Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

The Baptistry of Florence

The Baptistry of Florence is one of the city’s most central buildings – right in front of the Duomo with its famous dome by Brunelleschi. Let’s take a moment to learn more about the history and layout of this important building.

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Baptistry

A Baptistry is defined as the locus for baptism. This is usually done inside churches in a baptismal font and does not require a separate building, but Florence (like Pisa) has separated out the parts of its Cathedral complex. We tend to think of the baptistry as a structure that completes the cathedral (Duomo) and Giotto’s belltower (campanile), but actually it was the FIRST structure on this spot!

 

Exterior of Florence’s Baptistry

Originally a large roman domus that was expanded in the 6th century to become a church, the structure was rennovated in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. This means that it takes some characteristics of Roman architecture, like pilasters and pediments (those triangles over the windows), but adds a Tuscan feel like the green and white marble alternation.

Three sets of Doors

The Baptistry has three sets of bronze doors. Let’s get them straight before we get confused. Stand at the door of the Duomo (or picture yourself there) and these are where the doors are located.

  • 1st doors: Andrea Pisano, 1330. These are on the left side of the Baptistry (looking at it from the Duomo). Also known as South Doors.
  • 2nd doors: Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1403-24. These are on the right side of the building if you look at it from the Duomo. Also known as North Doors.
  • Gates of Paradise (copy in place outside, originals in Museo dell’Opera del Duomo): Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1426-52. These are the big gilded doors that face the Duomo. Also known as East doors.

 

Andrea Pisano: South door (head of John the Baptist)

Lorenzo Ghiberti: North door (christ among the doctors)

The two earlier sets of doors, by Ghiberti and Pisano, are made to match each other (well, Ghiberti had to work with the shape chosen by the earlier sculptor). The artists were constrained to work in low relief within a “quattrefoil” shape, a cross between a diamond and a clover leaf. Andrea Pisano’s work reflects the style of Giotto in Santa Croce. He pairs down the scenes to basics. There are a lot of lovely details in this work, but his figures are somewhat stilted.

Lorenzo Ghiberti: North door (christ among the doctors)

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.