Parma: Baptistery that makes you consider baptism

While I am readying up Modigliani’s second nude that I promised, I travel through Italy and just can’t hold it back. I also think you may love some beauty shown in simple ways, without me preaching art criticism all the way.

This huge, and proportionally an awkward edifice is Parma’s Baptisterium. Its construction began in the 12th century, and, as was usual in the Dark Middle Ages continued well into the 14th century: sometimes there was no budget, other times there was budget but no pink marble. In the Dark Middle Ages you didn’t carry on a project changing your marbles.

As is usual with Romanesque architecture, the building may look bulky and way out of the golden rule for proportions, but its decoration is something to admire.

There is a frieze running along the walls, showing mythical characters, with each element being a micro masterpiece.

The Mermaid,  clutching her tail and braid: she gives you the hold-yourself-together example.

The Dragon, somehow sporting the 21st century punk hairstyle:

The Centaurs, that seem to be NOT on friendly terms with each other. Perhaps, they can’t decide with whom the Mermaid’s loyalty is resting.

A deer to which the tree is dear.

A winged woman with a tail. Wail, boyfriend, wail to no avail!

Inside, the Baptistry takes your breath away in the manner a punch in the guts can do if delivered by a boxing champion, on whose foot you stepped with a rude remark about his agility.

First, you enter a building with 8 walls from the outside and find youself in something with 16 walls on the inside. That’s a bit disconcerting, because you though you could count. Then, you don’t expect that there’s so much colour inside. It was painted and sculpted top to bottom through the 13th and 14th centuries. In this single building, you can witness the transition of visual arts from Bysantine canon through Romanesque style to Gothic, and then on to late (or International) Gothic fashion. It is the best place to do a pre-Uffizi tour, for Florence’s Uffizi begins exactly where this Parma’s Baptisterium stops. And it is just a 2-hour drive from Parma to Florence.

I will show you the dome and some of the details – all in the gallery format – but I urge you to see it for yourself, one day, when you are in Italy.

It is possible to base an art course covering 11-14th centuries in European art with this building alone. I am surprised it has not yet been done.


    1. thank you!
      I am not done with Parma yet, but I’ll be hanging out in Marina di Massa, the surrounding area and a bit of Florence in the next two weeks.

      1. If you are in the Marina di Massa area and have some time, or maybe just while going down there, I suggest you visit Fosdinovo, where you’ll find the Malaspinas’ castle and the very nice Nigo Pezigo restaurant 🙂

        1. Thank you! I was in Fosdinovo a couple of years ago – missed the time-slot when I could go into their still privately held castle )) I’ll make sure to get to the restaurant this year!

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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