Following ancient tradition, Christians call the area between a baptistery and its related church a Paradiso (“Paradise”), evoking the joy of those who, after receiving baptism, cross that space to participate in the Eucharist for the first time. This was probably the sense in which, as Giorgio Vasari tells us, Michelangelo described the bronze baptistery door facing the Cathedral as “of Paradise”, creating a play on words meant to underline the extraordinary quality of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s masterpiece, worthy of the kingdom of heaven.
The museum’s main hall evokes the city square corresponding to the “Paradise” of Florence, with the Cathedral to the east and the Baptistery to the west. The earliest façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, never completed and finally dismantled in 1587, has been reconstructed here on the basis of a 16th-century drawing, making it possible to place many of the statues carved for it in their original positions opposite the Baptistery doors. The reconstructed façade, the two Roman sarcophagi that stood in Cathedral Square from the Middle Ages until the 20th century, and the 16th-century statuary groups above the Baptistery entrances together reactivate a dialogue between Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance sculpture for which Florence was once famous. Indeed the humanism typical of modern Western history found its first monumental expression here.