Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 8): the Baptistery

Continuing our series of Nicola’s photos of the cathedral of Siena, today we turn to the baptistery; the baptismal font, an extraordinary achievement in the history of bronze sculptures, will be covered in its own separate post. As previously noted, the cathedral stands fairly close to the edge of a rather steep hill. When the choir behind the altar was extended in 1317, the baptistery was built underneath it by the architect Camaino di Crescentino (completed in 1325), partly to serve as a support that would keep the structure from falling down into the valley below. This accounts for its rather odd appearance; the marble-covered façade, which was never completed, is very high, but the building itself is extremely shallow.
The space inside is divided into two sets of three bays. Those closer to the façade are decorated with images of the Twelve Apostles, in reference to the ancient custom of reciting the Apostles’ Creed as one enters the building during the rite of baptism. The two on the sides were painted by Agostino di Marsiglio; the central one is by the Sienese sculptor and painter Lorenzo di Pietro (1410-80), who, for reasons unknown, is generally referred to by peculiarly unfortunate nickname “Vecchietta”, which means “little old lady.”
The second set of bays, also by Vecchietta, show the articles of the Creed. The pinnacle at the top of this photograph, in which a man kneels in front of Christ in glory, represents the words “and in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, our Lord.” The images underneath it by Benvenuto di Giovanni (ca. 1460) show two miracles of St Anthony of Padua: above, St Anthony saves a women in Ferrara who had been wrongly accused of adultery by making her newborn speak and say who its father was; below, a donkey kneels before the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In the central bay, left, “He descended into hell, on the third day He rose from the dead”; at center, “He ascended into heaven”; on the right, “whence He will come to judge the living and the dead”; at top, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” (On the arch in front of the apse, the Assumption of the Virgin.)
In the apse, by Michele di Matteo Lambertini (1447), the Agony in the Garden, with the Flagellation of Christ (by Vecchietta) below...
the Crucifixion...
and the entombment of Christ, with the carrying of the Cross (by Vecchietta) below.
In the third bay, left: “(I believe in) the Holy Catholic Church”; top “the Communion of Saints”; bottom, “the forgiveness of sins” (painted before the invention of the modern confessional); right “the resurrection of the flesh.” Below, the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet at the Last Supper, by Pietro di Oriolo, 1489.

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