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The new main altar of the Florence Baptistery was completed in 1732 with works of sculpture by Girolamo Ticciati (1676-1745): a Saint John in Glory and candle-bearing angels. These dynamic statues, originally surrounded by gilded rays, were accompanied by reliefs narrating the saint’s life on the altar-front and chancel baluster, and by figures of eagles with bales of fabric between their talons, emblems of the Florentine guild paying for the modernisation project: the Arte di Calimala, to whose care the embellishment of the Baptistery had long been entrusted.

This episode ended in 1912 when the 18th-century sculptures were removed and the medieval altar was restored. It however suggests the mission of the Opera del Duomo founded in the late 13th century to oversee the process of innovation that has involved Baptistery, Cathedral and Bell Tower across time and in the light of changing tastes. And it illustrates the mission of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo opened in 1891 and renewed in 2015: to conserve and interpret the masterpieces which, for more than a thousand years, have expressed the faith of the church and people of Florence. The saint represented by Ticciati, John the Baptist, the Precursor of Christ, is in fact the city’s heavenly protector.

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