The Baptistery of Saint John or Florence Baptistery is one of the oldest and most famous buildings in the city. The doors made by Lorenzo Ghiberti on the north and east sides caused Michelangelo to sigh that they should have marked the entrance to Paradise, with which he also established its nickname “Gates of Paradise”.
San Giovanni Baptistery Florence
Address, opening hours and admission (2020)
The address is Piazza San Giovanni – 50123 Firenze (FI). The entrance fee is 18 Euro and it is open from 12.15 to 19.00 hours. The ticket includes the Dome, the Santa Reparata Cathedral, the Campanile and the museum. On Sunday and the 1st Saturday of the month, the Battistero di San Giovanni is open from 08.30 to 14.00 hours. January 1st, Easter, September 8th, Christmas and New Year closed. Name in Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni.
History Florence Baptistery
Originally thought to have been a Roman temple dedicated to the God Mars, today it is believed that the present baptistery was built between the 4th and 7th centuries on a spot previously occupied by a Roman domus. There are some ancient Roman architectural elements incorporated in the facade, though.
The octagonal drum dates from the 11th century. The alternating green and white marble strips and the dome are 13th century additions. The marble pavement was also added in this century.
Lorenzo Ghiberti‘s famous doors were commissioned in 1401, to celebrate the end of an epidemic of the Plague.
Gates of Paradise
The Gothic doors on the south side of the baptistery were made in 1336 by Andrea Pisani. The upper 20 panels narrate key events from the life of John the Baptist. The lower 8 leveld personify the cardinal virtues.
In 1401 the Florentine wool traders’ guild launched a competition to find out who was allowed to design the doors on the north side of the baptistery. Seven famous artists participated, but the competition was won by Ghiberti. He defeated recognised masters such as Brunelleschi, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia who had also tried their luck. Ghiberti was only 22 years old at the time.
Like the other architects, Ghiberti had designed a bronze panel in bas-relief on the theme of Isaac‘s sacrifice by his father Abraham. For the next 28 panels he needed 21 years. Although he was obliged to make the Gothic frames similar to those of Pisano, he gave free rein to his own ideas for the panels themselves.
Some of the bronze formella’s made by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi are seen as the first art works of the Renaissance.
The woolmakers were so pleased with the result of his work that in 1424 they also asked him to make the eastern doors (opposite the Duomo). For these, he was given complete freedom of expression. 27 Years later the work, ten Old Testament scenes, in gilded bronze, was finished. It was these doors that were baptized “Gates of Paradise” by . Note that the present doors of the Baptistery are copies, since the original panels were moved to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
The 10 panels, from left to right and from top to bottom:
- Adam and Eve being chased from earthly paradise.
- Cain killing Abel.
- Noah’s drunkenness and sacrifice.
- Abraham and the sacrifice of Isac.
- Esau and Jacob.
- Joseph being sold as a slave. In this panel the perspective in the temple in the background is particularly impressive.
- Moses receiving the table of commandments.
- The fall of Jericho
- Battle against the Philistines.
- Salomon and the Queen of Saba.
The columns of the interior were plundered from old Roman buildings. Both the floor and the ceiling are adorned with mosaics.
The huge 8 meter Jesus mosaic on the ceiling was designed by Coppo di Marcovaldo.
The mosaics decorating the vault were made in the 13th century.
To the right of the altar is the wall tomb of the antipope John XXIII. It was designed by Michelozzo and Donatello.
And for people curious to know what Ghiberti himself looked like: The fourth head from the bottom in the middle part of the left door on the north side is a self-portrait of the good man.
The baptismal font was used to baptize many famous inhabitants of Florence, including Dante.