Three Swiss in Florence – Enjoying two churches from Proto Renaissance

After having completed my simplified town map of Florence, I want to understand where the treasures of Florence fit into the architectural history.


Trying to get order into my head: The churches and secular buildings from Proto-Renaissance to Baroque

As I am not a professional historian – and hence I am just “trying” to get order into my head by aligning the churches and secular building from Proto-Renaissance to Baroque, primarily based on the Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer.

When around 1000 AD Florence started to gain economic power, they built their first Romanesque churches. The period was called “Proto-Renaissance”, because the later Renaissance artists  based their clean and harmonic architectural principles on it. I also sense that the gothic period  is a smooth continuation of the Florentine Romanesque style – “Gothic” in Florence looks very different from “Gothic”  known in central Europe. The main construction activities in Florence took place between 1250 and 1600 – from Gothic to Renaissance. I have a personal preference for the clean and unostentatious taste that prevailed before the 17 century started with its baroque “gold and glitter”.

churches and palaces

Let me now present some of the churches we visited…


Proto-Renaissance: San Miniato al Monte

Minias – according to legend – was a martyr that was decapitated around 250 AD. At this place the construction of the monastery and church of San Miniato al Monte started around 1000 AD.

It took us about an hour to to reach San Miniato al Monte via Piazzolla Michelangelo. We enjoyed the view of the city with the Duomo, the Campanile, San Lorenzo and the Palazzo Vecchio.


San Miniato welcomed us with the facade topped by the eagle of the woolmakers (who sponsored the church) and the mosaic completed around 1250. The patterns of this facade I recognize in the gothic churches Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and in the later Renaissance architecture.


Inside the mass is going on solemnely enlighted by mystic sunrays.  The rays point to the Ziborium of Michelozzo (1448) and the altar paintings of Agnolo Gaddi (around 1400).


I used this foto as my Christmas card, along with this small poem:

Seeing – looking – is it a dream?
Seeing – amazing – is this true?
I do thank for this renaissance,
I look and wonder, all in trance.

For me it was like being reborn (“Renaissance”), when looking at the treasures of this Renaissance town and enjoying my eyesight.

The sunrays also point to the wood framework that I find beautiful.



More Proto-Renaissance: The Baptisterium of St. John the Baptist (with Gothic  and Renaissance adornments)

Currently the Baptisterium, built around 1100, is under renovation and fully wrapped up. The Baptisterium is devoted to St. John the Baptist. Until the 19th century it was the only place in Florence where Christians were baptized. It stands close to the Duomo and the Campanile that were built later.


The Gothic bronze portal of Andrea Pisano was added around 1330.  This is one of the tiles showing the baptization of the people.


For the other, the Renaissance portal there was a competition.  The Bargello museum shows the works of Isaac’s sacrifice that Ghiberti (left) and Brunelleschi (right) had handed in. Ghiberti won the competition. Well, Bruneschelli had a lot more opportunities to embellish his town!


Inside the Baptisterium we could not stop looking at the mosaics in the cupola. The new Dumont has a detailed map of all the mosaics. We sat on the benches and studied the life of St. John in the first line (from being announced – and his father Zacharias could not believe that his wife will give birth to a child) until his dramatic death (decapitated in the palace of Herodes). Then we followed the life of Jesus laid out in the second row, from being announced to his resurrection. An interesting detail here: After having adored the child, the three kings leave by boat. I asked myself, where their camels went, as I have always imagined them traveling with camels.



In my next blogs I will continue along that architecture timeline presented at the start.

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