Significance of the Completion of the Baptistery Doors of the Cathedral of Florence

Tuesday December 14, 2021

Name Instructor Course Date Significance of the Completion of the Baptistery Doors of the Cathedral of Florence The significance of the baptistery doors of the Cathedral of Florence marks a period of Italian Renaissance art where the baptistery of San Giovanni lands with a complex set of historical art characterized in the Cathedral of Florence which is situated in the heart of Florence. Cathedral of Florence has three doors in numbers namely, the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti and south doors by Andrea Pisano representing a set of artistic significance that has attracted controversies and is subject to discussion. It is as a result of these controversies accompanying the architecture of the Cathedral of Florence that makes it vital to explore the history of the Baptistery in Florence as well as the importance of the completion of the baptistery doors while putting a due reference on the three doors. History of Baptistery in Florence. Recent and ancient articles fail to document the date of commencement of the doors, but Roman scholars purport that the baptistery was already in existence in the 11th century (Michael, 203). The Baptistery which was initially dedicated to Giovanni Batista was fully restored to life and meaning by the Calimala Guild of worldwide merchants and cloth makers. Built in an octagonal shape, the baptistery consists of a geometrical pattering maintained throughout the structure and divided by entablatures. Besides, the physical appearance of the baptistery presents a sophisticated set of meaning that complements the significance of the baptistery. Amongst the many purposes behind the baptistery, are the bronze doors (see figure 1) which symbolize an exquisite entry to heaven or paradise. Scholar Angiola suggests that such symbolism of the doors is a representation of sacred washing away of sin into a newly baptized Christian community that opens doors to heaven (Angiola, 245). The concept of the doors was strictly been upheld in the late medieval ages. Figure 1. The Cathedral of Florence from “Cathedral of Florence.” www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/cathedral_of_florence.html. The Calimala Guild Another development adopted by the Cathedral of Florence was the guild system introduced by merchants and artisans in Florence in the late Middle Ages was one of the twelve significant guilds in Florence. Initially called colleges or schools, the guild societies best interest relied on the provision of education and training to people who had the same occupational interest. In the course of time, the guild system gained significance and birth of many guild societies are witnessed in Rome today. At the beginning of the 14th century, major guild system were distinguished from the smaller ones that further gave Calimala Guild an added advantage. The guild being one of the twelve significant guilds in Florence it was elevated to be the most powerful guild in ancient Rome (Antonio, 75). The principal guild functions included cutting, folding and weaving different wool making the society a staple industry in Rome and since the guild did not see it fit to import raw material for its function from Spain and England and opted to source such materials in Holland and Flanders (Dixon, 162). Critics consider the move as a strategy to create a monopoly by sourcing many affordable supplies from countries with better offers relative to their competitors. Due to the great success in the woolen industry, the guild members were amongst the distinguished people in the society, presenting them a position of great stature in the Florentine community. With excessive power and success, the guild started participating in a significant project of Florence such as the rebuilding of its native city which led to the guild being given the most priority in the construction of the baptistery doors. After a period of around 500 years of political and commercial success, the guild representative on governance and ownership eventually came to an end. Even so, the guild role in crafting the priceless doors of the baptistery remains in the hearts of the Roman people who owe most of the gratitude to Calimala. The South Doors by Andrea Pisano One of the symbolic doors of the Cathedral of Florence were the Pisano bronze doors which displayed a sophisticated set of designs that had changed from previous ones in terms of line, form, and metalworking. The doors have two vertical columns that break into seven categories creating a twenty-eight scenes door with the top twenty panels of the gate representing narratives of St John the Baptist while the lower ones are a representation of enthroned traits. The physical appearance of the doors is made to be read like a book from left and top to bottom hence making the arrangements to give the impression that the valves of the entries were frequently kept open for reasons that till now remain a mystery. Besides, the scenes of the doors exist in accordance to their settings with five of them put in place specifically for landscape (see figure 2) while the rest were more of architectural designs positioned throughout the doors (Falk and Jeno, 140). Initially, the doors were located facing the Cathedral on the east side of the Baptistery but were later relocated due to different architectural needs and preferences. The door gained its meaning through ceremonial occasions, whereby the door would be opened for Christians converts well known as catechumens passing the Cathedral to be baptized. The procession thus exhibits the importance of the doors is subject to the door narratives with the subjects reflecting some Gospel stories such as John the Baptist that maintains its relevance from the beginning to the end. Using two major principles of John the Baptist, Andreas Pisano adopted a systematic approach to narrating the life of John the Baptist as a martyr and prophet. Valves on the left side of the door represent John the Baptist chronicles in regards to his preaching and public life, while the ones on the right focused more on martyrdom and subsequent events that followed (Franklin, 162). Every story was uniquely enclosed to a quatrefoil frame that Andreas designed following French architectural specifications and later on advanced the design to a more complex quatrefoil that had square angles. The quatrefoil had standard compositions that featured a few architectural designs that further enclosed a small number group of figures. In a three dimensional entity, Andreas designed Salome’s drapery in a unique architectural design of fashion that could also be seen represented in the biblical stories of The Feast of Herod and Confronting the people (Falk and Jeno, 140). Figure 2. The South Doors by Andreas Pisano from “South Doors (Life of St John the Baptist) by PISANO, Andrea.” www.wga.hu/html_m/p/pisano1/andrea/south_d/1south_1.html. The North Doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti Although the north doors were initially meant to portray stories of the Old Testament such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the theme of the project changed its cause to the New Testament the moment the project began. In response to directives from Arte di Calimala, Ghiberti doors are close in similarity to Andreas Pisano’s both having 28 quatrefoils and twenty sequential in the top five rows. The only difference between the two is that Andreas Pisano’s door reflects the life of John the Baptist while that of Ghiberti’s represents the life of Jesus Christ. Ghiberti doors have deployed a more luxurious and elaborate border decoration compared to Andreas, by substituting plans, insects, and amphibians with ageing and youthful figures (Michael, 205). Even though the statistics cannot be identified, scholars and specialist assume that the statistics are prophets, an assumption that cannot be solely relied upon due to the presence of a number of them. Additionally, the figures include a portrait that is arguably considered to be of Ghiberti. Each head of the data is different from the others, giving more uncertainty to whom the artist was referring to. Ghiberti maintained a close relationship with the figures reflected in the quatrefoils as compared to Andrea Pisano’s doors. Take the Crucifixion, for instance, Ghiberti positioned the cross in the top of the quatrefoil triangle and made the horizontal beam tangent to its different points. Ghiberti further places the body of Christ from a hanging position in response to gravity. It is worth noting that, the grief-stricken angle in either side of the body of Christ is a representation of mourning and grief, tribulations that Jesus Christ went through. Additionally, Ghiberti borrowed a few concepts in The Resurrection whereby the head of divine Jesus Christ fits the upper part while the lower parts consist of tree and hedge (See figure 3). The figures are specifically designed to bring out the desired impression while referring to the surrounding framework. Despite these sort of visual expressions are not frequently seen in Andrea’s doors they prove beyond doubt that both adopted an artistic approach to sculpture elements of landscape in an architectural project. Figure 3. Ghiberti Image in the North Doors from https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/lorenzo-ghiberti-s-north-door-of-the-florence-baptistery-1403-24/ZgE3-qEew91LAA Figure 4. Ghiberti North Doors from https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/lorenzo-ghiberti-s-north-door-of-the-florence-baptistery-1403-24/ZgE3-qEew91LAA The East Doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti The east doors represent a shift in architectural design by reducing the number of narratives compared to the north and Andreas doors from twenty-eight to ten large panels. The East doors, however, revived the intention of presenting a description of the Old Testament through each set of the ten panels but had its shortcomings. As designers of the doors resolved to have individual figures removed from the groups, prophets and other symbolic figures had to be moved to the frame. The David Panel for instance from time to time has been facing criticism due to its chaotic arrangement. As many figures were represented in a panel it was difficult to disentangle each period and the hidden message behind every message. Even so, we cannot fail to acknowledge that the panel of the doors held quite some significance in relevance to Old Testament stories. On the right of the panel, the war between the Israelites and Palestine’s soldiers was well reflected (see figure 5), while King Saul on the left side is followed by a mass of Israelites in celebration of victory (Michael, 204). In the middle of the two symbols is a presentation of feeble David slaying the mighty Goliath whose image is a representation of Florence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Figure 5. The East Doors by Ghiberti from “Gates of Paradise | Work by Ghiberti.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/Gates-of-Paradise-by-Ghiberti. Conclusion The three baptistery doors of Florence have many meanings to the Cathedral of Florence. From architectural designs, the paper brought to light that the motifs including quatrefoils and panels had sculptures and images that had its significant meaning in the religion of Christianity. Giving a representation of baptism in the South Doors, New Testament in the North Doors and Old Testament in the East Doors, Cathedral of Florence is a statue of the Christian religion. Works Cited Angiola, E. M. “‘Gates of Paradise’ and the Florentine Baptistery.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 2, 1978, pp. 242-248, doi:10.1080/00043079.1978.10787550. “Cathedral of Florence.” www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/cathedral_of_florence.html. Dixon, E. “The Florentine Wool Trades in the Middle Ages: A Bibliographical Note.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol. 12, 1898, p. 151. Falk, Ilse, and Jeno Lanyi. “The Genesis of Andrea Pisano’s Bronze Doors.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 25, no. 2, 1943, p. 132. “Gates of Paradise | Work by Ghiberti.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/Gates-of-Paradise-by-Ghiberti. “Lorenzo Ghiberti’s North Door of the Florence Baptistery (1403-24) – Digital Reprint Image on Flex Courtesy Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Replica Courtesy The Frilli Gallery/Guild of the Dome Association, Florence, Original Creator Lorenzo Ghiberti – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/lorenzo-ghiberti-s-north-door-of-the-florence-baptistery-1403-24/ZgE3-qEew91LAA. “Lorenzo Ghiberti’s North Door of the Florence Baptistery(1403-24) – Digital Reprint Image on Flex Courtesy Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Replica Courtesy The Frilli Gallery/Guild of the Dome Association, Florence, Original Creator Lorenzo Ghiberti – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/lorenzo-ghiberti-s-north-door-of-the-florence-baptistery-1403-24/ZgE3-qEew91LAA. Moore, Michael. “On the Signification of Doors and Gates in the Visual Arts.” Leonardo, vol. 14, no. 3, 1981, p. 202. Paolucci, Antonio. The Origins of Renaissance Art: The Baptistry Doors, Florence. George Braziller, 1996. “South Doors (Life of St John the Baptist) by PISANO, Andrea.”


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