Baptistery - Florence, Italy
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Baptistery at Florence

octagonal striped stone building
Florence Baptistery

This is where people were baptized in medieval Florence. There was probably an earlier, smaller octagonal baptistery built here around 700 AD, possibly to encourage Lombards to convert to Catholicism from Arianism.

Florence baptistry mosaic
God making Adam and Eve,
mosaic in the baptistery of Florence

People built this new octagonal baptistery in the Romanesque style around 1100 AD. The outside is covered with patterns of red, white, and green marble. The architect probably learned this way of patterning buildings from earlier buildings in the Islamic Empire, across the Mediterranean from Florence, like the Great Mosque at Cordoba or the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem, from the 600s-700s AD. The octagonal/round shape was common in earlier medieval buildings: first the mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (ca. 450 AD), then Hagia Sophia and Hagia Irene in Constantinople from the 550s, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (600s AD), and Charlemagne's chapel at Aachen (ca. 800 AD).

On the inside, the baptistery of Florence is covered - like most of these buildings - with mosaics from the 1200s AD. Some of these mosaics were made by visiting artists from Venice, and others by artists from Florence like the famous Cimabue (chee-MA-boo-ay).


One set of doors, and a
panel by Ghiberti showing Cain and Abel.

The baptistery has fancy bronze doors on three sides. The artist Pisano molded one set of doors, using lost wax casting, in 1330 AD. Ghiberti molded the other two sets of doors in the 1400s. Ghiberti (gi-BEAR-tee) won a competition against Michelangelo to see who would get to carve these doors when he was only 23 years old.

You might want to compare this baptistery to the baptistery in Pisa, very close by, which was built just after this one. The Florence baptistery is just across from the later Duomo, or Cathedral.

Learn by doing: mosaics
Florence Duomo (Cathedral)

Bibliography and further reading about Romanesque architecture:

Romanesque Architecture
More medieval architecture
More about the Middle Ages
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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