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.
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.
The first of the doors for the Baptistery was 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 on 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.
After the completion of these first sets of doors, Ghiberti was recognised as the foremost master in his field. His workshop was the most lauded and productive in Florence, Ghiberti had gained celebrity status throughout the city and beyond.
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.
For the ten reliefs, Ghiberti has chosen to portray key figures from the Old Testament. From the top left the first panel displays scenes from Adam and Eve including their creation, their fall from grace, and subsequent expulsion from paradise.
On the left door panels, moving down from Adam and Eve, are Noah, Jacob and Esau, and Scenes of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Finally, the bottom relief depicts the story of David and Goliath.
On the right door facing the Adam and Eve panel are Cain and Able. Moving down is, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph sold into slavery, Joshua and the fall of Jericho, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
There are approximately forty scenes depicted in these ten panels. Considering that each of the panels measures only 79cm square – a little over 31in – they do capture the brilliance of Ghiberti’s outstanding knowledge of metalwork. His skill in moulding his medium is breath-taking.
Completing the two sets of doors became Ghiberti’s defining body of work. His innovative use of perspective in the metalwork of the reliefs was admired by patrons and fellow artists alike.
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.
Lorenzo Ghiberti died in his native Florence on December 1st, 1455, he was seventy-seven years old.