliath
10.
Solomon and the queen of Sheba
Ghiberti himself
 

The Baptistery is one of Florence’s most important religious buildings, dedicated to his patron saint, John the Baptist (whose feast is celebrated on 24 June). Raised on the foundations of a Roman building, it is a characteristic example of the Tuscan Romanesque style, dating according to some authorities from around the 11th century (it was consecrated in 1059); others believe that it is an early Christian building later remodelled. 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.

Its form is octagonal, and the exterior is sheathed in white marble and green Prato marble. The lower register has semi-pilasters, and the upper one polygonal columns supporting rounded arches. The third order, the roof and the lantern are typical of the 12th century; the west end is closed by a scarsella or altar recess, added in the 13th century. 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’. The decoration of Andrea’s door consists of quatrefoil panels of Scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, with the Theological and Cardinal Virtues beneath. When the door was moved to south side it was provided with a bronze frame, made between 1452 and 1462 by Lorenzo Ghiberti’s son Vittorio. 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 interior, filled with works of art and heavy with historical and religious associations, has geometrical patterns in bi-chromatic marble, alternating in the lower register with granite columns surmounted by gilded capitals, and with fluted marble pilasters. A gallery runs around the upper register, which supports the dome. The ancient font, demolished in 1576, was originally a large structure in the centre of the pavement, decorated with marble intarsia showing the Signs of the Zodiac and oriental geometrical motifs. Most extraordinary of all is the interior of the dome, entirely covered with mosaic showing the Angelic Hierarchies, Scenes from Genesis, Scenes from the life of Joseph the Patriarch, Scenes from the life of Christ, Scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, and the Last Judgement. The mosaics in the apse are by the Franciscan Jacopo di Torrita (1255). Covering the inside of the Baptistery with mosaic was a difficult and costly undertaking. Work possibly began around 1270 and continued until the beginning of the following century; according to some authorities, Venetian craftsmen were employed, certainly assisted by important local artists who supplied the cartoons, such as Coppo di Marcovaldo (who was responsible for Hell), Meliore, the ‘Magdalene Master’, and Cimabue (to whom the earlier Scenes from the life of the Baptist are attributed).

Like all mediaeval religious buildings, the Baptistery contains tombs of prominent individuals. Outstanding among these is the tomb of the Anti-Pope John XXIII, who died in Florence in 1419. This is one of the earliest and most interesting wall-tombs in the renaissance manner, made between 1421 and 1427 by Donatello and Michelozzo. Donatello sculpted the figure of the dead prelate in gilded bronze, while Michelozzo was probably responsible for the Madonna and Child and the Theological Virtues.

 

View of the ceiling
Mosaic 12th century
 
Baptistery
4th - 5th century
 
Detail of the ceiling
Mosaic 12th century
Detail of the ceiling
Mosaic 12th century
Detail of the ceiling
Mosaic 12th century
 
Panels of the south portal by Andrea da Pontedera (Pisano) - 1336
HISTORIES OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Transport of the Body of St. John
Burial
Panels of the north portal, first door by Ghiberti
HISTORIES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Chasing the Merchants out of the Temple
Dispute with the Doctors
 
Gate of Paradise by Ghiberti - 1452
After 40 years of works the door is now restored,
currently displayed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

Michelangelo had judged the door worthy of paradise
but not for this reason the door has this name.
The door name paradise stems from the fact that in the Middle Ages,
every year during the procession dedicated to St. John the Baptist,
the converts came to be anointed in the Baptistery just from that door
and then earned the paradise.
The Baptistery of San Giovanni is one of the oldest astronomical places in the city of Florence.
Already around the 1000 was placed a marble inlay at the north door which is one of the oldest astronomical Florentine documents.
This is a gnomon which demonstrates the interest for the apparent motion of the sun: through a hole in the dome, solar radiation affecting the signs of the zodiac engraved on marble, thus allowing it to control the path of the sun during the year.
Author of the work may have been the leader and medieval astrologer Strozzo Strozzi. During the thirteenth century, following a remake of the floor, the marble was moved in the eastern part of the Baptistery, so today is no longer possible to assess its accuracy.
 
Roman sarcophagus
Baptismal font
 

The statues above the door of Paradise
Andrea Sansovino - 1505
THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST
Currently displayed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

The statues above the south door
Vincenzo Danti 1569 - 1571
BEHEADING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Currently displayed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

 

The statues above the north door
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACHING TO A PHARISEE AND A LEVITE
According to Vasari Leonardo da Vinci provides himself in sculpture with
these bronze figure which were executed in 1509 by Giovan Francesco Rustici
but finished with Leonardo's advice.
Currently displayed inside the Baptistery

Interior - Detail
 
The apse
Donatello and Michelozzo
Tomb of Antipope John XXIII
1425 - 1430
 
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