Baptistery

- Siena Viva

Baptistery

BaptisteryOn the right-hand side of the Duomo, go through the Gothic doorway of the so-called Duomo Nuovo which was part of the ambitious plans of 1339 for a much larger Cathedral. A steep but graceful stairway takes you to Piazza San Giovanni, where you find the beautiful façade of the Baptistery which was finished around 1380, almost contemporaneously with the completion of the Duomo.

The building goes back to 1316-1325 and is a kind of crypt to the cathedral itself. It is a beautiful place, divided into three naves with vaulted frescoed ceilings. The fresco where you can see the prophets and sybils, the apostles, and the truth of the Catholic Creed is the work of Lorenzo di Pietro, nicknamed il Vecchietta. Although he painted these between 1447 and 1450, the style was still noticeably Gothic.
The greatest attraction is the sculptured baptismal font itself, begun in 1417 by Jacopo della Quercia. It is a small hexagonal shrine surmounted by a statue of St John the Baptist. The Madonna with Child is the work of the Sienese Giovanni di Turino.
In the actual font below, six bronze panels narrate the story of St John the Baptist. Two of these were made by the Florentine artists Lorenzo and Donatello Ghiberti and their obvious formal quality makes them stand out. These portray the Baptism of Jesus and the Capture of John the Baptist. Donatello made the panel portraying the Feast of Herod in 1427. This superb example of the new Renaissance art forms is outstanding because of Donatello's mastery of schiacciato, the art of shallow relief, whereby his flat surfaces manage to give a three-dimensional effect.
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