Duomo di Firenze, formally the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is the main Florentine church, symbol of the city and one of the most famous in Italy. The cathedral complex, in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major tourist attraction of Tuscany.
Florence’s cathedral stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with the baptistery right across. The cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt. Florence Cathedral was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink, bordered by white, and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris.
The basilica is used to known for the largest dome in the world in the old time. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The Cathedral able to accommodate 30,000 worshippers, when it was completed in the 15th century, it was the largest church in the world. Among the building’s significant features are its stained-glass windows; its ornate green, red, and white marble facade; its collection of paintings and statuary by Renaissance masters.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stands out for its monumental dimensions. The church has a length of 153 meters and a width of 38 meters. The height of the arches in the aisles is 23 meters, and the height of the dome is 114.5 meters. Due to the long span of its execution, from the foundation to the 19th century completion, there are some considerable stylistic differences between its parts, but the Neo-Gothic facade built in red, white and green marble forms a harmonious ensemble together with the Giotto’s bell-tower and the Baptistery.
By 1418, the technical problems of building a vault above the enormous dimensions of the dome had solved. Florentine artists’ ability to find technical and aesthetic solutions for building this dome was the first significant Renaissance architecture affirmation. The building’s dome belongs within the Gothic tradition, as it was built with rib construction and a pointed arch form, but the introduction of a drum, which made the dome more prominent, became characteristic of the Renaissance dome. Having all but equaled the span of the Pantheon in Rome in stone, Brunelleschi was hailed as the man who “renewed Roman masonry work.“
The three bronze doors, adorned with scenes from the life of the Madonna, date from a period between 1899 and 1903. The mosaics in the lunettes above the portals were designed by Niccolò Barabino. The pediment above the central portal contains a relief by Tito Sarrocchi. On top of the facade, there is a series of niches with the twelve Apostles and the Madonna with Child in the middle. Between the rose window and the tympanum, there is a gallery with busts of great Florentine artists.
The Cathedral has a basilica plan, with three naves, divided by large composite pillars, and pointed vaults. The plan of the Duomo consists of a three- nave basilica body welded to an enormous triconca roundabout that supports the immense dome by Brunelleschi, the largest masonry dome ever built. The interior is rather simple and austere, with a polychrome marble floor designed by Baccio d’Agnolo. A balcony on corbels runs along the entire perimeter of the church.
It is visible the largest surface ever decorated with frescoes: 3600 m², executed between 1572 – 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. At the base of the marble lantern, there is a panoramic terrace overlooking the city located 91 meters above the ground. The facade of the Duomoin polychrome marble it is from the modern era, dates back to 1887 by Emilio de Fabris, and is an important example of neo-Gothic style in Italy.
Santa Maria del Fiore is striking for its monumental dimensions and for its appearance as a unitary monument, especially on the outside, thanks to the use of the same materials: white marble from Carrara, green from Prato, red from Maremma and terracotta tiles.
The church was consecrated as soon as the dome was in place although the façade (front of the church) was only half finished by then. It was considered just a decoration, and thus remained unfinished up until the 19th century. Upon closer inspection, each of the parts reveals considerable stylistic differences, due to the very long period of execution, from the foundation to the nineteenth-century completion.
The interior, by contrast, is pretty stark and plain. The mosaic pavements are certainly its main attraction within. The biggest artwork within the cathedral is Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9): they were designed by Vasari but painted mostly by his less-talented student Federico Zuccari by 1579. There also 3 frescoes alongside the left nave of the cathedral.
The Cathedral today is the result of 170 years of work. The building of the cathedral had started in 1296 with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was completed in 1469 with the placing of Verrochio’s copper ball atop the lantern. The project, underwent numerous changes, the most evident of which are visible on the external sides of the building, to the north and south, where the first four windows are lower, narrower and closer than those to the east, which they correspond, however, to the enlargement made by master builder starting from the middle of the 14th century. But the façade was still unfinished and would remain so until the 19th century.
The radial chapels to the east were completed in the early 15th century and the gigantic dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in just 16 years, from 1418 to 1434, “structura si grande, rising above and skies, it extends to cover all Tuscan peoples with its shadow “, as Leon Battista Alberti wrote at the time. The lantern, designed by Brunelleschi, was made after the artist’s death (1446) and the gilded copper ball with the cross, containing sacred relics, the work of Andrea del Verrocchio, was placed in 1466.
The facade of the cathedral was left unfinished, only the partial decorative construction dating back to Arnolfo di Cambio being present. Already in 1491 Lorenzo the Magnificent had promoted a competition for completion, but no implementation was found. In 1587, under Francesco I de ‘Medici, the existing decorative part was destroyed on the proposal of Bernardo Buontalenti, who put forward a more “modern” project of his, however never realized. In the following centuries the cathedral was equipped with ephemeral facades on the occasion of important celebrations, and it was only in 1871that, after an international competition, lively discussions and bitter debates, a real facade began to be built, based on a design by Emilio De Fabris which, on his death, was continued by Luigi del Moro until the completion of the works in 1887.
The iconographic theme of the decoration takes up both the Marian cycle of the ancient Arnolfian facade and that of the bell tower with the theme of Christianity as the engine of the world. In the niches of the buttresses there are, from the left, the statues of Cardinal Valeriani, of Bishop Agostino Tinacci, of Pope Eugene IV who dedicated the church in 1436 and of Saint Antonino Pierozzi, Bishop of Florence. In the tympanum of the central cusp the Glory of Mary by Augusto Passaglia and in the gallery the Madonna and Child with the Twelve Apostles. At the base of the crowning, beyond the rose window, the squares with the busts of the great artists of the past and in the center of the tympanum a tondo with the Eternal Father, also by Passaglia.
The three large bronze doors by Augusto Passaglia (the main central one and the left side one) and by Giuseppe Cassioli (the one on the right) date back to the period from 1899 to 1903 and are decorated with scenes from the life of the Madonna. That of Cassioli in particular was a very painful work: having suffered harassment, misfortune and misery during the long years of work, leaving us his self- portrait in one of the heads of the right door, he wanted to depict himself with a snake around his neck in the act of suffocating him.
The mosaic lunettes above the doors were designed by Nicolò Barabino and depict: Charity among the founders of Florentine philanthropic institutions (left), Christ enthroned with Mary and St. John the Baptist (center) and Florentine artisans, merchants and humanists pay homage to Virgin (right). In the pediment on the central portal there is a bas-relief by Tito Sarrocchi with Mary enthroned with a scepter of flowers; the crowning has a double slope and consists of a gallery with a perforated balustrade.
The cathedral of Florence is built as a basilica, having a wide central nave of four square bays, with an aisle on either side. The chancel and transepts are of identical polygonal plan, separated by two smaller polygonal chapels. The whole plan forms a Latin cross. The nave and aisles are separated by wide pointed Gothic arches resting on composite piers.
The dimensions of the building are enormous: building area 8,300 m2 (89,340 sq ft), length 153 m (502 ft), width 38 m (125 ft), width at the crossing 90 m (300 ft). The height of the arches in the aisles is 23 m (75 ft). The height of the dome is 114.5 m (375.7 ft). It has the fifth tallest dome in the world.
After a hundred years of construction and by the beginning of the 15th century, the structure was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. His brick model, 4.6 m (15.1 ft) high, 9.2 m (30.2 ft) long, was standing in a side aisle of the unfinished building, and had long been sacrosanct. It called for an octagonal dome higher and wider than any that had ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight.
The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravanti’s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. That architectural choice, in 1367, was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance, marking a break with the Medieval Gothic style and a return to the classic Mediterranean dome. Italian architects regarded Gothic flying buttresses as ugly makeshifts. Furthermore, the use of buttresses was forbidden in Florence, as the style was favored by central Italy’s traditional enemies to the north.
Neri’s model depicted a massive inner dome, open at the top to admit light, like Rome’s Pantheon, partly supported by the inner dome, but enclosed in a thinner outer shell, to keep out the weather. It was to stand on an unbuttressed octagonal drum. Neri’s dome would need an internal defense against spreading (hoop stress), but none had yet been designed. The building of such a masonry dome posed many technical problems. Brunelleschi looked to the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. The dome of the Pantheon is a single shell of concrete, the formula for which had long since been forgotten. The Pantheon had employed structural centring to support the concrete dome while it cured. This could not be the solution in the case of a dome this size and would put the church out of use.
For the height and breadth of the dome designed by Neri, starting 52 m (171 ft) above the floor and spanning 44 m (144 ft), there was not enough timber in Tuscany to build the scaffolding and forms. Brunelleschi chose to follow such design and employed a double shell, made of sandstone and marble. Brunelleschi would have to build the dome out of brick, due to its light weight compared to stone and being easier to form, and with nothing under it during construction. To illustrate his proposed structural plan, he constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco, a model which is still displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The model served as a guide for the craftsmen, but was intentionally incomplete, so as to ensure Brunelleschi’s control over the construction.
Brunelleschi’s solutions were ingenious. The spreading problem was solved by a set of four internal horizontal stone and iron chains, serving as barrel hoops, embedded within the inner dome: one at the top, one at the bottom, with the remaining two evenly spaced between them. A fifth chain, made of wood, was placed between the first and second of the stone chains. Since the dome was octagonal rather than round, a simple chain, squeezing the dome like a barrel hoop, would have put all its pressure on the eight corners of the dome. The chains needed to be rigid octagons, stiff enough to hold their shape, so as not to deform the dome as they held it together.
Each of Brunelleschi’s stone chains was built like an octagonal railroad track with parallel rails and cross ties, all made of sandstone beams 43 cm (17 in) in diameter and no more than 2.3 m (7.5 ft) long. The rails were connected end-to-end with lead-glazed iron splices. The cross ties and rails were notched together and then covered with the bricks and mortar of the inner dome. The cross ties of the bottom chain can be seen protruding from the drum at the base of the dome. The others are hidden. Brunelleschi also included vertical “ribs” set on the corners of the octagon, curving towards the center point. The ribs, 4 m (13 ft) deep, are supported by 16 concealed ribs radiating from center. The ribs had slits to take beams that supported platforms, thus allowing the work to progress upward without the need for scaffolding.
A circular masonry dome can be built without supports, called centering, because each course of bricks is a horizontal arch that resists compression. In Florence, the octagonal inner dome was thick enough for an imaginary circle to be embedded in it at each level, a feature that would hold the dome up eventually, but could not hold the bricks in place while the mortar was still wet. Brunelleschi used a herringbone brick pattern to transfer the weight of the freshly laid bricks to the nearest vertical ribs of the non-circular dome.
The outer dome was not thick enough to contain embedded horizontal circles, being only 60 cm (2 ft) thick at the base and 30 cm (1 ft) thick at the top. To create such circles, Brunelleschi thickened the outer dome at the inside of its corners at nine different elevations, creating nine masonry rings, which can be observed today from the space between the two domes. To counteract hoop stress, the outer dome relies entirely on its attachment to the inner dome and has no embedded chains.
A modern understanding of physical laws and the mathematical tools for calculating stresses were centuries in the future. Brunelleschi, like all cathedral builders, had to rely on intuition and whatever he could learn from the large scale models he built. To lift 37,000 tons of material, including over 4 million bricks, he invented hoisting machines and lewissons for hoisting large stones. These specially designed machines and his structural innovations were Brunelleschi’s chief contribution to architecture.
The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and usually attributed to Giotto, was actually begun twenty years after Giotto’s death. A mid-15th-century pen-and-ink drawing of this so-called Giotto’s façade is visible in the Codex Rustici, and in the drawing of Bernardino Poccetti in 1587, both on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo.
This façade was the collective work of several artists, among them Andrea Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi. This original façade was completed in only its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587–1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti, ordered by Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral. Others are now in the Berlin Museum and in the Louvre.
The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal. The wooden model for the façade of Buontalenti is on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. A few new designs had been proposed in later years, but the models (of Giovanni Antonio Dosio, Giovanni de’ Medici with Alessandro Pieroni and Giambologna) were not accepted. The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.
Main portal by Augusto Passaglia
In 1864, a competition held to design a new façade was won by Emilio De Fabris (1808–1883) in 1871. Work began in 1876 and was completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral, Giotto’s bell tower and the Baptistery. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.
The walls are covered on the outside with a sumptuous decoration in polychrome marbles from Campiglia, then Carrara (white marble), Prato (green serpentine), Siena and Monsummano (red). The marble bands took up both the decoration of the Baptistery and that of the Bell Tower.
The southern side (to the right of the façade, bell tower side), was the first to be raised, up to the first two bays. Here a plaque commemorates the foundation of 1296. The windows of the first bay, identical to the corresponding ones on the northern side, are three, blinded, with ornate pediments surmounted by aedicules with statues, some of which are casts of the originals. Each corresponds to the three bays originally foreseen in Arnolfo’s project, rectangular in shape, which would have given rise to a greater crowding of pillars and therefore a more Gothic aspect.
Under the second of these windows, in correspondence with a relief with the Annunciation, is the date 1310, shortly before Arnolfo’s death. The second bay shows another window and a first portal called “Porta del campanile”: in the lunette it has a Madonna and Child and in the tympanum of the cusp a Blessing Christ, works of the circle of Andrea Pisano. Above the aedicules the statues of the announcing Angel and the announced Virgin are attributed to Niccolò di Luca Spinelli.
In the two successive spans, between powerful buttresses, there is a single mullioned window, which dates back to after 1357 and shows the more relaxed rhythms of Florentine Gothic. This is followed by the Porta dei Canonici, near the junction of the grandstand, in styleflowery Gothic with fine marble carvings by Lorenzo di Giovanni d’Ambrogio and Piero di Giovanni Tedesco; the lunette (Madonna with child, 1396) is attributed to Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti or to Lorenzo di Niccolò, while the angels are by Lamberti (1401-1403).
The upper windows of the central nave are instead circular eyes, a feature dictated by the desire to avoid raising the main nave too much and still ensure good lighting. Furthermore, the circular openings were less problematic from a structural point of view. The static requirements made the use of flying buttresses indispensableto unload part of the weight of the vaults of the central nave on the external walls. These expedients in the end decided to hide them by raising the side walls with an attic with rectangles of green stone just framed in white: the solution combined the desire to imitate the attic of the Baptistery with a dark coloring that made the expedient less evident.
This attic is generally (and erroneously) indicated as proof of the fact that the external walls were started according to an Arnolfian project and then were raised by Talenti. The definitive proof of the falsity of this assumption was given by the discovery that the thick pilasters that characterize the wall of the side aisles starting from the west were initially also planned for the main nave (they are still visible in the attics) which we know was designed and partly erected from Talenti.
The northern flank has the same character as the southern flank. In the spans of Arnolfo there is the Porta di Balla or dei Cornacchini, from the end of the fourteenth century, which takes its name from an ancient city gate in the early medieval walls. Two column-bearing lions support twisted columns, culminating with pinnacles on which there are two statuettes of angels. In the lunette a Madonna and Child. A popular legend tells that in the early fifteenth century, a certain Anselmo, who lived in via del Cocomero (today via Ricasoli), right in front of the houses of the Cornacchini family, dreamed of being torn to pieces by the lion which, oddity of the dream, was precisely that of the door. But when, almost to the challenge of the harmless decorative beast, he wanted to put a hand in her mouth, a scorpion nestled there stung him on the finger, killing him within twenty-four hours.
In correspondence with via dei Servi opens the famous Porta della Mandorla, so called due to the element contained in the Gothic spire with the high relief of the Assunta, by Nanni di Banco (1414-1421). The last to be executed shows a still Gothic setting, referable to the first construction phase (1391-1397), shows reliefs by Giovanni d’Ambrogio, Jacopo di Piero Guidi, Piero di Giovanni Tedesco and Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti (archivolt), to whom Antonio and Nanni di Banco were then added in 1406 – 1408. Famous is the small figure of Hercules carved in the jamb, attributed to Nanni di Banco and one of the first classicist revivals documented in Florence. On the pinnacles there were two Prophetins by Donatello and Nanni di Banco today in the Museo dell’Opera. The lunette with the mosaic of the Annunciation is by David Ghirlandaio (1491).
The apse area of the cathedral is made up of an octagonal dome and three apses. The three apses, or tribunes, are arranged along the cardinal points, prismatic with semi-domes with suggestive buttresses in the shape of flying buttresses set on the dividing walls of the tribunes themselves. The elegant windows on the south and east sides are attributed to Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Higher up, in correspondence with the sacristies and the access stairs to the dome, there are the “dead tribunes”, with a semicircular plan, designed by Brunelleschi. Above them runs a continuous gallery on corbels with a four-lobed perforated parapet. Gargoyles in the shape of zoomorphic heads protrude under it. Michelangelo’s David was originally carved for one of the buttresses of the north tribune but, once completed, it was placed in the Piazza dei Priori, so that it was more easily visible; other statues should have decorated the whole apse area.
The three huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903. They are adorned with scenes from the life of the Madonna. The mosaics in the lunettes above the doors were designed by Niccolò Barabino. They represent (from left to right): Charity among the founders of Florentine philanthropic institutions; Christ enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist; and Florentine artisans, merchants and humanists. The pediment above the central portal contains a half-relief by Tito Sarrocchi of Mary enthroned holding a flowered scepter. Giuseppe Cassioli sculpted the right-hand door.
On top of the façade is a series of niches with the twelve Apostles with, in the middle, the Madonna with Child. Between the rose window and the tympanum, there is a gallery with busts of great Florentine artists.
The Gothic interior is vast and gives an empty impression. The relative bareness of the church corresponds with the austerity of religious life, as preached by Girolamo Savonarola. Passing inside the Cathedral, one is struck by the vastness of the space and the sobriety of the furnishings.
The rich external polychromy that connects the bulk of the monument to the smaller scale of the surrounding buildings, here is transformed into a simplicity that underlines, instead, the titanic dimensions of the church (the largest in Europe at the time of its completion in the ‘400: long 153 meters, 90 meters wide at the cross and 90 meters high from the floor at the opening of the lantern). Many decorations in the church have been lost in the course of time, or have been transferred to the Museum Opera del Duomo, such as the magnificent cantorial pulpits (the singing galleries for the choristers) of Luca della Robbia and Donatello.
The almost bare aspect of the interior of Santa Maria del Fiore corresponds to the austere spiritual ideal of medieval Florence and the early Renaissance; it suggests in architectural terms the spirituality of the great reformers of Florentine religious life, from San Giovanni Gualberto to Sant ‘Antonino and Fra Girolamo Savonarola. The formal matrix, then, is twofold: on the one hand, the rugged strength of the Romanesque churches and on the other the elegant essentiality of the “mendicant” churches, Santa Croce in particular, designed by Arnolfo himself. The enrichment of the Cathedral with sumptuous colored marble floors and with “temple“ niches belongs to a second moment in the history of the Cathedral, under the patronage of the Grand Dukes in the 16th century.
Santa Maria del Fiore was built at the expense of the Municipality, as a “state church”, and the works of art along the two side aisles are part of a civic program in honor of “illustrious men” of Florentine life. This program includes: the frescoed equestrian monuments to the leaders John Hawkwood (by Paolo Uccello, 1436) and Niccolò da Tolentino (by Andrea del Castagno, 1456) 9 and 8; and the painting by Domenico di Michelino depicting Dante, from 1465 10, portraits in relief in honor of Giotto 3, Brunelleschi 2, Marsilio Ficino 4, and Antonio Squarcialupi, organist of the Duomo 7, all works of the ‘400 and early’ 500. From the 19th century, however, are the portraits of Arnolfo and Emilio De Fabris, 6 and 5.
In addition to the civic iconography, there is also a religious program that develops in the areas of the Cathedral that are used for worship. Two large images, placed at opposite poles of the processional path, suggest its meaning: a mosaic above the main entrance door (by Gaddo Gaddi at the beginning of the 14th century) and the round window above the main altar (the only of the eight “eyes” of the drum that you immediately see when you enter the Duomo, the work of Donatello between 1434 and 1437). Both of them depict the Coronation of the Virgin, that is, the elevation of Mary to her glory after her death.
An intersection of civic and religious meanings in the Cathedral, all revolving around the idea of the dignity of the human being, his greatness and the elevation that is granted him by God. Historical dignity is celebrated, defined by the right use of talents at the service of the community – and in the mosaic and in the stained glass window (as in other components of properly religious iconography) the spiritual greatness of man is celebrated, destined to transcend human history for ” reign with Christ “: universal vocation anticipated in the Coronation of Mary.
The colossal clock above the main door suggests, among other things, this rootedness in history. Executed (in the painted part) by Paolo Uccello in 1443, it is a “liturgical“ clock which – like the order of the Church’s festivities – calculates the 24 hours of the day starting from sunset the previous day. Finally, the four heads of the prophets in the corners suggest that this “present time” of the Church looks towards another time: a future in which the meaning of the present will be revealed in its fullness.
At the center of the counter façade the Italic clock has heads of evangelists, frescoed in the corners by Paolo Uccello (1443). The clock, of liturgical use, is one of the last to use the so-called hora italica, a day divided into 24 “hours” of varying duration depending on the season, which begins at the sound of vespers, in use until the eighteenth century. The portraits of the evangelists are not identifiable with the traditional aid of symbolic animals, but through the physiognomic features that recall the symbolic animal (or, in the case of Matthew, the angel).
In the lunette of the central portal there is the mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin, attributed to Gaddo Gaddi. On the sides of the portal angels in archaic style, perhaps painted by Santi di Tito at the end of the sixteenth century. To the right of the central portal is the tomb of the bishop Antonio d’Orso (1343) by Tino di Camaino. The adjacent pillar has a panel with a gold background with Saint Catherine of Alexandria and a devotee referable to the school of Bernardo Daddi (c. 1340).
Some works of the cathedral reflect its public function, with monuments dedicated to illustrious men and military commanders of Florence. In the fifteenth century, in fact, the Florentine chancellor Coluccio Salutati envisioned the project to transform it into a sort of Pantheon of illustrious Florentines, with celebratory works of art.
In the first bay on the right, within a large sixteenth-century aedicule that masks the ancient opening towards the bell tower, is the statue of the prophet Isaiah, by Nanni di Banco. It was originally intended for a buttress of the northern grandstand. On the first pillar on the right, the Tuscan school stoup dates back to the fourteenth century: the angel and the basin are now copies (originals in the Opera del Duomo museum). The nearby cuspidate table with Sant’Antonino is by Poppi with a nineteenth-century predella by Antonio Marini. On the left instead is the statue of Giosuè (1415) already on the facade, started by Donatello(for the head, which presumably portrays Poggio Bracciolini), carried out by Nanni di Bartolo and completed by Bernardo Ciuffagni. On the nearby pillar, San Zanobi trampling on Pride and Cruelty with a predella, by Giovanni del Biondo.
On the right, in the second bay there is the entrance to the excavations of Santa Reparata and a table of San Bartolomeo enthroned by Jacopo di Rossello Franchi, within a sixteenth-century frame.
The windows of the third span on the right and left are part of the ancient group and were designed by Agnolo Gaddi in 1394. In the aedicule the statue of Isaiah is by Bernardo Ciuffagni (1427), originally sculpted for the bell tower. On the sides there are detached frescoes with the sepulchral monuments painted by Fra ‘ Luigi Marsili (1439) and bishop Pietro Corsini (1422): they were painted by Bicci di Lorenzo. In the left aisle the statue of King David by Bernardo Ciuffagni, already on the ancient facade (1434).
The fourth bay also has a stained glass window with Saints by Agnolo Gaddi. On the right side there is the cuspidate table with Saints Cosma and Damiano di Bicci di Lorenzo.
The space with very large volumes below the dome is set within an octagon which then radiates into the three tribunes, at the intersection of which the two sacristies are located. The neo-Gothic arches that open above the doors of the sacristies were added by Gaetano Baccani in 1842, to contain the organs and the new, simple choirs. In the pillars that support the dome there are a series of niches, in which there is a series of sixteenth-century statues of the Apostles. This series was to have been sculpted by Michelangelo but, after having triumphed with the feat of David, the artist had time to sketch only a San Matteo (today at theGalleria dell’Accademia) before being called to Rome by Julius II.
From the right counterclockwise you meet San Matteo by Vincenzo de ‘Rossi, San Filippo and San Giacomo Minore by Giovanni Bandini, San Giovanni by Benedetto da Rovezzano, San Pietro by Baccio Bandinelli, Sant’Andrea by Andrea Ferrucci, San Tommaso del de’ Rossi, and San Giacomo Maggioreby Jacopo Sansovino.
The choir was built on a project by Baccio Bandinelli and Giuliano di Baccio d’Agnolo between 1547 and 1572 in place of one built in 1520 by Nanni Unghero and Domenico di Francesco Baccelli, which in turn replaced an older one by Filippo Brunelleschi and dating back to 1437 – 1439, and over the centuries the choir has undergone various modifications and alterations that have led to its current conformation, the last of which dates back to the mid- nineteenth century, when designed by Baccani was demolished the articulated architecture of the enclosure, inCarrara marble and Medici breccia, of which only the pedestal remains, adorned with bas-reliefs depicting Apostles, Prophets and Saints mainly by Giovanni Bandini (1563 – 1564).
Inside the choir are the sixteenth-century wooden stalls already reserved for the canons, and the presbytery; the latter is raised by a few steps with respect to the floor of the nave and houses in the center the high altar (placed in 1973 following the liturgical adaptation), with a table resting on four pairs of marble amphorae; behind it, the wooden chair of the fifteenth century and the sixteenth-century dossal, surmounted by a polychrome wooden crucifix by Benedetto da Maiano (about 1495). The modern ambo (2015) is the work of Etsurō Sotoo, while the candlestick of the paschal candle, with a marble base and wooden shaft, dates back to 1477.
Each of the stands has five side chapels arranged in a radial pattern, illuminated by high mullioned windows with fifteenth-century windows mostly attributable to Ghiberti ‘s design. Under the windows many chapels have figures of saints attributed to Bicci di Lorenzo (1440), except in the chapels of the central tribune which are instead a modern work of Arturo Viligiardi. The painted tabernacles refer to the manner of Paolo Schiavo.
The central tribune, also called San Zanobi, has the chapel in the center where the relics of the Florentine saint and bishop are kept. Its bronze ark is by Lorenzo Ghiberti (completed in 1442). The central compartment depicts the miracle of the resurrection of a child, which took place in the city in Borgo Albizi where a plaque on the so-called Palazzo dei Visacci still commemorates the episode; the epigraph on the back (not visible) was dictated by the humanist Leonardo Bruni. The painting above is a “Last Supper” by Giovanni Balducci, while the glass paste mosaic of the Bust of San Zanobi, once here, is located in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
The mosaic decorations and globes of glass paste that encrust the ribs of the vault of the chapel of Monte di Giovanni di Miniato and date back to around 1490. The angels holding candles in glazed polychrome terracotta are by Luca della Robbia (1448). Below the chapel of San Zanobi there is a crypt, with a quadrangular plan, which houses the burials of somearchbishops of Florence (including Silvano Piovanelli and Ermenegildo Florit), the sarcophagi of San Podio and Saints Andrea and Maurizio, the relics of Saints Eugenio and Crescenzio, and the ancient urn that housed the mortal remains of San Zanobi.
In the gallery on the right, known as the Santissima Concezione, the central chapel stands out, with an altar by Michelozzo. The left tribune, known as the Holy Cross, contains in the floor the solar gnomon by Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli from around 1450, updated with a graduated bronze line by Leonardo Ximenes in 1755: here every 21 June the observation of the solstice takes place. summer. In the second chapel on the right, dedicated to the Madonna della Neve, the polyptych of Santa Reparata with two faces, by Giotto and aides; in the third a marble altar by Buggiano with a bronze grate by Michelozzo; Cardinal Elia dalla Costa is buried under the altar of the fourth chapeland in the fifth chapel there is a San Giuseppe on a panel by Lorenzo di Credi.
The door of the right sacristy, called dei Canonici or Vecchia, has a lunette with the Ascension by Luca della Robbia (around 1450) and inside a washbasin by Buggiano and Pagno di Lapo (1445); on the walls some panels including the Redeemer (1404) and the Saints and Doctors of the Church, both by Mariotto di Nardo, three Evangelists by Lorenzo di Bicci, the Archangel Raphael and Tobiolo by Francesco Botticini, the Archangel Michael by Lorenzo di Credi (1523).
Inside the sacristy of the Masses, or of the Servants, wooden inlays with a strong perspective and illusionistic value were designed, on the front side, by Alesso Baldovinetti, Maso Finiguerra and Antonio del Pollaiolo and implemented by Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano. They are among the first manifestations in Italy of this technique, linked to the studies on perspective. The decoration is imported on two registers crowned by a frieze of cherubs and festoons sculpted in the round.
In the central panel we see Saint Zanobi and his disciples Eugenio and Crescenzio, among characters and facts from the Old Testament. The marble sink, with two cherubs seated on a wineskin, is by Buggianoand it is twin to the one in the sacristy of the Canons. The other, with the head of an angel, is by Mino da Fiesole. It is in this sacristy that Lorenzo the Magnificent found escape from the Pazzi conspiracy on April 26, 1478. The twelve bronze panels of the doors of this sacristy, with compartments with the Madonna and Child, St. John, Evangelists and Doctors of the Church among angels, were made by Luca della Robbia (with the collaboration of Michelozzo and Maso di Bartolomeo), author also of the polychrome terracotta lunette with the Resurrection (1444).
The interior decoration of the dome
Initially the dome should have been decorated with golden mosaics, to reflect the light coming from the windows of the tambour as much as possible, as suggested by Brunelleschi. His death put aside this costly project and simply plastered the interior in white. Grand Duke Cosimo I de ‘Medici chose the theme of the Last Judgment to fresco the enormous dome, and entrusted the task to Giorgio Vasari, flanked by Don Vincenzo Borghini for the choice of the iconographic theme. The contents to be followed were those that emerged from the Council of Trent, which had revised the medieval Catholic doctrine by ordering it into a clear arrangement. The dome is thus divided into six registers and 8 segments.
On the eastern segment, the one in front of the central nave, the four registers become three to make room for the great Christ in Glory between the Madonna and St. John who rests on the three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) followed at the bottom by allegorical figures of the Time (character with hourglass, and two children representing nature and the seasons) and the triumphant Church. However, on June 27, 1574 Vasari died, after having completed only a third of the work and only had time to draw the circle of the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse closest to the lantern. The works, which lasted from 1572 to 1579, were then taken on by Federico Zuccari and collaborators, such as Domenico Cresti.
The imposing figure of Christ, visible from inside the church, is counterpointed by the infernal scene with Satan on the opposite surface; other portions represent Choir of angels, Christ, Mary and the saints, the Virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes; in the lower part the Hell and the seven deadly sins. Zuccari abandoned Vasari’s “fresco” painting to work with the “dry” method (simpler but more easily perishable) and changed the physical types of the characters, the costumes, the stylistic language and the pictorial range. In the Elects he depicted a lively gallery of contemporary characters: the Medici patrons, the Emperor, the King of France, Vasari, Borghini, Giambologna and other artists, and even himself and many of his relatives and friends; he also signs him with the date.
These frescoes, when viewed closely during the ascent to the dome, show the perspective and color deformations used to optimize the view from below. The technique used is mixed: fresco for Vasari, dry techniques for Zuccari, who painted his masterpiece here. Inside the dome there are two rows of galleries, in addition to the one that runs through the stands, coming from the nave.
In the cathedral, there is the Mascioni opus 805 organ. It was built starting in 1961 and expanded several times to reach its current characteristics. The organ is electronically transmitted and has 7551 pipes for a total of 128 stops. The organ has four consoles, all independent and mobile: one with five manuals, located outside the choir, and one with four manuals, located near the open choral Positive body, which control all the bodies; one by three in the chapel of San Jacopo Maggiore; one by two in the chapel of Saints Simon and Judas. In the cathedral there is also a positive chest organ built by positive Nicola Puccini in 2012 (work 031), with 5 registers.
Stained Glass Dome Cori
The 44 stained glass windows of the Duomo constitute the most monumental glass art program in 14th-15th century Italy. They depict saints from the Old and New Testament (in the nave and transepts) and scenes from the life of Christ and Mary (in the eyes of the drum). The list of authors includes the greatest names of Florentine art of the early Renaissance: Donatello, Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno. From the cruise, under the dome, you have an overview and the effect can suggest the global “iconological” intention: to evoke that spiritual light that illuminates believers through the life of Christ, Mary and the saints. The New Testament, in fact, affirms that in Christ “was the life and the life was the light of men” (John 1,4).
The culminating point of this religious and architectural itinerary is the area under the dome, defined by the choir and the main altar. Both the dome and the choir are intended, in the octagonal shape, to reiterate the symbolism of the Baptistery. The surface occupied by the choir is, in fact, almost the same size as the interior of the Baptistery and, thus, recreates the oldest sacred space in Florence under the new dome. To reinforce the impression of an “infinite” enlargement of the Baptistery would have been the decoration of the dome, commissioned by Brunelleschi (according to ancient sources) in mosaic. As finally realized between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, the decoration is in fresco, not in mosaic.
The iconographic theme is the same as we find in the Baptistery: the Last Judgment. The 3600 square meters of painted surface systematically illustrate the traditional faith in a Heaven and a Hell which man accesses on the basis of virtues or vices cultivated in this life, and through a definitive “judgment”, once the “useful time” is over. of history. In the central area, above the altar we see the Judge: the Risen Christ in the midst of the angels who carry the instruments of his Passion. This representation, by the hand of Federico Zuccari, was connected to a sculptural group made 20 years earlier by Baccio Bandinelli for the altar below: a monumental dead Christ, lying on the table, before God the Father blessing.
The frescoes of the dome underwent a comprehensive restoration between 1978 and 1994. Of the choir, originally adorned with a superstructure with columns and architraves, today only the retaining wall remains with representations of prophets sculpted by Bandinelli and his collaborators. The current altar, moved forward compared to the sixteenth century one, was placed in 1973, in accordance with the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Beyond the altar you can see the “cathedra”: the bishop’s chair, symbol of the authority of Christ “Master”, who, in the Greek term used in antiquity, gives the name “cathedral” to the church in which the Bishop presides.. The Christ of the great crucifix behind the chair is by Benedetto da Maiano, c. 1495-97.
Behind the choir the bronze doors by Luca Della Robbia open onto the northern sacristy, also called “delle Messe” or “dei Canonici”: an environment decorated with inlaid wood panels, made by Florentine masters of the ‘400 and restored after the flood of 1966. Impressive is the skill of the artists in the use of linear perspective, invented by Brunelleschi in the early 15th century in the same Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore: here where the vestments, books and various objects used for the rites celebrated at the altar, the illusionistic inlays show open cupboards with ecclesiastical furnishings on the shelves.
Above the door there is the Resurrection of Christ, by Luca Della Robbia, in glazed terracotta and, above still, where there is now the nineteenth-century organ exhibition, there was originally the Cantoria of Luca Della Robbia. In the corresponding position, above the door of the sacristy to the south, there was the Cantoria di Donatello (both one and the other today in the Opera Museum).
The cathedral underwent difficult excavations between 1965 and 1974. The underground area of the cathedral was used for the burial of Florentine bishops for centuries. The archaeological history of this huge area was reconstructed through the work of Dr. Franklin Toker: remains of Roman houses, an early Christian pavement, ruins of the former cathedral of Santa Reparata and successive enlargements of this church. Close to the entrance, in the part of the crypt open to the public, is the tomb of Brunelleschi. While its location is prominent, the actual tomb is simple and humble. That the architect was permitted such a prestigious burial place is proof of the high esteem he was held in by the Florentines.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
The bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore was begun by Giotto in 1334, carried on after his death by Andrea Pisano and completed in 1359 by Francesco Talenti, creator of the high-level windows. Extremely rich is the sculptural decoration with 56 reliefs in two superimposed registers and with 16 life-size statues in the niches by Florentine masters of the ‘300 and’ 400, including Andrea Pisano, Donatello and Luca Della Robbia.
On the façade facing the Baptistery, in the lower register, the Creation of man and woman are depicted, the first human work and the biblical founders of various human creative activities (sheep farming, music, metallurgy, viticulture). In the upper register are the 7 planets, starting with Jupiter at the north corner. On the other facades, then, are illustrated, below, astrology, building, medicine, weaving and other scientific and technical activities. In the upper register there are: to the south, the theological and cardinal virtues; to the east, the liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium; to the north, the 7 sacraments. The statues in the niches represent patriarchs, prophets and kings of Israel, and pagan sibyls. The originals of all the sculptures are in the Opera Museum.
Total 34586 pounds. In the years 1956 – 57, following the replacement of the wooden frame that supported them with a new metal structure, and the simultaneous motorization of the movement of the bells, the Commission in charge of this decided to exclude the five smaller bells from the concert, four of which were deposited, inactive, in the compartment of the large windows of Giotto’s bell tower, while the third, the so-called “Apostolica“, was placed on the floor of the belfry.
Thus, five new bells were merged, by the Prospero Barigozzi company to replace those “set aside”. They are decorated with bas-reliefs illustrating Marian episodes (and privileges), by well-known sculptors. Each recast bell bears, always in bas-relief, its name, the coat of arms and the name of Cardinal Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa who consecrated them, in the Baptistery, on 10 June 1956 and also the emblem of the Opera di S. Maria del Fiore. and the Municipality of Florence. Some Latin couplets are engraved on the last four.
In the year 2000 – 2001 the electrification and motorization system of the bells was completely renovated by the Opera di S. Maria del Fiore. The ancient way of ringing the bells (which at that time were four) is documented in the thirteenth century by the code “Mores et consuetudines Ecclesiae florentinae” (Biblioteca Riccardiana), and varied, as is still the case today, according to the degree of the celebrations.
Currently the bells are rung (“double”) only for archbishop or chapter celebrations; the single bells signal the Ave Maria every day (7 am, noon, and in the evening) the penultimate hour of the day according to the ancient and canonical calculation (11 pm) which invites the recitation of the “Creed” for the dying and the first hour of the following liturgical day (the “one hour”) which recalls the custom of reciting the “Requiem” for the dead. He also reports the suspension from work due to the break from the meal (11.30 am) and the death of a head guard of Mercy.
Traditionally, minor doubles are played also for some more significant devotional circumstances such as the solemn Rosary of the months of May and October, the “Via Crucis” on the Fridays of Lent, the Christmas Novena and for any other occasions that the Chapter must authorize. It is not played for individual daily Masses or for other devotional functions.
The oldest monument in the square is the Baptistery of San Giovanni, which for many centuries was considered a pagan temple “converted” for Christian use. In fact, already at the end of antiquity – in the fifth or perhaps sixth century – a primitive baptistery was built here in front of Santa Reparata, the then cathedral, in a spatial relationship similar to what we see today. This first baptistery had to be similar to the present one also in the octagonal form symbolizing “l ‘octava dies”, “the eighth day” – the time of the Risen Christ, out of our time marked in units of seven days. This symbolism refers directly to Baptism, the sacrament of initiation into the Christian faith, whereby believers pass from the death of sin to new life in Christ, an “eighth day” without sunset.
Starting from the middle of the 11th century, the Baptistery was rebuilt in its present size and enriched with precious marbles, many of which came from ancient buildings. It was the period of the economic and political affirmation of the city, which first saw the transfer to Florence of the seat of the imperial government in Tuscany and, then, the autonomy of Florence from the Holy Roman Empire. In the 12th and 13th centuries the new structure, enlarged with the addition of the monumental dome and the “scarsella” (the rectangular apse to the west), became a source of pride for the city: Dante calls it his “beautiful San Giovanni”. From 1300 to 1500 the sculptural works for which the Baptistery is famous were placed: the three bronze doors and the bronze and marble groups above the doors: works that, overall, illustrate the biblical stories that the baptized are invited to meditate in order to live their faith well.
The oldest of the gates is the one now to the south, depicting the life of San Giovanni Battista, owner of the Baptistery and patron saint of the city: the work of Andrea Pisano in the 1330s. The one to the north follows, executed by Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1402 and 1425., with scenes from the life of Christ. Finally, the “door of Paradise” (as Michelangelo called it), to the east, with scenes from the Old Testament, modeled and cast by Ghiberti from 1425 to 1450 (now replaced by a copy). executed by Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1402 and 1425, with scenes from the life of Christ.
The tradition that the Baptistery is a Roman temple becomes understandable inside the building. The vast domed environment, which in its arrangement recalls the Pantheon, is in fact enriched by elements from ancient monuments: the monolithic columns, two sculpted sarcophagi, and part of the marble cladding. The flooring, on the other hand, evokes the Islamic world: oriental zodiacal motifs are recognizable in the “carpets” between the door of Paradise and the center of the room. On the walls, along with late imperial forms, there are others of distant Germanic descent. The sumptuous dome highlights the Byzantine influence in central Italy. The total effect is of a magnificent crossroads of the great cultures of medieval Europe.
At the center of the Baptistery there was the ancient font with an octagonal enclosure around it (the shape of one and the other are traced in the floor). Looking from the source upwards, towards the dome, the believer saw the enormous figure of Christ that dominates the 13th century mosaics and, under Christ’s feet, the rising dead: it is the Last Judgment, when the risen Christ will call both the living, both the dead to evaluate the actions of each. To the right of Christ (left of the spectator) are the souls of the righteous “in the bosom” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of ancient Israel; while on the left (right of the beholder) there is Hell.
These images, which have an extraordinary strength due to the presence of tombs inside (and in the past also outside) the Baptistery, illustrate the profound meaning of Christian Baptism. “Or do you not know that those who were baptized into Christ Jesus were buried with him in his death?…; because as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too can walk in a new life “, explains St. Paul (Letter to Romans 6, 3-4).
In the horizontal registers of the other five segments of the dome the stories of St. John the Baptist, of Christ, of Joseph the Jew and of the beginnings of human life (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his family) are depicted. Looking at these characters, believers perceived themselves as being inserted into the very plot of the history of the people of God: they could say, with the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, 12,1: “We too, therefore, surrounded by such a large swarm of witnesses… let us run with perseverance, keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus “visible in the large mosaic above the altar. In the highest register, near the light, the angelic choirs are depicted.
Astronomy in the Cathedral
In 1475 the Italian astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (who was also a mathematical tutor of Brunelleschi) pierced a hole in the dome at 91.05 metres (298.7 ft) above the pavement to create a meridian line. The height precluded the installation of a complete meridian line on the floor of the cathedral, but allowed a short section of approximately 10 metres (33 ft) to run between the main altar and the north wall of the transept. This allows for observation for around 35 days either side of the summer equinox.
Due to settlement in the building and also movements due to the outside temperature changes, the meridian line had limited astronomical value and fell into disuse until it was restored in 1755 by Leonardo Ximenes. The meridian line was covered over by the fabbricieri in 1894 and unveiled again in 1997. A yearly re-enacement of the observation takes place on 21 June each year at 12.00 UT.
Brunelleschi’s dome also houses an astronomical instrument for studying the sun, represented by the great gnomon created by Paolo Toscanelli and restored by Leonardo Ximenes. More than a real gnomon, intended as a rod that casts a shadow on an illuminated area, it is a gnomon hole present on the lantern at a height of 90 meters, which gives a projection of the sun on a shaded surface, in this case the floor of the cathedral.
Such an instrument also existed in the Baptistery of San Giovanni already around the year 1000 (the hole was then closed), but in 1475 the astronomer Toscanelli took advantage of the completion of the dome to install a bronze plate with a circular hole of about 4 centimeters in diameter, which gave an optimal image of the star. In fact, by studying the relationship between height and diameter of the hole, a real pinhole solar image was obtained, capable of also showing sunspots or the advancement of eclipses in progress, or the rare passage of Venus between the sun and the earth.
The most important use of the gnomon at the time of its creation was to establish the exact solstice, that is the maximum height of the sun in the sky at noon during the year and, therefore, the duration of the year itself, observations that will bring together other similar observations, such as that of 1510 recorded by a marble disc in the floor of the Della Croce chapel in the right apse of the cathedral, to convince Pope Gregory XIII about the need to reform the calendar, aligning the solar date with the official one and creating the Gregorian calendar (1582).
In the following centuries, the instrument was also used for more ambitious investigations, such as the one promoted by the astronomer of the grand ducal court Leonardo Ximenes in 1754, who proposed to study whether the inclination of the earth’s axis varied over time, a much debated issue by the astronomers of the time. His observations, compared with those of 1510, were encouraging and, repeated for several years, allowed him to calculate a value of the earth’s oscillation.congruent with today’s one. It was he who drew the meridian line in bronze on the floor of the same chapel where the Toscanelli disc is present.
A few decades later, however, the gnomon of Santa Maria del Fiore became obsolete both due to the discovery of new instruments that allowed more precise observations, with a footprint reduced to a few meters, and because it was realized that the measurements were influenced by the small movements of the dome due to the outside temperature. The re-enactment of these observations has a purely historical and spectacular character, and takes place every year on 21 June at 12.00 solar time (13.00 since daylight saving time is in force).