Flashback to Renaissance

Florence

The square of Piazza del Duomo in Florence is truly the epitome of art, architecture and religion.

Undoubtedly the most important place in the town, the square is home to several monuments, of which the Baptistery, the Cathedral, the Bell Tower and the Museum stand out. The monuments’ vibrant colours, beautifully-domed architecture, innumerable frescos and stained windows are all bound to take you several centuries back.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni greets us with an octagonal dome on the inside — quite symbolic of the “Octava Dies”, the time of the risen Christ and deemed sacred by the Christians. The mosaic of the Christ meting out the last judgment is wonderfully depicted. To the sides of the Christ are heaven and hell, whose entry depends on earthly deeds. In summary, the mosaic tells us a story in not so much words, but compelling enough. The remaining parts of the Octagon depict the lives of St John, the Baptist, the Christ, the patriarchal Joseph and the start of human life — Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his family. The surprising and the most aesthetic part of the Baptistery is its floor which is adorned with oriental zodiac motifs — suggestive of Islamic influence.

Enticing sights

The second building, the cathedral, is the centrepiece, work on which was started in late 13th century and took 170 years to complete. Similar to other European churches, the cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin as Santa Maria del Fiore. One cannot help but draw an analogy to the spiritual austerity of Florence during early renaissance. The cathedral honours illustrious civil and military figures of yesteryears with frescos, while devoting equal amount of space for religious connotation. A sense of honour devoted to human effort, talent, dignity and courage accompanied by religious celebration seems like a godly combination and the allusion to the eventual union of man with god could not have been clearer. The cathedral’s 44 windows tell stories of Old and New Testament saints and scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary.

The culmination is in the dome — octagonal in shape as in the baptistery, but painted and not in mosaic — which reinforces the images of the Christ, the dead mean, the last judgment and the heaven and the hell. The bell tower, almost as tall as the cathedral itself, was started by the famous architect, Giotti, in 1334, and took 25 years to complete. The bell tower has 16 life-size statues and has smaller sculptures on four different registers. Each of these registers tells us a different story — planetary positions in our universe, images of various professions (medicine, astrology, weaving etc.) and preaching of theological and cardinal virtues. One can reach the top of the bell tower, which while offering a panoramic view of the city, will also severely test your fitness levels.

The museum is home to several beautiful sculptures, all praising and celebrating the stories of god and religion. The most important of which is the ‘Florentine Pieta’, also variously called ‘The Deposition’ and ‘The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ’. Sculpted by the most famous renaissance artist, Michelangelo, it depicts four figures — the dead Christ, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary — the last three of them are seen helping Christ down from the crucification cross. Michelangelo sculpts himself under a hood in the place of Nicodemus and thus beautifully marries his devotion to god with his mastery over sculpture.

In summary, the Piazza del Duomo is simply most wonderful to visit, has plenty of art and architecture to offer and oozes Renaissance charm at its best.

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