The Gates of Paradise is the main gate of the Baptistry of Florence (Battistero di San Giovanni), located in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is a masterpiece of the Florentine Renaissance and one of the most famous works of art in the world.
According to The Lives of the Artist by Giorgio Vasari, the door—once known just as the East Door—was named the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo Buonarroti because of its striking beauty.
The Gates of Paradise was created by Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1425 and 1452. This wonderful door plays an important role in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno.
The Story of the Door
The first two doors of the Florence Baptistry were made by Andrea Pisano in the fourteenth century.
For the third door—the north one—the city of Florence announced a famous competition, in which both Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi participated.
Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition and once he completed the North door, he was given—unusually, with no competition—the task of also creating the East gate, which turned out to be the most beautiful.
The scenes that decorated the door had to depict the Old Testament, but Ghiberti had full freedom of interpretation.
Initially, the scheme was expected to be very similar to the other ports, with twenty-eight panels. The idea of creating something new happened during the course of work.
Ghiberti decided to reduce the number of panels to ten and also increase the size, choosing the new square shape.
Many of the sources for the scenes were written in ancient Greek, but knowledge of Greek at that time was not so common. Greek scholar Ambrogio Traversari was probably entrusted with the translation.
Through the Gate of Heaven, some episodes of the Bible were again told to the public for the first time after many centuries.
Construction lasted twenty-seven years. Only in 1452 did Ghiberti, now seventy years old, install the last bronze panels.
Over the years, a bevy of assistants and pupils helped Ghiberti, including some already well-known artists, such as Luca della Robbia, Donatello, Michelozzo, Benozzo Gozzoli, Bernardo Cennini, and Ghiberti’s sons, Vittore and Tommaso.
The door remained in place for centuries, well preserved, thanks to Ghiberti’s high quality of work.
The door was dismantled in 1943 because of the bombings of World War II and hidden in a gallery.
The door went back to the Baptistry in 1948, but during the 1966 flood, water opened the Gates of Paradise and pulled away six panels from the frame.
The panels were taken to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure to be repaired. In 1990 the entire door was dismantled for total restoration and replaced with a copy.
Since 2012 the restored door has been displayed at to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Gates of Paradise Panels and Frames
Gates of Paradise panels are framed by two long strips on the sides depicting biblical characters and prophets. In the decoration are also included twenty-four protruding heads, dedicated to prophets and sibyls.
Ghiberti represented himself in one of the heads as his self-portrait. Try to look for it!
In the jambs and architrave are garlands of plants and animals in gilded bronze.
Each square panel brings together more biblical stories represented simultaneously.
The spatial vision is unitary, with many architectural details built with virtuosity in perspective. Famous is the representation of the round building in the scene of Joseph.
Ghiberti updated his style according to Renaissance innovations of those years. His style was especially influenced by Donatello.
The general theme is that of salvation based on Latin and Greek patristic tradition.
After the first three panels, focusing on the theme of sin, Ghiberti began to highlight more clearly the role of God’s saving and the foreshadowing of Christ’s coming.
Later panels are easier to understand. One example is the Isaac panel, where the figures are merged with the surrounding landscape so that the eye is led toward the main scene represented in the top right.
The complex meanings are transposed into a simple, yet cultured style, with characters that move with ease in the background and a great number of quotations are present, ranging from classical to Gothic.
In the foreground are figures in high relief, which gradually become less protruding exploiting the full illusionistic potential of the stiacciato technique.
The prospective technique blends the episodes, but it is never applied rigorously and focuses on the narrative clarity.
A late Gothic style is present, however, both in the attention to minute detail and in the definition of the figures with wavy and elegant lines, as well as in the variety of plants and animals depicted.
The language is captivating, soft, and updated to be in line with modern expression bot not according to a revolutionary canon.
This mediation between tradition and modern guaranteed Ghiberti a wide and immediate fortune.
Pictures by aleph79 and Wikipedia