Lorenzo Ghiberti 
The Gates of Paradise.

Lorenzo Ghiberti was a famous Florentine metalworker and sculptor, he was also trained in the gold trade by his father. Born in 1378 he won a public competition, organized by the Arte dei Mercanti di Calimala, the guild of Florence's greatest merchants, for a pair of new doors to be located in the Baptistery of Florence.

The main competitors were Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and Jacobo della Quercia. Both of the trial panels by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi have survived.  The theme was the Sacrifice of Abraham and Ghiberti's panel was technically superior with its smooth modelling and brilliant surface. The Brunelleschi was made in a number of pieces and linked together later, but the Ghiberti was cast in one piece.

Ghiberti started to work on the first pair of doors in 1403 and completed them in 1424, a period of twenty-one years. They show the great qualities of charm and grace associated with brilliant workmanship.

Following the success of these first doors Ghiberti was recognised as a master craftsman and was offered a commission for a second pair of doors, these are his famous Gates of Paradise. Lorenzo ran a very successful workshop and his most famous apprentices included Donatello and the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello. 

Sacrifice of Abraham by Ghiberti

This is Ghiberti's winning piece for the competition for the Baptistery doors. (s)

Sacrifice of Abraham by Brunelleschi

Fillipo Brunelleschi's trail panel. (s)

During the years that Ghiberti worked on the first pair of doors, he also made two statues for the facade of Orsanmichele in Florence. These works are St John the Baptist, and St Matthew and both have a Gothic influence.

John the Baptist by Ghiberti

"St John the Baptist" 1405-1417
Bronze, height 255cm, Florence, Orsanmichele. (s)

St Stephen by Ghiberti

St Stephen. Orsanmichele, Florence.
Commissioned by the Guild 
of Wool Manufacturers.

This is a later statue c. 1428.

The Baptistery in Florence, North Door.

The first of the doors for the Baptistery were completed in 1336 by the goldsmith and sculptor Andrea Pisano.  After winning the commission in his competition with Brunelleschi, Ghiberti adhered closely to Pisano's design consisting of twenty-eight quarterfoil panels set into the bronze gilded doors. Ghiberti's doors had been installed in the East side of the building in place of Pisano's earlier work. They were relocated to their present location on the North side after Ghiberti completed his "Gates of Paradise". Pisano's doors are now on the South side of the Baptistery.  

Baptistery of Florence (north door)

The North Door of the Baptistery in Florence. (s)
Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Panel from the Baptistery of Florence (north door)
Panel from thew Baptistery of Florence (north door)

Panels from the North Door
showing scenes from the Life of Christ (s)

The Baptistery in Florence, East Door.

In a continuation of his first commission, Ghiberti executed a second pair of doors between 1425 and 1452. Michelangelo famously described these as the "Gates of Paradise", they are divided into ten panels each containing a scene from the Old Testament.

The Gates of Paradise by Ghiberti

"The Gates of Paradise." East Door. (s)

Adam and Eve, from the Gates of Paradise.

The story of Adam and Eve. (w)

The Story of Joseph from the Gates of Paradise

The story of Joseph. (w)

Two details of the panels from the East Door

Personal Opinion:-

These are the second pair of gates, try to see them early, or late evening to avoid the crowds. They attract lots of attention and that's no surprise, they are magnificent.

The story of Abraham (detail from the Gates of Paradise)

Self-portrait of Lorenzo Ghiberti 
in the Gates of Paradise.  

Lorenzo Ghiberti, self portrait.



The story of Abraham. (w)

This fantastic detail (left) from the gates of paradise gives us an insight into the skill and craftsmanship displayed by Ghiberti in his creation of these panels.

Donatello was Lorenzo Ghiberti's natural successor and overtook him as the major Florentine Sculptor. Ghiberti died in his native Florence on December 1st 1455, he was seventy-seven years old.