Florence 7: Battistero di San Giovanni

(Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)
The mosaic ceiling of the 8-sided baptistery, seen in this 9-piece collage, was initiated around 1225 by an unknown artist, and probably not completed until the 14th century. The Christ figure (bottom) and the panels to its left and right (“Last Judgement”) are attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo. (Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)

Built between 1059 and 1128, the Florence Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, and for about 800 years, all Catholic Florentines were baptized there. The octagonal structure was built on the site of two earlier baptistries dating to at least the early 5th century. Architecturally, the Battistero is considered the forerunner of the Florentine Romanesque style developed later by designers such as Francesco Talenti, Leon Battista Alberti, and Filippo Brunelleschi.

Like just about everything in Florence, the Battistero is stunning. Unfortunately, during my visit the entirety of the exterior was shrouded in scaffolding. Inside, everything from the floor to the ceiling could only be described as ornate, with variously colored marbles adorning the floor, walls, and altar, up to the unbelievable pictorial mosaic ceiling.

The building is probably best known, however, for its doors. Though each set of doors is—I’ll say it again—ornate, Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” doors are particularly so. Commissioned in 1401, it took Ghiberti 21 years to complete the project (the patience of people in those days is impressive). The gilded bronze doors include 28 sculpted panels depicting New Testament stories and a variety of saints.

Sadly, the doors were seriously damaged in Florence’s flood of 1966. Restoration work has been underway intermittently ever since, with one pair of doors now on display in a hermetically sealed container in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (which is itself undergoing major renovations).

Photos of the Baptistery and Ghiberti’s doors are seen in the gallery below.

You can find my full series of blog posts from Florence here.