“Here come all those who wish to see admirable things” is the English translation of the words set in the marble inlay of the floor of Florence’s baptistery, as visitors enter through the Gates of Paradise. These worthy items include the fourteenth-century mosaics depicting prophets, bishops and cherubs, which are enjoying renewed vigour after the restoration of four of the eight sides of Florence’s oldest monument.
On January 25, the scaffolding will start to be removed on the completed sides and moved to the four sides now to be restored. Despite a slump in tourism caused by the pandemic, Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the administration that governs Florence’s cathedral complex, decided to continue restoring the baptistery, with the aim of completing the feat by the end of 2021.
“The restoration is funded entirely by Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore,” commented Vincenzo Vaccaro, the councillor in charge of the restoration. “From 2017 to the present day, the Opera has invested more than 1.5 million euro in restoration projects.”
The internal walls of the baptistery began to be restored towards the end of 2017 following a restoration campaign on the external walls and roof. Many discoveries emerged from the diagnostics, the first of their kind to be conducted on the monument, including the original technique used in the parietal mosaics; the presence of a pigmented wax on the green Prato marble, used to cover the white limestone that had formed due to water coming in through the roof, now removed to reveal the stone’s natural hue; and traces of gold leaf on one of the capitals of the matroneum, which could form evidence that the capitals were all originally covered in gold leaf.
The funerary monument of the Antipope John XXIII, crafted by Donatello and Michelozzo, has also undergone cleaning, removing the dust that had gathered on the gilded surface.
In the first couple of decades of the fourteenth century, having completed the colossal feat of the mosaics inside the baptistery’s dome, the decision was made to extend the technique to the parietal sides, something that wasn’t part of the original plans. It was a solution that allowed the mosaics to be superimposed over the marble covering and solve the issue of the monument’s staticity. Made-to-measure hollow terracotta tiles were used, cut and fixed to the marble on the baptistery’s walls with central iron linchpins driven back and welded in a straight line.
“A hurried sinopia was then conducted on the tiles and later the mosaic with a direct method and over days, which can still be identified and interpreted today,” explained Beatrice Agostini, planner and head of the restoration campaign of Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. “Even the mixture used to apply the mosaic tiles is absolutely unique. Ordinary mortar wasn’t used. Instead it was more of a glue, and it’s the decline of this compound that has caused the most problems in this restoration.”
“We started a large restoration site for the internal coverings, which form over 1,100 square metres of marble surfaces, 200 square metres of mosaics and more than 100 square metres of gold leaf,” commented Samuele Caciagli, technical manager for Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.
“The expertise gained in previous restorations, carried out in past decades on the mosaics on the matronea and on part of the sides of the baptistery, not yet included in this intervention, provided an important means of comparison and highlighted much less disrepair than the surfaces we’ve restored now,” stated Anna Maria Giusti, consulting art historian for the restoration and former director of Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
Florence Cathedral and Brunelleschi’s Dome will reopen to the public on January 25 and will remain open on weekdays in accordance with the current Covid-19 legislation in Italy.