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Baptistery of Saint John (Battistero di San Giovanni) or Florence Baptistery, Florence

Overview

Baptistery of Saint John
Baptistery of Saint John

Photo by Fczarnowski on Wikimedia Commons

Piazza with Florence Cathedral, Baptistery of St John, Giotto's Campanile and Column of St Zanobi
Baptistery of Saint John seen from Piazza San Giovanni

Photo by Sailko on Wikimedia Commons

The Baptistery of Saint John (Battistero di San Giovanni), also called Florence Baptistery, is one of the oldest stone buildings from the city. It is located in Piazza del Duomo and Piazza di San Giovanni, besides the Florence cathedral and Giotto's Campanile. The first octagonal baptistery was built in the 4th or 5th century over the Roman ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Mars, and then altered in the 6th century. The present construction was started in 1059 and finished in 1128, when the baptistery received the name of its spiritual patron, "San Giovanni" (Saint John). It was transformed into a basilica after the project of architects Donato Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi. It is an octagonal construction, with 8 sides symbolizing "the eighth day" or re-creation through the Sacrament of Baptism. The roof has 8 facets, and an octagonal lantern was added around 1150. Due to the beauty of the construction, the perfection, the harmony of the shapes and the decorative elements, the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri called it "Bel San Giovanni" ("The Beautiful Saint John"). The octagonal interior has a diameter of 26 meters. The mosaic marble pavement has geometric, floral and zoomorphic motifs. The walls and the vault were decorated between 1270 and 1300 with mosaics applied on gold background, made by Cimabue. The themes represented are "The Last Judgment ", stories of Mary and Christ, stories of St. John the Baptist and scenes from Genesis. The sculptures of Donatello and Michelozzo complement the interior decoration, the most beautiful being at the Tomb of Pope John XXIII, who died in Florence, in 1426. The vertical walls are separated by pillars and columns of monolithic granite. The exterior is decorated in Romanesque style, covered with white marble from Cararra and green from Prato. The building has 3 bronze doors gilded with gold, with relief sculpture. The themes are from the history of humanity, biblical scenes with John the Baptist, the Baptism of Jesus, scenes from the life of Jesus from the New Testament and scenes from the Old Testament. Above them are statues or statuary groups made by Francesco Rustici (1474-1554) and Vincenzo Danti (1530-1576). The first door, facing south, was built between 1330-1336 by Andrea Pisano. It is decorated with biblical scenes carved in relief, with themes representing the baptism of Jesus and John the Baptist.
Original doors of Lorenzo Ghiberti's 'Gate of Heaven', displayed at Museo dell'Opera
Original doors of Lorenzo Ghiberti's 'Gate of Heaven', displayed at Museo dell'Opera

Photo by Yair Haklai on Wikimedia Commons

Baptistery of Saint John with replica of Lorenzo Ghiberti's 'Gate of Heaven'
Baptistery of Saint John with replica of Lorenzo Ghiberti's 'Gate of Heaven'

Photo by Gothika on Wikimedia Commons

The sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) participated in 1401, at the age of 23, at the contest organized by the Wool Merchants' Corporation of Florence for the decoration of the bronze doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni. The theme of the contest was "The Sacrifice of Isaac" (Ghiberti's work is kept at the Bargello Palace), and of the tens of competitors were chosen Filippo Brunelleschi, who received the execution of the dome of the Florence cathedral and Lorenzo Ghiberti who won the construction of the Baptistery's north and east doors. He completed the north door in bronze between 1403-1424, with scenes from the life of Jesus and the evangelists from the New Testament. The east door, facing the cathedral, is considered Ghiberti's work of maturity. He completed it in 27 years, between 1425-1452. It has 10 bronze panels blown with gold (the original ones are at the Museo dell Opera del Duomo), depicting biblical episodes from the Old Testament, each panel showing multiple scenes: Creation of Adam and Eve, Sin, Removal from heaven, and others. The figures are dynamic, arranged in successive planes, with Ghiberti creating different levels by using different techniques, from incised lines and very low reliefs for distant scenes to almost free standing sculpted figures for front scenes. Michelangelo referred to these doors as the "Porta Del Paradiso" ("Gate of Heaven"), and they are still referred to with this name.