The Baptistery and the Gates of Paradise

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Florence Baptistery in Piazza Duomo

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Baptistery dedicated to St. John the Baptist

Piazza San Giovanni
50123 Firenze (FI)
OPA Pass €10
Opening hours
From 11.15 p.m. to 7.00 p.m.
Sunday and 1st Saturday of the month from 8.30 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.
Days of closure
Closed on January 1, Easter Sunday, September 8, December 24 and 25
The exterior of the Baptistery is currently undergoing restoration which should be completed in 2015. So be prepared to find it under scaffolding at the present.

When you think about the Baptistery of St.John in Florence it's easy to remember Dante's words in the Divine Comedy describing it as "my beautiful San Giovanni". Located in Piazza del Duomo, right in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, it is one of the most important monuments in Florence.

Its origins are unknown although it is believed that it was built over the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Mars dating back to the 4th-5th century A.D. It was first described in 897 as a minor basilica. In 1128 it was consacrated as the Baptistery of Florence and as such is the oldest religious monument in Florence. Up until the end of the 19th century, all catholics in Florence were baptized within its doors.

The Baptistery, dedicated to Florence's patron saint, has an octagonal plan and an octagonal lantern with a cupola. Outside it is clad in geometrically patterned colored marble, white Carrara marble and green Prato marble that is typical of Florentine Romanesque architecture.

Florence Baptistery

On three of the four sides there are three large doors famous for their decorations.

The oldest ones are the South Doors by Andrea Pisano made around 1330 (overlooking Via dei Calzaiuoli). The doors consist of 28 quatrefoil panels depicting scenes from St. John's life.

The Northern Doors are by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1403-1424) and depict Stories of the Life and Passion of Christ taken from the New Testament. At the beginning of the 15th century the Arte of Calimala – the Wool Merchants' Guild - announced a public competition to design the Baptistery's northern doors. Many famous artists participated in this competition such as Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Every artist had to design a quatrefoil panel depicting the Binding of Isaac using the lowest quantity of bronze. Ghiberti created a balanced and carefully detailed panel, thanks to his skills as a goldsmith. Brunelleschi's work was completely different from both a technical and artistic point of view: Isaac writhes in pain and all the figures are so realistic they seem to come out of the panel. The new relationship between space and the human body already foreshadow Brunelleschi's achievement in perspective. His panel, however, was heavier than Ghiberti's and the bronze casting was not so perfect. Ghiberti won the hearts of the judges and was thus awarded the commission to create the northern doors. The “cradle of the Renaissance” was not yet ready to “understand” Brunelleschi's revolution and preferred the traditional gothic aesthetics, still vibrant and lively at that time.

The golden East Doors (facing the Duomo) are also known as the Gates of Paradise after a famous quotation by Michelangelo. They were also commissioned to Ghiberti and depict scenes from the Old Testament.

Above the doors stood three different groups of statues. Over the southern doors, the famous bronzes depicting the Beheading of St. John by Vincenzo Danti stood until they were restored in 2008. Above the northern doors stood the bronze group by Giovanni Francesco Rustici depicting St. John the Baptist Teaching between the Pharisee and the Levite modeled between 1504 and 1509. Above the Gates of Paradise stood the Baptism of Christ by Andrea Sansovino and an Angel by Innocenzo Spinazzi, added in 1792.

These are all beautiful statues that we highly recommend you view at the Opera del Duomo Musem where all of the originals are conserved; the statues found on the Baptistery today are copies but most of them unfortunately have not been yet replaced.

Its interior deserves a special visit to view the beautiful 13th century mosaics on the inside of the cupola, the spectacular mosaic marble pavement with geometrical patterns and oriental zodiac motifs. There is also the monumental tomb of Baladassare Cossa - Antipope John XXIII - created by Donatello and Michelozzo between 1422 and 1428.

The Gates of Paradise

Florence Baptistery

porta del paradisoThe Gates of Paradise received their name by Michelangelo who is believed to have exclaimed: "they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise".

The doors consist of 10 rectangular panels, displayed in two lines. They depict scenes of the Old Testament from left to right and from top to bottom.

In each panel, Ghiberti described more than one scene so that there are over fifty scenes depicted.

All around the frame of the doors Ghiberti added 24 small bronze busts of famous Florentines, including his own self-portratit.

The original panels of the Gates of Paradise are now displayed at the Opera del Duomo Museum, the ones in situ are copies.

View our photo gallery of Piazza del Duomo View more photos of the Baptistery »

~Discover Tuscany Team

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