Baptistery of San Giovanni

Published date: 09/07/2024
  • Location: San Giovanni,, San Giovanni, Basilicate, Italy
The Piazza San Giovanni in Florence is home to three important buildings: the cathedral, the campanile, and the baptistery. The octagonal domed baptistery is covered in eye-catching green and white marble, and its interior is studded with breathtaking mosaics. It is most notable, however, for its three pairs of doors, which were created in the 14th and 15th centuries and decorated with sculptures depicting scenes from the life of the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist, and themes of salvation and baptism.

In 1322 the city’s powerful wool merchants, the Calimala Guild, decided that the old wooden east doors should be replaced with bronze. The replacement doors, which have since been repositioned as the south doors, are fine examples of Gothic craftsmanship. They were designed by Andrea Pisano and made by Venetian bronzesmith Leonardo d’Avanzo between 1330 and 1336. The casting involved making wax models that were covered with clay and baked. The wax would melt with the heat, leaving a hollow to be filled with the molten metal. The sculptures were then smoothed and engraved.

The Calimala Guild held a competition to replace Pisano’s east doors. The winner was the young Lorenzo Ghiberti, who beat architect and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi into second place. Ghiberti’s doors, since moved to become today’s north doors, were made between 1403 and 1424. His work illustrates the shift to a Renaissance style with its use of perspective and dynamic human sculptures.

Today’s east doors, also commissioned by the Calimala Guild, were also made by Ghiberti, from 1425 to 1452. Ghiberti spent most of the rest of his life completing the new east doors. The gilded doors have become known as the Gates of Paradise, a name bestowed by Michelangelo in tribute to their beauty and because they mark the entrance to a place of baptism. (Carol King)

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