Beside the Basilica, in the Piazza del Duomo, is the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John). The exterior doors are worth studying before you go inside as they are covered in wonderfully intricate bronze scenes, dating back to 1329.
Inside... look up and you will see the most magnifcent mosaic ceiling. Each panel represents a scene from the Bible and free leaflets are available that explain them in more detail.
Baptistry is very famous because of its doors that were built by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Also one of the oldest buildings of the city. The most famous one was chosen by a competition. Ghiberti, Donatello and Brunelleschi made their work of arts around the middle of 1400s. Ghiberti wins the competition. Golden door that you can see at the baptistry nowadays is a successful copy of the original one (it's in Museo dell'Opera del Duomo). It has 10 different figures. Every one of them tells different stories (like banishment of Adam and Eve)
This second pair of doors were so good that the Florentines decided to commission Ghiberti, now at the height of his career, with the execution of yet another set of doors to place at the north entrance. These doors took 27 years to complete (1425-1452), but the result was so outstanding (even Michelangelo said that they were "worthy of Paradise"), that they were hung on the east side, in the place of honour, and Ghiberti's first set of doors was moved to the north entrance (where they can still be seen today).
Their structure is completely different: the panels are reduced to 10, five to each door, and are surrounded by a continuous sequence of small heads, floral motifs and niches which, in their turn, contain small statues of Prophets and Sybils.
Ghiberti followed it by inserting more than one episode in each panel, using daring but coherent perspective solutions. Its secret lies in the perspective, by that time a law of expression, evoking skies, distant woodlands, buildings, groups of figures and personalities that project sharply outwards and are sculpted in what is almost high relief. The Doors of Paradise thus become Ghiberti's masterpiece and unified all his skill as a goldsmith and sculptor, for the gold highlights he used created wonderful perspective and pictorial effects, giving it a precious finish that was also an integral part of the composition.
The 3 doors to the Baptistery open onto the east, north and southern sides of the square. The main one is placed on the eastern side, facing the Cathedral, with the the apse and the altar in the interior of San Giovanni behind it.
Andrea Pisano, was the first artist to work here and only took seven years (1330-1336) to complete his pair of doors. Andrea divided the two doors into 28 compartments or panels (14 to each door), surrounded by a frame of rosettes and lions' heads. The interior of panels, framed with the typical Gothic "polylobate" surround, contains 20 episodes from the life of the Baptist, and 8 figures of Virtues in the lower part. Each composition is well constructed, with a close relationship between figures and background, while the rythm of the narrative is constant and contained. This is therefore a "classical" and not a Gothic vision of the narrative.
The new doors remained here until 1401 when was announced a competition for a second pair of doors; these were again for the east side, replacing the previous ones, which were to be moved to the south side, where they can still be seen today (the present entrance into the Baptistery). The subject was the Sacrifice of Isaac. The competition was won by Ghiberti, whose work was still partly Gothic in style and therefore easier to understand.The contract for the execution of the work was signed on November 1403 but the doors were to take Ghiberti and his workshop twenty years to complete: they were finally hung in the east entrance in 1424, replacing the doors by Andrea Pisano. The structure of the door was like the earlier one: 28 panels surrounded by the usual "polylobate" Gothic frame which was placed inside a square decorated with plant motifs. The only variation was that the lions' heads were substituted by those of the Prophets. The small head in the centre of the left-hand door portrays Ghiberti himself. 20 panels illustrate scenes from the life of Christ, while the remaining 8 contain the Evangelists and the Fathers of the Church.
The origins of the temple dedicated to St. John the Baptist, later patron saint of the city, are still uncertain, even if many sources referred it to Roman times . Several sarcophagi have in fact been found in this area, today in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo, as was the famous statue of Mars, which mediaeval chronacles tell us stood at the entrance to Ponte Vecchio. Excavations carried out in this century have in fact discovered remains of Roman constructions underneath the Baptistery and the Cathedral, built in the north-eastern area of the first ring of walls. The foundations of the first Baptistery of San Giovanni, dated from 4th-5th century circa, was certainly built on top of these ancient buildings. Its octagonal shape, the two lower orders, the attic and the springer of the cupola (in other words its basic architectural structure), date from the early Christian construction, which was possibly altered or completed in the early decades of the 7th century during the Longobard rule.
The eight segments of the cupola had certainly been completed by then as well as the semicircular apse which was added on the west side to contain the altar: the three doors opened on the other three sides. The external revestment of the Baptistery was started also in this period (mid 12th century) : this masterpiece of white Carrara and green Prato marble inlay, geometrically designed in a harmonious classical style to cover the original sandstone, already shows signs of the search for spatial delimitation that was to lead to the perspective of the Renaissance. The final result was to become a prototype for Romanesque architecture in the city and used as a model by Leon Battista Alberti when he started work on the completion of the facade of Santa Maria Novella in 1470. The eight corner ribs decorated with strong green and white stripes (originally in grey stone) were instead more typical of the Romanesque style in use at Lucca, Pisa and Pistoia. I'll speak about the doors in another tip.
Easy to miss one. Above the East Door of the Baptistery there is a group of statues that shows the scene of The Baptism of The Christ, naturally by St. John The Baptist. The statues are not the original ones, made by Andrea Sansovino. The originals are to be found in the museum Opera del Duomo. Interesting thing: Andrea Sansovino worked for 3 years (1502-1505) to make the original scene only with Christ and St. John, he did not finish it and left for Rome for a new comission. The task was continued much much later, in 1569 (!), by Vincenzo Danti, a sculptor from the school of Michelangelo. He kept on working for 7(!) more years, until his death. The statues were not fully completed though. The group was finally completed in 1792 (so after 290!!! years from the first chip of Sansovino) by Innocenzo Spinazzi, with an addition of an angel to the left of the group. It can clearly be seen that the angel is not in perfect harmony with the two and it is made from a different coloured marble.
The Baptistery of Florence has three bronze doors, the most impressive being the south one (vis-a-vis of the entry in the Duomo); this is not usable for entry in the baptistery, for that the west door is used. This door is made by A. Pisano and the other doors were made both by Ghiberti. Michelangelo defined the east door as the Gate of Heaven. The south door is divided into 28 tiles with Stories of St. John the Baptist and Cardinal and Theological Virtues. Get close to the tiles and take a look at the sculptor's marvel art. Andrea Pisano worked for 6 years for this door, between 1330 and 1336.
Vis-a-vis from the entrance of the Duomo you will find a fine example of the 11th-century Romanesque architecture - the Baptistery. I repeat: the baptistery was built in the 11th century, a couple of hundred years before the Duomo! It was the city cathedral until 1128 and it is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Many illustrious men of Florence, including Dante, were baptized here. The layout is basic, perfect octogonal with a 26 meters diameter. It's roof is pyramid-shaped and topped by a lantern with columns; it is also covered in white and green marble.
One of the gilded bronze doors - the famous 'Gates of Paradise' as described by Michelangelo were created by Ghiberti and is one of the greatest accomplishments in Western sculpture. Depicted are Old Testament stories
The duomo facade of pink, green and white marble is a delightful surprise, surrounded as it is by somber buildings. As you enter the piazza it's a magical vision!
The three colors of marble seem as delectable as a wedding cake. Here you can see the delicate Campinale and the beautifully decorated Baptistry, with its magnificent doors, called by Michelangelo "the gates of Paradise".
The doors to the Baptistry which face the Duomo are beautiful bronze doors created by Ghiberti. The doors were described as the Gates of Paradise by Michaelangelo. The originals are in the Duomo museum. You can't miss these, as they will be the doors that have a mob of people surrounding them. I was fortunate to get a slight gap to shoot a picture.
Take a close look at the beautiful doors.
These doors by Ghiberti were commissioned in 1401 to celebrate the cities deliverance from the plague. Ghiberti was chosen to make a set of doors after a competition which involved seven top artists. These included Donatello, and Brunelleschi.
Ghiberti spent 21 years working on the North doors and was then commissioned to make the East doors (1424-1452). Michelangelo called the doors the 'Gate of Paradise'. The original doors are now displayed in the Museo dell Opera del Duomo and the ones on the Baptistry are copies.
There are three sets of doors, the oldest being those on the south side.
The south side doors illustrate the life of John the Baptist who is the titular saint of the Baptistery and the city's patron. They were fashioned by Andrea Pisano in the 1330's.
The north doors were made in 1402 - 1425 and these doors show the life of Christ.
The 'youngest doors' are the east ones and were called the 'Doors of Paradise' by my favourite artist Michelangelo. They show scenes from the Old Testament. They were modelled and cast by Ghiberti between the years 1425 - 1450. The doors have now been replaced by copies.
The Baptistery of Saint John is the oldest building on the square. For years it was thought to be a pagan temple 'converted' for Christian use.
In the 5th or early 6th century the first baptistery was erected in fron the the cathedral that was then there - the Santa Reparata. This early Baptistery building was similiar shape to the one we see today - octagonal. This octagonal shape is though to represent the 'octava dies' the eighth day - the time of the Risen Chist. It alludes to the hope of resurrection after death of the Christian faith.
From the mid-11th century the Baptistery was reconstructed on a larger scale as we see it today. It was also decorated with expensive marble (a lot of it taken from ancient buildings). It was,for FLorence, a time of financial and political growth. Flroence became the seat of Imperial government in Tuscany and then it broke free from the Holy Roman Empire. During the 12th and 13th century the Baptistery was enlarged further with a monumental dome and a rectangular apse. Then from the 14th century the wonderful external sculptured decoration was added.
When you enter the Baptistery you can see why it is traditonally said that it was once a Roman temple. The general arrangement of the large domed area recalls the Pantheon and it also has monolithic columns adn 2 sculptured sarcohagi. the wall decoration is geometrical amd the lovely mosiacs show Byzantine influence. All of this makes it a mixture of several cultures of Medieval Europe.
Looking up from the font in the Baptistery you see a large Christ in 13th century mosaics and under his feet the dead are rising as in the Lasat Judgement. There are also the figures of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the fathers of ancient Israel on Christs right head side. On his left is Hell with images of death.
The east door of the Duomo is probably the most famous door with only the Jubilee door at St Peters in the Vatican more famous. Described at gates worthy of paradise by Michelangelo they are indeed a great sight. Ghiberti designed the east door which depicts scenes of the Old Testament. Damaged by floods in 1966 when the Arno got a bit full the original doors are in the Cathedral Museum with these ones very good copies.
Dating back to ancient Roman times, the octagonal Baptistry is the oldest Christian Temple in the city. The current structure was built between the 11th and 13th century on the site of a pagan temple. The most famous feature of the Baptistry are the east facing guilded bronze doors by Ghiberti. The doors were dubbed "Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo.