Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian: [loˈrɛntso ɡiˈbɛrti]; 1378 – 1
December 1455), born Lorenzo di Bartolo, was a Florentine Italian
artist of the Early
Renaissance best known as the creator of the
bronze doors of the
Florence Baptistery, called by
Gates of Paradise. Trained as a goldsmith and sculptor, he established
an important workshop for sculpture in metal. His book of Commentari
contains important writing on art, as well as what may be the earliest
surviving autobiography by any artist.
1.1 Early life
Florence Baptistery doors
1.2.1 Earlier doors by Andrea Pisano
1.2.2 1401 competition
1.3 Other work
4 External links
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Ghiberti was born in Pelago, 20 km from Florence. His father was
Bartoluccio Ghiberti, an artist and goldsmith, who trained his son in
goldsmithing. He then went to work in the
Florence workshop of
Bartoluccio di Michele, where
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Antonio del Pollaiolo also received his
training. When the bubonic plague struck
Florence in 1400, Ghiberti
emigrated to Rimini, where he assisted in the completion of wall
frescoes of the castle of Carlo I Malatesta.
Florence Baptistery doors
Gates of Paradise.
In Flagellation, one of the panels on the North Doors.
Ghiberti's career was dominated by his two successive commissions for
pairs of bronze doors to the
Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San
Giovanni). They are recognized as a major masterpiece of the Early
Renaissance, and were famous and influential from their unveiling.
Ghiberti first became famous when as a 23-year-old he won the 1401
competition for the first set of bronze doors, with
the runner up. The original plan was for the doors to depict scenes
from the Old Testament, but the plan was changed to depict scenes from
New Testament instead. However, the trial piece made was of the
sacrifice of Isaac and still survives.
To carry out this commission, he set up a large workshop in which many
artists trained, including Donatello, Masolino, Michelozzo, Uccello,
and Antonio Pollaiuolo. When his first set of twenty-eight panels was
complete, Ghiberti was commissioned to produce a second set for
another doorway in the church, this time with scenes from the Old
Testament, as originally intended for his first set. Instead of
twenty-eight scenes, he produced ten rectangular scenes in a
completely different style. These were more naturalistic, with
perspective and a greater idealization of the subject. Dubbed "The
Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo, this second set remains a major
monument of the age of
Earlier doors by Andrea Pisano
As recommended by Giotto,
Andrea Pisano was awarded the commission to
design the first set of doors at the
Florence Baptistery in 1329. The
south doors were originally installed on the east side facing the
Duomo, and were transferred to their present location in 1452. These
Renaissance doors consist of 28 quatrefoil panels, with the
twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the
Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope,
faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence.
Pisano took six years to complete them, finishing in 1336. In 1453,
Ghiberti and his son Vittorio were commissioned to add a door case to
Pisano's existing panels. Ghiberti died in 1455, eight years before
the frame was finished leaving a majority of the work to Vittorio and
other members of his workshop. There is a Latin inscription on top
of the door: "Andreas Ugolini Nini de Pisis me fecit A.D. MCCCXXX"
Andrea Pisano made me in 1330). The South Doors were undergoing
restoration during September, 2016.
In 1401, the
Arte di Calimala
Arte di Calimala (Cloth Importers Guild) announced a
competition to design doors which would eventually be placed on the
north side of the baptistry (the original location for these doors was
the east side of the baptistry, but the doors were moved to the north
side of the baptistry after Ghiberti completed his second commission,
known as the "Gates of Paradise").
These new doors would serve as a votive offering to celebrate Florence
being spared from relatively recent scourges such as the Black Death
in 1348. Many artists competed for this commission and a jury selected
seven semifinalists which included Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi,
Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. At the time of judging, only
Brunelleschi were finalists, and when the judges could
not decide, they were assigned to work together on them.
Brunelleschi's pride got in the way, and he went to Rome to study
architecture leaving 23 year-old Ghiberti to work on the doors
himself. Ghiberti's autobiography, however, claimed that he had won,
"without a single dissenting voice." The original designs of The
Sacrifice of Isaac by Ghiberti and
Brunelleschi are on display in the
museum of the
Bargello in Florence.
It took Ghiberti 21 years to complete the doors. These gilded bronze
doors consist of twenty-eight panels, with twenty panels depicting the
life of Christ from the New Testament. The eight lower panels show the
four evangelists and the Church Fathers: Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome,
Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine. The panels are surrounded by a
framework of foliage in the door case and gilded busts of prophets and
sibyls at the intersections of the panels. Originally installed on the
east side in place of Pisano's doors, they were later moved to the
north side. They are described by the art historian Antonio Paolucci
as "the most important event in the history of Florentine art in the
first quarter of the 15th century".
The bronze statues over the northern gate depict John the Baptist
preaching to a Pharisee and Sadducee and were sculpted by Francesco
Rustici. Rustici may have been aided in his design by Leonardo da
Vinci, who assisted him in the choice of his tools.
After the completion of these doors, Ghiberti was widely recognized as
a celebrity and the top artist in this field. He was given many
commissions, including some from the pope. In 1425 he got a second
commission for the
Florence Baptistery, this time for the east doors,
on which he and his workshop (including
Michelozzo and Benozzo
Gozzoli) toiled for 27 years, excelling themselves. The subjects of
the designs for the doors were chosen by
Leonardo Bruni d'Arezzo, then
chancellor of the Republic of Florence. They have ten panels
depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and were in turn installed on
the east side. The panels are large rectangles and were no longer
embedded in the traditional Gothic quatrefoil, as in the previous
doors. Ghiberti employed the recently discovered principles of
perspective to give depth to his compositions. Each panel depicts more
than one episode. "The Story of Joseph" portrays the narrative scheme
of Joseph Cast by His Brethren into the Well, Joseph Sold to the
Merchants, The merchants delivering Joseph to the pharaoh, Joseph
Interpreting the Pharaoh's dream, The Pharaoh Paying him Honour, Jacob
Sends His Sons to Egypt and Joseph Recognizes His Brothers and Returns
Home. According to Vasari's Lives, this panel was the most difficult
and also the most beautiful. The figures are distributed in very low
relief in a perspective space (a technique invented by
called rilievo schiacciato, which literally means "flattened relief").
Ghiberti uses different sculptural techniques, from incised lines to
almost free-standing figure sculpture within the panels, further
accentuating the sense of space.
The panels are included in a richly decorated gilt framework of
foliage and fruit, with many statuettes of prophets and 24 busts. The
two central busts are portraits of the artist and of his father,
Although the overall quality of the casting is considered exquisite,
there are some known mistakes. For example, in panel 15 of the North
Doors (Flagellation) the casting of the second column in the front row
has been overlaid over an arm, so that one of the flagellators appears
trapped in stone, with his hand sticking out of it.
Michelangelo referred to these doors as fit to be the "Gates of
Paradise" (It. Porte del Paradiso), and they are still invariably
referred to by this name. Giorgio
Vasari described them a century
later as "undeniably perfect in every way and must rank as the finest
masterpiece ever created". Ghiberti himself said they were "the most
singular work that I have ever made".
The story of Joseph, a panel from the second set of doors to the
Ghiberti was commissioned to execute monumental gilded bronze statues
for select niches of the
Orsanmichele in Florence, one of Saint John
the Baptist for the
Arte di Calimala
Arte di Calimala (Wool Merchants' Guild) and one
of St. Matthew for the Arte di Cambio (Bankers' Guild). Finally, he
also produced a bronze figure of
St. Stephen for the Arte della Lana
(Wool Manufacturers' Guild).
He was also a collector of classical artifacts and a historian. He was
actively involved in the spreading of humanist ideas. His unfinished
Commentarii are a valuable source of information about
and contains what is considered the first autobiography of an artist.
This work was a major source for Vasari's Vite. Ghiberti died in
Florence at the age of seventy-seven.
Ghiberti's "Commentario" includes the earliest known surviving
autobiography of an artist. He discusses the development of art from
the time of
Cimabue through to his own work. In describing his second
bronze portal for the
Florence Baptistry, he states: "In this work I
sought to imitate nature as closely as possible, both in proportions
and in perspective ... the buildings appear as seen by the eye of
one who gazes on them from a distance." The language Ghiberti used to
describe his art has proved invaluable to art historians in
understanding the aims
Renaissance artists were striving for in their
Paolo Uccello, who was commonly regarded as the first great master of
perspective, worked in Ghiberti's workshop for several years, making
it difficult to determine the extent to which Uccello's innovations in
perspective were due to Ghiberti's instruction. Donatello, known for
one of the first examples of central-point perspective in sculpture,
also worked briefly in Ghiberti's workshop. It was also about this
time that Paolo began his lifelong friendship with Donatello. In about
1413 one of Ghiberti's contemporaries, Filippo Brunelleschi,
demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective used today by
artists, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto
a mirror. When the building's outline was continued, he noticed that
all of the lines converged on the horizon line.
Recent scholarship indicates that in his work on perspective, Ghiberti
was influenced by the Arab polymath Alhazen who had written about the
optical basis of perspective in the early 11th century. His Book of
Optics was translated into Italian in the 14th century as Deli
Aspecti, and was quoted at length in Ghiberti's "Commentario
terzo." Author A. Mark Smith suggests that, through Ghiberti,
Book of Optics
Book of Optics "may well have been central to the
development of artificial perspective in early
Ghiberti's winning piece for the 1401 competition.
Gates of Paradise, Baptistery, Florence. The doors in situ are
Angled view of a panel with the story of
Abraham from the Florence
Gates of Paradise (see above).
Tomb of Ghiberti in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Renaissance Jewels and Jeweled Objects, Baltimore Museum of Art,
1968, p. 29: "
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) began his career under the
goldsmith Bartoluccio di Michele ...
Antonio Pollaiuolo (1433-1498)
was also a pupil of Bartoluccio di Michele..."
^ Bloch, Amy (2009-06-01). "Baptism and the frame of the south door of
the Baptistery, Florence".
Sculpture Journal. 18 (1): 24–37.
doi:10.3828/sj.18.1.3. ISSN 1366-2724.
^ See Laurie Schneider Adams, Italian
Renaissance Art, (Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 2001), 60. Actually, at the time of the 1401
Florence baptistry needed two portals to be decorated.
The aim of the 1401–02 competition was to begin work on this
project. See also Monica Bowen, "Ghiberti's North Doors," from
Alberti's Window, July 24, 2010.
^ The Premier Artists of the Italian Low Renaissance
Antonio Paolucci (1996), "The Origins of
Renaissance Art: The
Baptistery Doors, Florence" 176 pages; Publisher: George Braziller;
^ Scott, Leader (1882). "Chapter III. Baptistery Doors". Ghiberti and
Donatello. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.
^ Julian Bell (2007). Mirror of the World: A New History of Art (1st
paperback ed.). Thames & Hudson. p. 161.
ISBN 978-0-500-28754-5. It is noticeable nonetheless that the
casting of one column has been mistakenly overlaid over a
flagellator's arm, as it were trapping his hand.
^ Artnet artist biographies retrieved January 25, 2010
^ Falco, Charles M. (12–15 February 2007),
Ibn al-Haytham and the
Origins of Modern Image Analysis, International Conference on
Information Sciences, Signal Processing and its Applications
^ A. Mark Smith (2001), "The Latin Source of the Fourteenth-Century
Italian Translation of Alhacen's De aspectibus (Vat. Lat. 4595)",
Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 11:
27–43 , doi:10.1017/s0957423901001035
Brunelleschi & Ghiberti, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Smarthistory
Media related to
Lorenzo Ghiberti at Wikimedia Commons
"Ghiberti, Lorenzo". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
Catholic Encyclopedia article
Golden Oldies With a New Sparkle, Review by Roberta Smith in the New
ISNI: 0000 0001 1644 873X
BNF: cb14974694h (data)
Brunelleschi & Ghiberti, The Sacrifice of Isaac". Smarthistory
at Khan Academy. Retrieved Janu