Hell and the Journey of the Magi

The Florence Baptistery, (Baptistery of Saint John or the Battistero di San Giovanni), is considered a minor basilica in Florence, Italy.  The octagonal building stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza San Giovanni, across from the Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto and is considered to be one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style.

It was once believed that the Baptistery was originally a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, the tutelary god of the old Florence. Excavations in the 20th Century have shown that there was a 1st Century Roman wall running through the piazza and the Baptistery, which may have been built on the remains of a Roman guard tower on the corner of this wall, or possibly another Roman building including a 2nd Century house which was later restored. It is certain that an initial octagonal baptistery was erected here in the late 4th or early 5th Century. It was replaced or altered by another early Christian baptistery in the 6th Century. Its construction is attributed to Theodolinda, queen of the Lombards (570–628), to seal the conversion of her husband, King Authari.

  • The Baptistery is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures.
  • The south doors were created by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Michelangelo dubbed the east doors the Gates of Paradise.
  • The building contains the monumental tomb of Anti pope John XXIII, by Donatello.
  • The Italian poet Dante Alighieri and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised here.

The Baptistery is crowned by a magnificent mosaic ceiling vault. It was created over the course of a century in several different phases. The oldest parts are the upper zone of the dome with the hierarchy of angels, the Last Judgment on the three western segments of the dome; and the mosaic above the rectangular chapel on the western side.

An inscription in the mosaic above the western rectangular chapel states the date of the beginning of the work and the name of the artist. According to this inscription, work on the mosaic began in 1225 by the Franciscan friar Jacobus, who was trained in Venice and strongly influenced by the Byzantine art of the early to mid-13th Century. Since the inscription also names Emperor Frederick II, the inscription and the completion of the first phase of mosaics must fall within the Ghibelline phase of Florentine rule between 1238 and 1250.

The Last Judgment, created by Jacobus and his workshop was the largest and most important spiritual image created in the Baptistery. It shows a gigantic majestic Christ and angels with the instruments of the passion at each side (formerly attributed to the painter Coppo di Marcovaldo), the rewards of the saved leaving their tomb in joy (at Christ’s right hand), and the punishments of the damned (at Christ’s left hand). This last part is particularly famous: evil doers are burnt by fire, roasted on spits, crushed with stones, bitten by snakes, gnawed and chewed by hideous beasts.

The other scenes on the lower zones of the five eastern sections of the dome depict different stories in horizontal tiers of mosaic: (starting at the top) stories from the Book of Genesis; stories of Joseph; Mary and the Christ and finally in the lower tier, stories of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of the church. A total of sixty pictures originated in the last decade of the 13th Century. The key artists employed were Corso di Buono and Cimabue.

  • The Baptistery vault is considered the most important narrative cycle of Florentine art before Giotto.

Who would have thought it – Hell in Florence

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