The door’s geometric structure and the arch’s revetment, completed during the first phase of the works (until 1397), are still in Gothic style. The carved frame of the cusp was started later, and two Profetini statuettes, attributed to Donatello and Nanni di Banco (today preserved in the Opera del Duomo Museum) were added on top of the pinnacles. Another two statuettes still stand on either side of the arch, which weren’t removed as they were too fragile, and another one crowns the cusp.
A series of intricate decorations are carved in bas-relief on the side pillars and on the archivolt; their level of detail is breathtaking. Among them are found some figures of angels and a Redeemer set within medallions, but also some nudes figures placed directly within the vegetable patterns; these were among the very first fully classicist works in Florence.
The tympanum of the cusp contains the bas-relief of the Assumption of the Virgin, or Madonna della Cintola, carved by Nanni di Banco between 1414 and 1421. It depicts the Virgin as she rises into the sky, carried by four angels in an almond-shaped nimbus of light, typical of Gothic art. The Madonna is slightly turning towards Saint Thomas, who is kneeling in the left corner. At the top are two musician angels with trumpets and a third one with a kind of bagpipe, while a bear and a tree can be found in the lower right corner. Two heads can also be seen in the pendentives of the cusp; these were sculpted by Donatello in 1422. Although the composition of the bas-relief is still tied to the past, the volumetric fullness of the shapes and the purity the lines, derived from the study of classical models, are completely innovative. An intense physical effort can be read in the gestures of the angels, another novelty of the new taste that was forming.
The door was completed when two statues of the Annunciation were brought from inside the cathedral and placed inside the lunette. They were replaced in 1490 by a gold-tiled mosaic of the Annunciation, the work of David Ghirlandaio and of his famous brother Domenico:
The overall theme of the door is therefore the Virgin’s Mission of Salvation for humanity. Her ascent into the sky, represented in the bas-relief of the cusp, is the culmination of this process of salvation, and is linked to the Annunciation represented in the lunette, during which the Virgin accepted her condition and her mission. The long process is witnessed by the figures of the Prophets of the Old Testament (the statuettes of the pinnacles), who anticipated the events, and even some characters from the ancient pagan mythology (the reliefs on the side pillars).
The apsidal area of the Cathedral is composed of the huge octagonal dome and of three polygonal apses, or tribunes. The tribunes are arranged along the cardinal points (north, east, south) and topped by half-domes:
The upper level of the tribunes is supported at the corners by slanted buttresses. Higher above rises the tambour, echoing a Gothic spirit, and from the corners of which depart the mighty ribs of Brunelleschi's dome:
At the level of the tambour are also the "dead tribunes" with a semicircular plan, designed by Brunelleschi. A continuous gallery with a perforated parapet runs around them, supported by corbels, with gargoyles shaped like zoomorphic heads protruding beneath it at regular intervals:
On the level of the second bay, just next to the bell tower, is the Porta del Campanile, whose lunette is today devoid of sculptures, but where a Blessing Christ in mid-relief (more protruding than a bas-relief) can still be seen inside a round medallion in the cusp, similarly to Porta di Balla on the northern flank. On top of the pinnacles are two empty niches where statuettes used to stand:
Close to the transept is the Porta dei Canonici (“Door of the Canons”), rivaling the Porta della Mandorla on the northern side in the intricateness of its carvings. Likewise, it is also in Gothic style and was carved during the same period (late 14th - early 15th century) with a similar array series of patterns, but by different artists (Lorenzo di Giovanni d'Ambrogio and Piero di Giovanni Tedesco). The lunette, by Niccolo di Pietro Lamberti, houses a Madonna and Child among two angels, while the medallion at the center of the cusp, held by two angels, encircles a bas-relief depicting the dead Christ. Two statuettes (probably Profitini) stand above the pilasters, and a third statuette of an angel crowns the summit of the cusp. One of the wooden door's panels is notable for bearing an inscription in Hebrew, letting the many Jews of Florence know they were welcome into the Cathedral:
The bell tower (campanile) of the complex, which stands in the southwestern part of the square, is of particular interest. It was designed by Giotto after he was commissioned to continue the construction of the new Cathedral, more as a decorative monument than a functional one. Instead of concentrating on developing Arnolfo di Cambio's project, Giotto worked on the bell tower from 1334 to 1337, the year of his death, but only lived to see the first floor of his project completed. Two other artists successively took over the assignment, and the bell tower was finally completed in 1359 and delivered to the city as we see it today, with a couple of changes made to the original design. According to tradition, when Emperor Charles V of Habsburg saw the Campanile, he said that it was such a precious work of art that it ought to be preserved under glass.
The elegant and slender 85 meter high structure has a square plan, and is supported by polygonal pilaster-shaped buttresses at the corners that continue up to the top. These four vertical movements lend continuity to a construction that passed through the hands of three different artists. White marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato and red marble from Siena adorn the surface of the entire tower while also dividing it with classical rigor. Two series of tiles in relief run around all four sides of the first story, giving a figurative "narrative". The lower ones, hexagonal in shape, depict allegories of manual labor and of the arts (visible in the picture: Navigation, Social Justice, Agriculture, Art of festivals and Euclid), while the upper ones, shaped like lozenges, depict the Seven Sacraments, the seven Liberal Arts (visible in the picture: Astronomy, Music, Geometry, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, and Arithmetic), the Virtues, and symbolic figures of planets.
On the second story, divided into two rows like the first one, the bas-reliefs were replaced by sixteen niches containing statues of Prophets, Patriarchs and Sybils (visible in the picture: the Beardless Prophet by Donatello - probably a portrait of his friend, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi - the Bearded Prophet, Abraham and Isaac, and The Thinker by Donatello). Above them is a second row of hollow niches. The double row of bas-relief tiles on the first story and the sixteen statues on the second story have now all been replaced by copies, with the originals ones being exhibited in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo.
In the three upper stories, the sculptures and slabs of marble make way for huge mullioned windows that inundate the structure with light. The windows are arranged in pairs of bifore ones on the third and fourth stories and a single trifore one on the fifth story; they give the entire structure a delicate and elegant aspect, typical of the Gothic style, without alienating its overall classical aspect. The Campanile ends in a large projecting terrace that substitutes the cusp found on most Gothic bell towers:
In 1587, Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici decided to dismantle the façade (left unfinished at Arnolfo di Cambio’s death in 1302) as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times. The Gothic revetment was taken apart; some of the marble elements were integrated into the new flooring that was being laid in the interior of the Cathedral, while the sculptures were stored inside the Opera del Duomo (the seat of the administration overseeing the construction works), later converted into a Museum. The proposed façade of classical Baroque inspiration eventually was not carried out, and the façade was then left bare until the 19th century, when following bitter debates a new competition was held to redesign it, won by Emilio de Fabris.
De Fabris carried out the entire revetment in red, white and green marble between 1876-1886 (but using a greater proportion of red marble compared to the sides of the cathedral, for patriotic reasons linked to the tricolor flag of the newly reunited Italy), and adding statues, rose windows, mosaics, Gothic cusps and other decorative elements. His design, having as theme the glorification of the Mother of God, managed to create a dignified match between the three buildings of the holy complex, the Cathedral, the Campanile and the Baptistery. Some think the façade is excessively decorated (a sign of the typical 19th century zeal), but that’s exactly what makes it a hard to match masterpiece:
The three huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903, and are adorned with scenes from the life of the Madonna. Like the side doors, they are set inside marble frames crowned by archivolts, all intricately carved with bas-reliefs and a plethora of patterns following the same model as the lateral Porta della Mandorla and Porta dei Canonici doors. On the four buttresses of the façade are niches with statues of clerics, including Pope Eugene IV who consecrated the church in 1436:
The lunette above the left portal houses a colorful mosaic, “Florentine artisans, merchants and humanists paying homage to Faith”, while in the cusp’s tympanum is a mid-relief of a cloaked saint (probably an allegory of Faith as well), set on a golden background inside a round medallion, and with two figures of angels below her on either side. The pinnacles bear niches housing two statuettes, probably of Biblical figures, at the level of the arch:
The right portal is decorated in the same style, with a mosaic representing “Charity among the founders of Florentine philanthropic institutions” in the lunette, and above it a mid-relief of what appears to be Christ, also set on golden background inside a medallion and with two angels below. The niches on the pinnacles contain two statuettes of Adam and Eve:
The central portal also bears similar decorations, but is even larger and more grandiose. It is flanked by two niches, with the left one containing a statue of Saint Reparata, to whom the previous cathedral was dedicated, and the right one containing a statue of San Zanobi. The pinnacles are wider than those of the side portals, and bear two statuettes each at the level of the arch, depicting what seem to be Florentine personalities of the time, while on top of them are also niches containing statues of bishops. In the lunette is a mosaic representing “Christ enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist”, and the cusp’s tympanum above contains a mid-relief of the Glory of Mary, where the Virgin is depicted enthroned, holding a flowered scepter and surrounded by the Florentine leaders:
On top of the façade is a series of niches housing statues of the twelve Apostles (6 above the central door, and 3 above each of the right and left ones) with, in the middle, the Madonna with the Child, and high above, in the center of the tympanum, a round medallion with mid-relief of the Eternal Father.
There are also examples of non-religious imagery on the façade: a gallery with busts of great Florentine artists in the upper part (between the central rose window and the tympanum), and the coats-of-arms of the Florentine families who helped finance the work, on the pediment between the door and the lunette. Such imagery celebrating the city and its people illustrates that the Florence cathedral is not only a religious building, but also a civic monument:
Thanks Christako! I'm actually thinking of discontinuing the thread after finishing the cathedral's interior because nobody seems to be checking it aside from you and Brazilian. I still have to gather information about the monuments, churches, palaces etc. in half my total pictures, and it seems it's not worth it after all, so maybe I will open a blog about historic architecture to post all this stuff instead.
The interior of the Cathedral looks unexpectedly stark compared to the extremely elaborate exterior; in fact, many of the original decorations have been transferred to the Opera del Duomo Museum, or lost in the course of time. The 153 meter long central nave is defined by great Gothic vaults resting on wide arches that divide the space into four square bays, giving a classical harmony to the Gothic structure, and the arches rest in turn on powerful composite pilasters. The church is also notable for its 44 stained glass windows, the work of the greatest Florentine artists of the time. The structure has a majestic feel about it and immediately forces the eye towards the basilica's spatial “fulcrum”, formed by the chancel and the cupola above it. This search for a "center of gravity" is another element that differs from the purely Gothic style, which simply tends to create a vertical spatial feel, and is a sign of the permanence of classical taste in Florence:
The internal façade is the oldest part of the church. The lunette above the door contains an early 14th century golden mosaic of Christ crowning Mary as Queen, and is flanked by late 16th century frescoes depicting angels playing music. Above them stands a colossal 1443 clock face, with fresco portraits of Prophets or the four Evangelists at its corners. This is one of the few clocks from that time that still exist and work, although it still needs to be rewound each week to ensure it keeps the correct time; it has only one hand, and 24 hours written in Roman numerals in the opposite order compared to modern clocks. The 24 here signals not midnight, but sunset, which back then used to be considered the end of the day. This timing is known as hora italica, and was used in Italy until the 18th century. High above the clock is a stained-glass circular window of the early 14th century with a rich range of coloring, depicting The Assumption of Mary to Heaven. The smaller stained glass window visible to the left shows San Stefano enthroned between four Angels:
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