Thursday, October 21, 2010
Baptistry of San Giovanni
Everyone is probably more familiar with the bronze gates (Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise) of the Baptistry, part of the triumvirate of the Duomo, belltower and Baptistry. My first trip to Florence was specifically to see the Gates of Paradise door. My second trip to Florence was to visit the leather shops and San Croce. On this trip, I was determined to visit the inside of the Baptistry.
Just prior to our departure, Ty and I found time to spend our ‘arriverderci’ walk around Florence. I spotted the side door to the Baptistry open with people entering it. It was daily Mass! So, Ty and I attended what was another one of our special moments of our trip. Not only was it an intimate setting, a ‘chicken skin’ moment to hear a Mass in Italian, but I couldn’t refrain from stealing peeks at the ceiling which glistened with gold mosaics in Byzantine fashion. The technique used here is similar to the mosaics found in Ravenna and Venice of ungrouted glass and gold smalti (which catch the light in different ways from different angles).
All the mosaics have a gilded background and were made between 1266 and the beginning of the 14th century by Byzantine artists with the collaboration of vigorous Tuscans like Cimabue, Giotto’s master – much earlier than the outside doors! Work began on the arch over the altar in 1225 and continued to cover the entire roof vault during the next hundred years or so. The mosaics show biblical scenes, arranged in six concentric rings centered on the roof dome. The first ring is decorative, the second shows Christ surrounded by angels. The outer rings have images from the Old and New Testaments.
The Baptistery floor is of inlaid marble, in red, green, black and white, in a wide variety of patterns. Also referred to as pietre dure, this incorporates thin sections of stone and semi-precious materials into pictures which are as detailed as paintings. This floor reminded us of the floor in the Cathedral of Siena.
The haunting wooden visage of "Magdalene" sculptured by Donatello and was originally exhibited in the Baptistery but it now housed in the Museo dell´Opera del Duomo.