GHIBERTI, Lorenzo
(b. 1378, Firenze, d. 1455, Firenze)

St John the Baptist

1412-16
Bronze, height 254 cm
Orsanmichele, Florence

One of the greatest sculptural programmes in the early Quattrocento was the exterior decoration of the Orsanmichele (a former grain market which had become an oratory below and a meeting hall for the market above), a building which joined civic and religious functions. In the Trecento each guild had been assigned the task of filling one niche with a freestanding statue of its patron saint. Only a few guilds complied, forcing the city council in 1406 to set a ten-year deadline for these obligations, which precipitated a spate of commissions.

Ghiberti entered the Orsanmichele arena in 1412 with the first bronze and his first large-scale figure, St John the Baptist, for the Arte di Calimala. The work, cast in one piece, was so difficult to execute that the guild stipulated it be undertaken at the sculptor's risk. Although St John appears to epitomize the International Gothic style, his scroll is inscribed with what is thought to be an early example of humanist script.

The statue is shown as it was before being moved inside the museum.

View images of the exterior sculptural decoration of Orsanmichele.