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Lorenzo Ghilberti's Gates of Paradise (Porte del Paradiso, as nicknamed by Michelangelo) represents multiple passages from the Old Testament through a series of sculptured, gilted bronze panels that together form this beautiful pair of doors
This was the artist's second set of bronze doors, having earlier completed the lesser known, but still significant, north doors. This second series would take 27 years, which seems extraordinarily long in today's fast paced world. Ghiberti became an in-demand artist after his initial series of doors and this meant that he was frequently working on several projects at the same time. This explains why this set of doors took so long, even with the help of his highly respected studio assistants.
There were several features to the Gates of Paradise that made them particularly significant in the development of Renaissance art. Many future artists would learn and appreciate his achievements, taking elements of his work into their own. This was the typical progression of artistic ideas during this time, with perhaps the most obvious example being Donatello, a former student of Lorenzo Ghiberti who would become one of the most respected Renaissance sculptors of all.
The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy preserves this series, that were previously held outdoors, which is now very rare for items of this importance. Perhaps the only significant artwork from this period that remains in its original, outdoor position would be Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata, as most as moved indoors for their own benefit. Museums also offer additional control over things such as lighting, supporting documentation and crowd control that might not have been considered when the original piece was designed.
Each of the panels displayed in this series of two doors feature several scenes, always along a similar theme. The Old Testament taught Christian followers about the lives of some key individuals and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti would select several moments from each one's story to create each panel. You will find that he selected the likes of Adam and Eve, Noah, Isaac, Joseph and Moses as inspiration for this incredible display of beauty combined with technical genius. You will find these themes throughout Renaissance art, though most artists would put together frescoes that focus on just one single story.
In total, there are roughly forty scenes depicted in this ten-piece set of panels. To include so much detail in relatively small artworks (each one is approximately 79cm tall and wide), it required precision at a level that could only be achieved by the most skilled sculptor. By this point Ghiberti was also fairly experienced and highly regarded, making his task more manageable.
These doors were earlier known simply as the East doors, joining the artist's earlier north doors. The nickname given by Michelangelo later on has proven more fashionable. The earlier commission was actually placed here too, but moved once this second commission had been completed. Sculptor Ghiberti had entered a competition in order to gain the first commission, but having won that and delivered such an impressive first series of bronze doors he would always be in-demand from their on.
The initial competition would invite the likes of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia to fight it out for the priviledge of this first project but after the judges narrowed down to two preferred choices, Brunelleschi refused outright to work with another artist on a collaborative basis, leaving the path clear for Ghiberti to work independantly. See also Auguste Rodin's Gates of Hell.
The Restoration of Lorenzo Ghilberti's Gates of Paradise
Having been displayed outside for many years, thankfully these stunning Renaissance artworks have been taken inside and also restored to their original glory. The detail across each panel is astounding and perhaps temporarily lost due to the environment in which they were being kept whilst displayed outside in thier original positions.