TUSCANY – “Dolce Vita” in an Old Land
Interior of Pisa’s The Baptistry, Tuscany, Italy
The Baptistry of St. John (Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni) is a religious building in Pisa, Italy. It started construction in 1152, in replacement of an older baptistry, and completed in 1363. It’s the second building, in the chronological order, in the Piazza dei Miracoli, near the Cathedral and the famous Leaning Tower.
The structure is 54.86 m high, with a circumference of 107.24 m, and is the largest baptistry in Italy. The Baptistry has an example of the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style: the lower registers are in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper registers are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. The Baptistry is constructed of marble, plentiful and often used in Italian architecture.
The portal, facing the facade of the cathedral, is flanked by two classical columns, while the inner jambs are executed in Byzantine style. The lintel is divided in two tiers. The lower one depicts several episodes in the life of St. John the Baptist, while the upper one shows Christ between the Madonna and St John the Baptist, flanked by angels and the evangelists.
The immensity of the interior is overwhelming, but it is surprisingly bland and lacks decoration. It has notable acoustics also. One may stand below the edge of the dome and sing a sustained note for several seconds, and the sound will travel around and around the dome for many more seconds. In this way it is possible to sing musical chords by oneself, simply by changing the tone every several seconds. Likewise applause creates a remarkable echo effect.
The octagonal font at the centre dates from 1246 and was made by Guido Bigarelli da Como. The bronze sculpture of St. John the Baptist at the centre of the font, is a remarkable work by Italo Griselli.
The pulpit was sculpted between 1255-1260 by Nicola Pisano, father of Giovanni, the artist who produced the pulpit in the Duomo. The scenes on the pulpit, and especially the classical form of the naked Hercules, show at best Nicola Pisano’s qualities as the most important precursor of Italian renaissance sculpture by reinstating antique representations. Therefore, surveys of the Italian Renaissance usually begin with the year 1260, the year that Nicola Pisano dated this pulpit.
Constructed on the same unstable sand as the Tower, the Baptistry (as well as the Cathedral) leans 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral.
Originally the shape of the Baptistery, according to the project by Diotisalvi, should be different. To have an idea of what it should look like, we have to look at the church of Holy Sepulchre with his pyramidal roof. After the death of the architect, Nicola Pisano continued the work changing the style to the more modern gothic. Also an external roof was added giving the shape of a cupola. As a side effect of the two roofs, the pyramidal inner one and the round external one, the interior is acoustically perfect, working that space as a resonating chamber.