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Replaced an earlier building dating to the ninth century CE that was believed to have
stood on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Minerva. Like the cathedrals elsewhere, it
reinforced myths about the town’s most ancient origins, one factor that motivated it's use of
Roman style columns and other classicizing motives. The cathedral stood at one of the regions
highest topographical points and loomed over the surrounding neighbourhoods. The surfaces of
cathedrals, inside and out, displayed expensive marbles and other precious materials.
Founded in 1296, shows that the town was fully aware of what other
nearby communes were up to: Orvieto had begun building it's new
cathedral over 10 years earlier, in 1285, the same year that Sienna finished
it's duomo with a new lower façade; Grosseto began erecting a new
cathedral in 1294, the year that nearby Florence committed to building its
own. Architecture for cathedral was “democratic”, streets radiated outwards from it. Building was
a place for general congregation, and it’s wide nave allowed it to accommodate large gatherings.
Designed after a design by Arnolfo di Cambio. Communal involvement slowed down the
progress, seven decades after its beginning it was still possible to consider newly proposed
models for its most basic design. The plan of the cathedral repeated the square that formed the
crossing so as to generate a nave six units in length, a transept two units wide; the dome was
three units high. This matched the dimension of the Solomon’s Temple. The reference to antiquity
was to follow a set of divinely sanctioned proportions, as if the cathedral were a realization of
God’s own deign. The ratios were so important that a Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay,
incorporated them into a composition he wrote dedicated to the building. The theme of prophecy
had exceptional importance at Florence Cathedral, since John the Baptist, the great prophet to
whom the baptistery itself was dedicated, was also the city’s patron saint.
Standing architecture of this building had been consecrated in 1059, though the
Florentines believed it to be older, originating as an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the Roman
god of war, Mars. Arnolfo di Cambio had proposed an octagonal crossing for the cathedral, this
element of his design survived subsequent reconsiderations. Giotto and his successors insured
that the Campanile and the cathedral received a variegated skin of green and white marble facing
like that of the baptistery.
Andrea Pisano, South Doors of the Florence Baptistery, 1330-36
The most impressive feature of the Florence Baptistery’s exterior were the
bronze doors that the sculptor / architect Andrea Pisano had done for the east
entrance showing scenes from the life of John the Baptist. Were used for south
instead, Ghiberti replaced them with his own door dealing with the life of Christ.
Ghiberti’s composition would closely follow Andreas both in the general arrangement of the
panels and in their internal elements. Ghiberti scaled his figures roughly consistent in size from
frame to match Andreas. Ghiberti kept architecture and other nonfigural elements to a minimum,
using only what tradition or clarity required.
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In 1401 the city’s luxury cloth importers (calimala) Florence’s most powerful guild held a
competition for the production of a sequel to what Andrea has made. Artists had to produce a
single panel that had to show the Sacrifice of Isaac, the episode from Genesis wherein God
commands Abraham to kill his own son Isaac, then intervenes at the last moment by allowing
him to slaughter a ram instead. (Catholics understood the scene to foretell Gods sacrifice of his
own son on the cross.) Participants had to work with a frame of the same shape and size (a
quatrefoil, or diamond with projecting lobes) A specific number of figures and background
elements may have also been requirements since the two remaining panels share similarities.
Winning would guarantee a decades worth of steady work while also promising maximum
visibility for his products.
Brunelleschi’s biographer Antonio Manetti reported that the competition resulted in a draw, but
that Brunelleschi refused the option of working in collaboration with his rival. Ghiberti himself
reported that he had won the competition.
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac, 14011403, Florence, Bargello Museum
Ghiberti had trained in a typical late medieval workshop, the son and student of another
goldsmith. He wrote important early arthistorical and theoretical texts and was an innovative
metalworker. Ghiberti made his scene as a single piece, attaching only Abrahams hand and a
section of the rock. Thin and hollow at the back, his relief weighed less making it easier for the
installers to handle, less bronze meant less costly. Ghiberti adopted the thorn pullers delicate
anatomy for Isaac himself; the victim here charms the viewer in a way that Brunelleschi’s
screaming child doesn’t.
Where Brunelleschi’s secondary figures of animals and servants, with their vigorous and difficult
poses all jostle for our attention. Ghiberti produced a harmonious and easily legible composition
organized around the flowing curves.
Filippo Brunelleschi, Sacrifice of Isaac, 14011403, Florence, Bargello Museum
Designed individual characters in widely varying poses, then placing these in the
subfields suggested by the assigned shape: an angel in the upper left arc, a ram in the
projecting angle below that, servants at lower left and right. Isaac is set on an altar with a relief
carved on the side, Brunelleschi may have seen ancient stone altars and imagined their ritual
function, though here the device works also as a pedestal, making Isaac himself look like a statue.
The figure at the lower left preoccupied with the base of his foot references the Spinario (The
Thorn Puller) in Rome, from the 1 century BCE, one of the most famous surviving
sculptures from the ancient world. Brunelleschi son of local notary entered the world of
sculptor as an outsider. Brunelleschi produced his relief by casting seven small objects, then
soldering them together.
Ghiberti, Baptism of Christ, from the North Doors of the Florence Baptistery, ca. 1416
Ghiberti was different from his predecessor because of his interest in figural movement. Christ’s
suavely curving body is symmetrically framed by sweeping arcs, formed to his right by Johns
elastically outstretched right arm and extended right leg. Posture and movement both enrich the
narrative and display a modern artfulness, learned in part from the study of what the figures in
ancient sculptures did.
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Ghiberti, Finding of Christ in the Temple from the north doors of the Florence Baptistery.
Ghiberti also set figures in different states of motion against one another, inviting the viewer to
compare them. Subtle drama of his story telling. Mary standing on the right, discovers the 12 yr
old Christ, who had been missing for 3 days, disputing with the Jewish elders in the temple. Her
commanding presence disrupts the symmetrical arrangement of Christ and his interlocutors; as
her gaze locks with Christ, she points to herself in a gesture of maternal reproach to saw “Why
have you treated us like this”?
Ghiberti’s North Doors of the Florence Baptistery, 141619
Story of Christ’s life and death runs from left to right and from bottom to top. Beginning
from the bottom are the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) who had
authored the Gospels narrating Christ’s life, and four of the chief Church Fathers who had
interpreted these. The reason that each of the quatrefoils in the lower two rows were dedicated to
a single figure was to follow Andrea’s example. Ghiberti added vegetation around his panels and
used leonine motifs instead of human heads that Andrea Pisano had used in his earlier doors
Duomo = Italian cathedral
Guilds = corporate monopolies that controlled the practice of various trades and dominated city
Quatrefoil = the shape of the panels for the Baptistery door competition.
The sight of statues in niches linked Orsanmichele to the “campanile”, Giotto’s bell tower, the
one other building in Florence to be decorated this way. The first 2 tabernacles to be added to the
structure, those of the Wool Merchants’ Guild and Silk Weaver’s Guild, had both been designed
by Andrea Pisano the artist responsible for both the south baptistery doors and sculptural
decorations on the campanile. 8 years after the Guelph Party and the major Florentine guilds had
agreed to decorate theirs piers with statuary only 4 had been completed; the Wool Merchants
guild, the Silk Weavers guild, the Doctors and Apothecaries’ Guild and the Judges and Notaries
Guild. In the first decade of the 15 century, it was increasingly evident that competition with the
cathedral works threatened to hinder the already slow progress of the decorations of
Orsanmichele, thus in 1406 the Florentine city government said that guilds had to complete the
tabernacles meant for the spaces assigned to them within 10 years or give up the rights to
decorate the building at all.
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Ghiberti’s, St John the Baptist
At the time the statue went up it would have been the only over lifesized bronze statue in
all of Florence thus announcing both the wealth and power of the Calimala as a guild and the new
prestige of Orsanmichele as a site. He employed a method called the “lost wax technique” to
make a hollow cast. After completing a fullscale design in clay, he would have covered this with
a thin coat of wax, reworking details. To the wax surface he would of attached a series of wax
rods, reinforced earthen mold, with a large opening at the top and metal pins running at various
points into the clay form inside. It was then heated, wax removed, leaving a thin empty space
between the original model and its external “negative” as well as empty channels where the
sprues had been. Through these, the casting team could run molten bronze into the mold. Once
the mold had cooled, they could chip away the clay shell and saw off the now metal sprues, then
file and polish the whole work. Ghiberti and his assistant would have completed such details as
the hair, beard, and animalhide tunic with small chisels. He is envelo