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Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise

The Baptistery Door Competitions

Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, Florence Cathedral Baptistery

The Gates of Paradise
Lorenzo Ghiberti
1452,gilded bronze
Santa Maria del Fiore
(Florence Cathedral) Baptistery
(East Doors)
Florence, Italy

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Florentine-born and goldsmth-trained, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) is the Early Renaissance sculptor who won the second competition in 1403 for a commission to create gilded bronze doors for the east side of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral. The first competition, won by Andrea Pisano, was also for the east doors, but those doors created in the 14th century (Trecento or Proto-Renaissance) were moved to the south side when Ghiberti finished the new east doors.

When Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition, he faced tough competitors like Jacopo della Quercia and Filippo Brunelleschi, who was famous for his invention of linear perspective. Lorenzo Ghiberti's door project took him more than 20 years to complete. Lorenzo Ghiberti executed 14 bronze reliefs featuring scenes from the life of Christ, Evangelists, and the church fathers, each scene surrounded by a quatrefoil design matching the design of Andrea Pisano's earlier doors. The Gothic style of Lorenzo Ghiberti with its swaying draperies began to change, however, even as the individual panels were completed. Lorenzo Ghiberti's later panels show an increased interest in spatial depth and a somewhat more naturalistic figure style in which the figures are no longer quite so overwhelmed by masses of drapery.

Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, panel of Joseph's Story

The Gates of Paradise

This new art style of Lorenzo Ghiberti would be fully realized when he was chosen without competition to execute a third set of gilded bronze doors for the east side, doors which Michelangelo aptly named "The Gates of Paradise." These are marvelous works completed in 1452 for which Lorenzo Ghiberti is justifiably famous. In the 20 panels of The Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti made a complete transition from the outdated Gothic style with its swirling draperies to the Renaissance style in panels in which the figures are now completely naturalistic, their forms revealed by the drapery, not competing with it. The idealized figures appear to move freely within the pictorial space which recedes convincingly within an illusionistic, architectural framework based on Brunelleschi's linear perspective.

Self-portrait, Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of ParadiseOnce again, the east doors were switched. Lorenzo Ghiberti's competition doors were then moved to the north side of the Baptistery when The Gates of Paradise were installed. Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise remain a popular tourist attraction today for visitors to Florence, who are delighted to see the small likeness of the great sculptor himself on the bronze doors.

Lorenzo Ghiberti was influential in the stylistic development of later artists, most notably his own pupils, Donato Donatello and Paolo Uccello, and later Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Brenda, Art Historian

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