[Photo credit: Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.]
The prophets, bishops and cherubs depicted in the 14th-century mosaics on the interior walls of Florence’s Baptistery are shining again, following a lengthy restoration that began in 2017 and is still ongoing.
The restoration is funded by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the institution created in 1296 by the Florentine Republic to manage the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Today, it still oversees the administration of the entire Cathedral complex in Florence.
Starting with the exterior facades, restoration work has then continued inside the landmark monument, one of the oldest buildings in the city, erected between 1059 and 1128 in Florentine Romanesque style.
It has brought back to its original splendor the mosaics on four of the eight walls that form the Baptistery, and will now proceed to four other walls, hoping to finish by the end of 2021.
“The mosaics were meant to shine, and now they have really returned to do so,” said a consultant for the restoration, which has also revealed many interesting discoveries; among them, traces of gold leaf found on one of the capitals of the matroneum, an internal loggia, which seem to suggest that the capitals were all originally covered in gold leaf.
The octagon was a common shape for baptisteries since early Christian times; the number eight is a symbol of regeneration in Christianity. The Baptistery is crowned by a magnificent mosaic ceiling, created over the course of a century; it depicts the Last Judgment, with a gigantic Christ in the center, and other Bible stories.
The most famous feature of the Baptistery is its doors, and especially what Michelangelo called ‘the gates of Paradise,’ the pair of gilded bronze doors (1425–52) designed by the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti for the north entrance. Upon their completion, they were installed at the east entrance (the original doors are now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). The 10 relief panels with scenes from the Old Testament are considered some of the greatest works of early Renaissance sculpture.
Did you know Dante was baptized in the Baptistery? And besides him, other notable Florentine figures, including members of the Medici family.
Florence’s Cathedral and Brunelleschi’s Dome have reopened to the public on January 25 and will be open on weekdays only, following the latest Covid-19 legislation. Check the website, where you can also buy tickets.
Learn more about the restoration and watch the restorers at work in this video by The Florentine: