Battisterio (3)

It is easy to be held spellbound by the beauty of the Baptistery and its magnificent marble façade with geometric patterns in green on a white background. Not surprisingly, this façade quickly became the inspiration for many other churches in Tuscany. 

Pieces of pavement unearthed during the excavations have led to the belief that the building was erected on the site formerly occupied by a first century Roman temple. However, the Baptistery dates from the 6th and 7th centuries, when it was erected on an octagonal base. 

From the 12th century on the building passed into the hands of the Calimala, the wool importers' guild that financed the marble façade and decided that the original wooden doors were not up to the standard of beauty of the temple. For this reason, Andrea Pisano was called onto design the south doors. This project was carried out between 1328 and 1338 and consists of 28 panels on which the life of John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city, is detailed with great austerity. On a further note, the bronze used for processing was cast by Venetian artisans, the most experienced in Europe. 

However, it is the doors that were subsequently created by Lorenzo Ghiberti that that evoke the greatest admiration. In 1401 a contest was held to determine which sculptor would be commissioned to develop the north door of the Baptistery - an event that would mark the beginning of the Renaissance. The winner of the competition was Ghiberti, who dedicated 21 years of his life to the development of the portal and laid down some of the guidelines for what would become Renaissance art, such as realism and perspective. The portal depicts scenes from the life of Christ and is notable for the evolution of styles that can be appreciated throughout the series of panels, principally the result of the extended duration of the work. 

Subsequently the same sculptor also took charge of the design of the eastern doors, so exquisite that Michelangelo himself defined them as the "Gates of Paradise." Ghiberti spent virtually the remainder of his life on the project, which consists of ten panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament. In addition, the panels are surrounded by statuettes of sibyls and prophets, each of which depicts biblical episodes. The mastery of perspective which the artist displays in this work instantly made his reputation as one of the great masters of the Quattrocento. You may be interested to know, however, that the portal you see today is actually a replica made with golden resin. The real thing can be seen the cathedral museum. 

Another outstanding feature of the architectural complex is the dome, the construction of which took more than a century, from 1220 to 1330. Probably the most interesting elements in the interior are the roof mosaics and magnificent marble floor tiles. On a final, albeit interesting note, all Florentine children were formerly baptized in this splendid Baptistery. 

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