Giotto's bell tower is one of the four principal monuments on the Piazza
tall and approximately 15 metres in breadth, it is the most eloquent
example of 14th century Gothic architecture in Florence, combining a
strong vertical thrust with the principle of sound solidity, its corner
buttresses rising the full length of the tower to the projecting terrace at the
Clad in white, red and green marble like the cathedral
adjacent to it, the majestic square bell tower, considered to be the most beautiful campanile in Italy
and probably designed more for decorative than for functional purposes, was
begun by Giotto in 1334.
By the time Giotto died in 1337 he had completed only
the first part of his bell tower, up to the hexagonal panels which form a kind
of figurative narrative carved by Andrea Pisano to Giotto's design, and to the
reliefs (formerly on a blue ground) by Andrea Pisano and Luca della Robbia.
Andrea Pisano carried Giotto's design up to the first
two levels, while artists such as Alberto Arnaldi adorned the outside with
The rich decorative apparatus comprising hexagonal
panels and lozenges embodies the concept of Universal Order and tells the story
of the Redemption of Mankind.
The reliefs begin with the Creation of Man and
continue with a depiction of his Activities, the Planets which regulate the
course of his existence, the Virtues which fortify him, the Liberal Arts which
educate him and the Sacraments which sanctify him.
The statues, conceived as an integral part of the
building rather than as decorative elements adorning it, deserve individual
Andrea Pisano replaced the bas-reliefs planned for the
second level with sixteen niches designed to contain figures of the Kings and
Sibyls and statues of the Patriarchs and Prophets, the latter being carved at a
later date by Nanni di Banco and Donatello.
They include a splendid group by Donatello depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, one of the loftiest
achievements of 15th century naturalism in the realm of sculpture.
The originals of all these sculptures are now kept in
the Opera Museum for conservation purposes.
Work was broken off for two years, between 1348 and
1350, but the bell tower was completed in 1359, after the terrible years of the
Black Death, by Francesco Talenti, a talented builder and the designer of the
large windows in the upper levels of the tower.
We have Talenti to thank for the feeling of airy lightness created by
the two-light windows in the Sienese style and the large three-light windows
with their tympana, giving us an elegant Gothic building without sacrificing
the classical stringency of the original design.
A large projecting terrace at the top,
after a climn of over 400 steps, functions as a panoramic roof. It is the final feature in Talenti's design,
replacing a spire in Giotto's original plan.