Faith and Beauty Meet in Florence’s Cathedral Square

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
October 18, 2020 Updated: October 19, 2020

Italy’s Florence Cathedral, commonly known as the “Duomo,” dominates Florence’s skyline. Located in Cathedral Square, the cathedral complex also includes the Baptistery of St. John and Giotto’s Bell Tower—all are astounding examples of Renaissance art and architecture. The buildings were decorated inside and out by the finest artists of the time, such as the sculptor Donatello and painter Giorgio Vasari whose depictions of illustrious people from secular or spiritual life inspire all who see them.

Florence’s Duomo Took Time to Blossom

Florence Cathedral, as it appears today, took nearly 140 years to complete. 

Designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio, the first stone of the Gothic cathedral was laid in 1296, on the day that Roman Catholics celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary: Sept. 8. The date is particularly significant to the cathedral’s founding as it was originally called Santa Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flower. The flower represents Christ in the Virgin Mary’s womb. 

Cambio’s original design was altered and expanded over the years. And on Aug. 30, 1436, architect Filippo Brunelleschi finished the building when he crowned the cathedral with an astonishing octagonal dome about 108 feet high with no external support, an incredible engineering feat to this day.

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The magnificent dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. (Ricardo Lps/Shutterstock)
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The construction of the cathedral started in the late 13th century; the dome was added in the 15th century. (Giuseppe Mondì/Unsplash)
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(Steve Lovegrove/Shutterstock)
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The exterior of the cathedral is decorated in a geometric arrangement of white marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato, and red marble from Siena. (Steve Lovegrove/Shutterstock)
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Inspired by the Book of Genesis, the lower levels of Giotto’s bell tower are full of hexagonal panels containing sculptural reliefs depicting the biblical history of man. (littleting/Shutterstock)
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Giotto’s bell tower. (TTphoto/Shutterstock)
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The Gates of Paradise, a pair of gilded bronze doors designed by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti at the north entrance of the Baptistery of St John. (Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock)
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“The Last Judgment” was designed by Giorgio Vasari but painted mostly by his student Frederico Zuccari. (Thoom/Shutterstock)
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Detail, “The Last Judgment.” (AmbrosiniV/Shutterstock)
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The interior of the octagonal dome of the Baptistery of Saint John is covered in mosaics. (kan_khampanya/Shutterstock)
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