Cremona: The Baptistery

The Baptistery of Cremona.

The beautiful octagonal Baptistery of Cremona can be found next to the cathedral, on the south side of the Piazza del Comune. Construction of the building started in the year 1167 under the direction of an unknown architect. The design is sometimes attributed to a certain Teodosio Orlandino, but there is no certainty that he really designed it. Apart from that, we know next to nothing about the man. We also do not know when the Baptistery was completed, but it is reasonable to assume that this was still in the twelfth century. In any case, much unlike the Baptistery of Pisa no stories have come down to us about problems during the construction phase. As regards shape, the Baptistery in Cremona closely follows that of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. And of course it too is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

Although this post is about a building from the twelfth century, the Baptistery was thoroughly remodelled in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The addition of marble cladding to the exterior took place in 1553-1558. Only two of the eight sides were decorated in marble, the other six feature only naked brick, although it should be noted that a marble strip was added to the lower edge in the nineteenth century. The loggias adorning the upper section of each side and the oculi above them also date from the sixteenth century. Each loggia comprises six arcades. In about 1588 the entrance on the northern side was provided with a vertical loggia (pròtiro) supported by lions, its design clearly based on the loggia of the cathedral. The entrances on the southern and eastern side were closed around this time. Research has demonstrated that the north-eastern side of the building originally had an entrance as well, but this too is now gone. In 1655 the dome of the Baptistery was rebuilt.

Interior of the Baptistery.

Foundation stone of the cathedral (replica).

The Baptistery of Cremona is 34 metres high, which is hardly exceptional. Pisa’s Baptistery is almost 55 metres high, for instance. The diameter of the Cremonese Baptistery is 20,5 metres. Inside there are few decorations: the building is dominated by brick walls that are complemented by a few columns here and there. The Baptistery has three altars, which are not that special. Of great interest, however, is the large marble baptismal font that was made in 1520-1531. It was executed in red marble from Verona and the artist involved was Lorenzo Trotti from Lugano in present-day Switzerland. Topping the font is a wooden statue of Christ.

The Baptistery also has a plaster copy of the ceremonial foundation stone of the cathedral. The original is attributed to one Wiligelmus and dates from 1107, the year in which construction of the cathedral started. The stone refers to the pontificate of Pope Paschalis II (1099-1118). The two figures holding the text on the stone are Enoch and Elijah. According to Genesis 5:23-24, Enoch was taken away by God when he was 365 years old, while 2 Kings 2:11 states that Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. The two events can be interpreted as prefiguring the ascension of Christ to heaven.

Another interesting object in the Baptistery is the original statue of the archangel Gabriel, which was placed on top of the lantern of the Baptistery in 1370. At present there is still a statue of Gabriel on the lantern, but this is a replica. Finally, inside the Baptistery we can also admire a few sculptures, including a bull attributed to Wiligelmus and a marvellously decorated baptismal font.

The archangel Gabriel (left), baptismal font (right-front) and bull (right-back).

Sources

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