Friday, February 02, 2007

The Baptistry at Pisa



Inside the Dome

The height of the Baptistry at Pisa is 54.85 metres from the foundations to the top of the dome, excluding St. John’s statue. The external diameter amounts to 38.8 metres, the internal to 35.50 metres.

Like the Cathedral at Pisa, the round-shaped Baptistery is surrounded by columned arcades, and is made of white marble inlaid with grey bands. Not octagonal but circular.

There is an an octagonal baptismal font by Guido da Como, flanked by Nicola Pisano’s Pulpit (1260). The pulpit has become a model for its type.

A spiral staircase, which became a recurring element in the Tower, leads up to the women’s gallery which is roofed with a barrel vault and looks into the central area through a series of round- headed arches.

The roof consists of a double dome: the internal dome is a dodecagonal truncated pyramid, whereas the external one is barrel vaulted and surmounted by a cupola.

The space and shape layout are original. They contribute to the harmonious aspect of the monumental complex and reflect the Byzantine and Islamic influences of the Cathedral dome and the Gothic style of the works by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.

The Baptistry was constructed in three phases.

The First Phase: Diotisalvi’s work (1152-1180)

The current Baptistery structure was mainly conceived by Diotisalvi, who was in charge of its construction from 1152 to about 1180 ca., until the completion of the top of the arches in the first order and of the inside columns and piers, excluding the capitals.

Diotisalvi’s project was influenced by the political and civil events marking the Cathedral foundation: events related to the Holy Wars were reflected in the Baptistery shape, which was conceived to resemble the Holy Sepulchre.

Consistent with Diotisalvi’s style, instead, is the great portal decoration with strong Byzantine influence, which presumably dates back to the 13th century, according to comparison with accurately dated works by the same workshop.

The Second Phase: 1246-1270

The construction of the baptismal font and of the presbytery balustrade built in 1246 by the Lombard architect Guido Bigarelli followed resumption of the work and the arrival of Nicola Pisano who, with his son, extensively modified Diotisalvi’s structure. Indeed not only did Nicola Pisano build the pulpit (1260), which became a model for this kind of fixture, but also crowned the external arcades with a solemn series of busts placed within a complex structure of niches, enriched with decorations later completed by Giovanni Pisano.

The Third Phase: Cellino di Nese’s Workshop (1362-1386)

Finally, the construction of the women’s galleries and the daring double-dome roof reached completion under Cellino di Nese, Master builder of the Baptistery since 1362. In 1384-86 the Baptistery had already gained its current aspect: in Scenes from Saint Ranieri’s Life placed in the Camposanto, Antonio Veneziano depicted it complete with the dome and the cupola. Like the Cathedral, the construction of the lead-plated roof came to a halt probably due to economic difficulties and was later completed with ad hoc large roofing tiles to fit the unusual dome border.

Galileo Galilei was baptised there on 19 February 1564.

The accoustics are also noteworthy. Every 30 minutes or so, the attendants will perform to illustrate the echoing qualities of the structure.

It is still in use as a Baptistry despite being a national monument.


Pisa: Pulpit in the Baptistry

Also the following websites for more information and images:

A daguerreotype of the cathedral Baptistry at Pisa, Italy, by Alexander John Ellis in 1841