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The original façade was completed in only its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587–1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti, ordered by Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times.
The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal. The wooden model for the façade of Buontalenti is on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. A few new designs had been proposed in later years, but the models were not accepted. The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.
In 1864, a competition held to design a new façade was won by Emilio De Fabris (1808–1883) in 1871. Work began in 1876 and was completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral, Giotto’s bell tower and the Baptistery.
Can you imagine how the excessively decorated cathedral had a bare front for centuries? The first thing a church member would see during his weekly visit?