A Matter Of Perspectives

Recently I viewed the Netflix series “Medici: the Magnificent”. The family is well-known for its support of the arts and humanities during the Renaissance in Florence which made it the cultural center of Europe. As a result, I became inspired to want to share some images of mine as a brief celebration of the Florentine Renaissance. The images are of the bell tower, the baptistry, and the cathedral itself, with a few from the surrounding piazza. These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence.

The Florentine Renaissance, or “rebirth”,  was marked by a growing sense of pride in Italian national identity, which led to a rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek art. At that time, Florence had reached a high level of prosperity because of her strategic position on the principal Mediterranean trade routes.

One of the distinguishing features of Renaissance architecture was its development of highly realistic linear perspective. This was an attempt to represent a three-dimensional object or scene on a two-dimensional surface like paper, and is what gives it “depth”. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) is considered to be the father of Renaissance architecture. His greatest achievement was the design and construction of the third tallest dome in the world.

Humanism was a distinguishing feature of Renaissance art which strove to portray the human form realistically, developing techniques to render perspective and light more naturally.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, also known as the Duomo, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436. The modern façade as is seen today was begun in 1876 and completed in 1887, and is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.

The three huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903. They are adorned with scenes from the life of the Madonna. They represent 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 sculpture of Mary enthroned holding a flowered scepter. On top of the façade itself is a series of niches with the twelve Apostles. Above the rose window, there is a gallery with busts of great Florentine artists.

Giotto’s bell tower (campanile) is a free-standing part of the complex of buildings that make up Florence Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo. Donatello carved the four evangelists on the campanile: Nanni di Banco, Bernardo Ciuffagni, Donatello and Niccolò Lamberti.

Ghiberti’s Eastern doors, The Gates of Paradise, received their name by Michelangelo who is believed to have exclaimed: “they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise”. The doors depict scenes of the Old Testament as follows: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon and Sheba.

Above the Gates of Paradise stood the Baptism of Christ by Andrea Sansovino with an Angel by Innocenzo Spinazzi, added in 1792.

Baptistery of St. John next to the cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style.

The Gothic interior is vast and gives an empty impression. The relative bareness of the church corresponds with the austerity of religious life. The interior of the dome was painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. It was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and would last till 1579.

The clock above the entrance on the inside of the church was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello in accordance with the ora italica, where the 24th hour of the day ended at sunset… and it still works!

Much credit must be given the dynastic patronage of the Medici family. They gave the city of Florence its leading role in the Renaissance.