Le Porte del Paradiso

Have you ever seen a work of art that just left you a bit speechless?! I have a few times, and one of those times was when I saw Le Porte del Paradiso for the first time (in English they are referred to as The Gates of Paradise). In an overview, they are a set of ENORMOUS gilded bronze doors that are located on the north side of the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of Saint John) in the Piazza del Duomo, that depict ten scenes from the Old Testament.

The artist that created them was Lorenzo Ghiberti, a Florentine goldsmith and sculptor from the Early Renaissance. If we rewind all the way back to 1401 to the infamous competition that was sponsored by the Arte di Calimala (the Cloth Importers Guild) to design a set of doors the Florence Baptistery, Ghiberti won the competition over Filippo Brunelleschi with their comparative quatrefoil bronze castings of the Sacrifice of Isaac. (Don’t feel too badly for Brunellischi however, as he would go on to construct and complete the single most famous structure in the city of Florence – more on that in a future post).

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Side by side comparisons of the original panel submissions from 1401 – Left: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Lorenzo Ghiberti; Right: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Filippo Brunelleschi; Museo Nazionale del Bargello
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Detailed view of the The Sacrifice of Isaac by Lorenzo Ghiberti, which won the competition; Museo Nazionale del Bargello
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Detailed view of The Sacrifice of Isaac by Filippo Brunelleschi; Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Ghiberti took TWENTY-FIVE years to make the first set of doors, where upon completion, he was asked by the Arte di Calimala to create a second set of doors, but in an updated Renaissance style, which after ANOTHER twenty-five years, he gave us The Gates of Paradise, which were installed in 1452. You can read an absolutely fascinating article from Smithsonian.org about their history and restoration here. The original doors have been relocated to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo where they are safely stored in a nitrogen-enclosed case, and wonderful copies adorn the baptistry doors that we see in the Piazza del Duomo. These works are obviously so visually striking, not only because of the sheen of the gilding, but also because of my appreciation of the incredible talent Ghiberti had, that enabled him to create the dynamism and perception of depth on a flat surface!! When you go, make sure to take your time in just staring at them!!!

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The Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti

 

 

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