Described by Dante using the phrase ‘My beautiful Giovanni’ the Florence baptistery is most likely the finest and most visible monument in Florence. It is built across from the Church of Santa Maria Fiore.
Its origin has always been a subject of speculation though the main idea is that the baptistery was designed atop a Roman ruin consecrated to the planet Mars in the 5th century. Its first recording and description comes from a document from the year 897 in which it was described as one of the minor basilicas. It was in 1128 that it was officially consecrated as the Florentine baptistery. This makes it the most ancient religious symbols in the city of Florence. For the next 900 years all Catholics based within the city would be baptised within its walls. Today baptism still takes place on the 1st Sunday of each month, even then it’s specifically reserved for infant baptism. This Baptistery has the famed octagonal lantern as well as an octagonal plan designed with a copula. The exterior is designed with geometrically proportional marbles of assorted colours. The design is a blend of green Prato marbles and Carrara marble which are typical of the Florentine Roman Architecture for which the baptistery is among the pioneer designs. Though the eastern door that faces the Duomo was always slated as the main door, each of its three magnificent doors is an impressively decorated work of art. Initially all these doors were located on that same side before they were moved to occupy three of its four walls.
The oldest sets of entrances are bronze doors on the Southside built by Pisano Andrea in the 1300s consisting of over 25 quatrefoil slides that recapture scenes of St. Johns life. For 21 years, (1403-1424) Lorenzo Ghiberti designed the northern doors to tell Stories from the Passion and Life of Jesus as told in the bible. The initial doors underwent renovation after which they were placed inside the museum at Opera della Duomo.
The Competition for the baptistery door
One of the biggest moments for the baptistery was in the 1500s when the Artee of Calimala (wool merchant’s Guild) created a competition for the design of the northern doors. Brunelleschi designed the most artistic and vivid, Binding of Isaac quatrefoil panels with the least bronze. Even then it turned out to be heavier than that of his main rival Ghiberti who created a more gothic design.
The end design by Ghiberti dubbed the Gates of Paradise after Michelangelo’s famous edict, was so magnificent that it received the honour of being the Eastern Doors and facing the Duomo of Florence. There are 10 rectangular panels on each door depicting a total of fifty Old Testament scenes in total. Ghiberti added 24 small bronze busts on each door to depict famous Florentines including himself.