Medieval font, the baptistery, Duomo, Verona.


This early thirteenth century octagonal font is in the baptistery (San Giovanni in Fonte) of the Duomo. Attempts have been made to attribute it to the Veronese sculptor Brioloto, but there seems to be little agreement on this. There is agreement, though on the quality of the work carved from a single piece of marble. It is full of action and even humour.
  As can be seen from the above image, the whole font was not filled with water; inside the font was a space allowing room for a priest to stand inside, though it's not entirely clear he would have got in there. The eight scenes show the early life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Baptism.
The Annunciation and Nativity. These are both busy scenes. To judge by the object in the Virgin's  hand, she has been spinning, but see my comments on the 'Flight into Egypt' image below. The object behind her appears to be a throne-like chair. The two additional figures are an unusual addition to an Annunciation;  their main function seems to be to draw back the curtains to reveal the scene.
  On the left of the Nativity scene is the Visitation. The Nativity itself shows the Christ child in that quite convincing manger. Below the resting Virgin, the midwives Salome and Zeloni prepare to wash the child. Joseph is shown sleeping, perhaps dreaming of the massacre to come and the need to flee into Egypt.
 
The Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi. The shepherds appear to have been having a musical session as the angel arrives above. The one on the right appears to have been dancing. The sheep are stacked up on each other to the right. The tree is interesting: in its branches are what are said to be a flask of wine and a bag of flour, eucharistic symbols.
  The panel showing the Adoration of the Magi is unusual: the magi on the right has already handed over his gift, and is on his way out of the scene. He appears to be in conversation with the angel. 
Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents. This image is an almost exact parallel to the Adoration of the Magi next to it, with the addition of a seated figure. As with the adoration scene, the figure on the right is already on his way out, heading for the massacre scene in the adjacent panel. Note the matching positions of the feet on the two images.
  Now who is the seated figure between Herod and the soldiers? An astute friend suggests that he is a scribe telling Herod of the text claiming that Christ will depose him.
The Massacre of the Innocents. This is a very moving scene. A mother with young children hiding in her skirts pleads with a soldier, but to no avail. Another child hides under the legs of the soldier on the left.  The child in the centre with the agonised face appears to have been disembowled - a very graphic image.
The Flight into Egypt. Joseph appears twice here. On the left, wide awake this time, he is being warned by an angel. Most unusually, on the right he is carrying the Christ child in the manner of St Christopher. In other images he would be with his mother on the donkey.
  The Virgin's pose is unusual too. She holds up her left hand, and in her right hand she carries something that looks quite similar to what she is holding in the Annunciation image. But what could it be? A weaving spindle is hardy appropriate here. The Duomo guidebook suggests a container of water, representative of baptism, and entirely suitable for a long hot journey to Egypt, but is it? As the following scene is the Baptism, this is a strong possibility.
  Next to her hand is a humorous image of a cat with a rat in its mouth. The Holy Family have escaped, but the rat hasn't.
The Baptism of Christ. Chronologically the final scene, but, appropriately, it is the scene that faces the entrance to the baptistery, as shown in the photograph at the top of the page. John holds another of those mysterious objects in his hand: a water container would be entirely appropriate here.
 
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