The Baptistery of St. John, standing in front of the cathedral, is the ancient religious and civil centre of Florence, as well as a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture.
The monument we see today, consecrated in 1059 by Pope Niccolò II, is perhaps the result of an expansion of a primitive 4th century baptistery. Since the Middle Ages and until recently, it was instead believed that the structure had originated as a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mars, then in the Christian era converted to a church.
"My St. John, the beautiful", as Dante called it, is an octagonal building 25.6 metres (84 feet) across, with an apsidal extension on the west face. The exterior, ordered on three vertical levels, is capped by a double vault consisting of eight internal sails and an external eight-sided prismatic roof. The walls, covered in white and green marbles with geometric designs, open through three portals and 24 windows. Inside, each side is set off by beam courses between pairs of half-pillars and supported by ancient columns, while at the second level there is a matroneum, or “women’s gallery”.
A splendid mosaic decoration, made in the 13th-14th centuries, covers the entire vault, the apse, parts of the matroneum, its parapets and parts of the walls. These mosaics were begun by artists of the Byzantine school, then continued and completed by great Tuscan masters of the 13th and 14th centuries, including Cimabue, Coppo of Marcovaldo,Meliore and others. The three western sections of the vault mosaics are dominated by an enormous figure of Christ the Judge between the Paradise of the blessed and Hell of the damned. The horizontal registers of the five remaining vault segments show the Angelic hierarchies, the Stories of Genesis, those of the Patriarch Joseph, those of Christ and Mary and finally those of St John the Baptist. The magnificent marble “carpets” of the floor are by Tuscan artists of the early 1200s, and are inspired by the Middle Eastern textiles traded by the Merchants Guild, the corporation charged with supervision of the temple.
N.B. Visitors are advised that restoration work is underway on the Baptistery's mosaics.
The interior is further enhanced by Gothic liturgical furnishings and Roman and medieval sepulchres; these include the monument to Cardinal Baldassarre Coscia, a Renaissance masterpiece by Donatello and Michelozzo.
The three entryways were adorned with beautiful bronze doors, whose originals are now preserved in the museum: the south pair, moulded with episodes of the Life of the Baptist, were made between 1330 and 1336 by Andrea Pisano; the north doors, with Stories of Christ, by Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1403-1424; and the eastern pair, renamed the Gates of Paradise, the paramount and now fully renaissance masterpiece of Ghiberti, are ornamented with 10 stories from the Old Testament.
Other important works of art once displayed inside and outside the baptistery are now preserved in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo, among these: the Penitent Mary Magdalene by Donatello, sculpted in wood; the Pollaiolo Silver Cross and the Silver Altar; the embroideries of the St John liturgical vestments; a statuary group by Rustici, Sansovino and Danti, as well as the bronze doors already mentioned.
The Baptistery is also accessible for people with mobility difficulties. Subject to exhaustion of places, it is possible to reserve free admission for the person with difficulties, by writing to the email email@example.com or by contacting the cash desk in Piazza Duomo 14, subject to availability, against a certification document. Any gratuity for the companion is subject to further considerations. For privacy reasons, the email conversation will be deleted. For any paying people to match, we kindly ask you to make the purchase online. To find out about the projects prepared by the Opera del Duomo, visit the page Project for accessibility.