Most Famous Masterpieces by Lorenzo Ghiberti
Born in Florence in 1378, Lorenzo Ghiberti was one of the leading Renaissance artists of the 15th century. He is best known for his work in bronze, particularly his contributions to the Baptistery doors in Florence, known as the Gates of Paradise.
Ghiberti was born in Florence, Italy, and initially trained as a goldsmith under his father, Bartoluccio Ghiberti. However, he soon became interested in sculpture and began studying under prominent artists of the time, such as Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi. Ghiberti’s early works showed a strong influence from the Gothic style prevalent in Florence at that time.
Below, we look at Lorenzo Ghiberti’s greatest works:
Ghiberti’s first set of doors for the Florence Baptistery
At the age of 21, Ghiberti gained his initial fame by winning the 1401 competition for the creation of the first set of bronze doors, surpassing Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466), who came in second place. The competition was organized by Arte dei Mercanti (Cloth Importers Guild).
Among the numerous artists vying for the commission, the jury selected a distinguished group of seven semifinalists, including Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Simone da Colle, Francesco di Val d’Ombrino, Niccolo d’Arezzo, Jacopo della Quercia da Siena, and Niccolo Lamberti
The Baptistery intended for the newly commissioned doors to serve as a votive offering commemorating Florence’s deliverance from calamities like the devastating Black Death outbreak of 1348.
Following the competition, Ghiberti received significant assistance from his father, Bartolo, in refining the design of his door before it was cast, greatly contributing to its final execution.
The Baptistery extensively reviewed the profiles of seven artists, including Florentine sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466), before taping Ghiberti as the winner of the contest in 1401.
In making his first set of doors for the Baptistery, he designed a 28-panel door, depicting scenes from the New Testament, including twenty panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ such as Last Supper, Christ Being Captured, Christ on Trial with Pilate, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost.
The lower section of the doors showcases eight panels portraying the four evangelists and four significant Church Fathers: Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory, and Saint Augustine.
The original plan was for the doors to be laced on the east side; however, the Baptistery later decided to move it to the north side after Ghiberti produced his second set of doors (i.e. ‘The Gates of Paradise’), which were more breathtaking than the first set.
Read More: Most Famous Artists of the Renaissance Era
The Gates of Paradise
Ghiberti gained significant recognition for his design and creation of the 28-panel doors for the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral. He received many commissions, including some from the pope.
Then, in 1425, he received a second prestigious commission for the Florence Baptistery, this time for the creation of the east doors. Together with his dedicated workshop, which included notable artists like Michelozzo and Benozzo Gozzoli, they dedicated 27 years of labor to this project, surpassing their previous achievements and reaching new heights of excellence.
These doors, also known as the Gates of Paradise (Porta del Paradiso), consist of 10 panels that depict scenes from the Old Testament.
In a departure from the traditional Gothic quatrefoil design of the previous doors, Ghiberti opted for large rectangular panels in his second commission. Embracing the newly discovered principles of perspective, he skillfully incorporated depth into his compositions. Remarkably, each panel portrays multiple episodes, adding a captivating narrative element to the overall work.
The scenes that ‘The Gates of Paradise’ depict
Ghiberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ have ten gilded bronze panels, with each showing important scenes from the Old Testament, including the creation of Adam and Eve story, Noah and the ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments, and the young David slaying the Philistine giant Goliath.
On the left side of the door, the scenes from the Bible are: Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba; the people of Israel in the River Jordan and the fall of Jericho; the story of Joseph and his brothers; Biblical patriarch Abraham’s interaction with the angels and the sacrifice of his son, Isaac; and the story of Cain and Abel.
Dimensions of ‘The Gates of Paradise’
The measurement for each square panel is about 31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm). The style used in creating the square panels involved making pictorial spaces, enabling the viewer to look at very deep and wide space. It basically gives a really convincing illusion of not just reality but also of space, which was based in part on Brunelleschi’s linear perspective in relief sculpture and Donatello’s style of creating relief sculpture. The latter is seen in Donatello’s ‘Saint George and the Dragon’ (c. 1416).
The above is the reason why Ghiberti’s ‘The Gates of Paradise’ is held in high esteem; they are remarkably different from the Gothic-style doors that came before them.
Interesting Facts about Ghiberti’s ‘The Gates of Paradise’
- Ghiberti designed a number of famous Biblical figures around the bronze panels. The Florentine artist also made heads of himself and his son Vittorio on the doors.
- The name of Ghiberti’s doors, ‘The Gates of Paradise’, was coined by Michelangelo (1475-1564). The renowned Renaissance artist was so moved by the doors that he described them as worthy for the gates of heaven itself. From then on, the doors were called ‘The Gates of Paradise’.
- Ghiberti’s doors have been connected to Paradise because the Baptistery was in close proximity to the cathedral, which served as the resting place of many renowned personalities of the city.
- In the creation of the doors for the Baptistery, the artists received a bit of help from Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396-1472). By 1452, the doors of the Baptistery had been completed.
Larger than life-sized bronze Statues for Florence’s Church of Orsanmichele
The success of the Gates of Paradise brought Ghiberti further commissions and elevated his reputation as a master sculptor. He continued to work on various projects in Florence, including the bronze statue of St. John the Baptist for the Florence Cathedral, and the reliefs for the exterior of the Orsanmichele church.
His three most famous statues were larger than life-sized bronze statues. In addition to the Saint Joh the Baptist statue, there were the Saint Matthew and Saint Stephen statue created around 1412-1423 and 1426-1428, respectively. The statues measure at over 8 feet 3 inches (2.5 meters) in height.
Other notable works by Ghiberti
Beginning around the second decade of the 15th century, Ghiberti’s reputation preceded him, and his services were in demand all across Florence. He completed the tomb of Sain Zanobi, Florence’s first bishop. The work had originally been begun by a different artist around 1409, and Ghiberti was tasked to completed it in 1428.
He was also commissioned to make a new marble baptismal font for the cathedral in Siena in 1414. He sculpted six bronze relief plaques for the base of the font. In one of the scenes of the work, he depicts the story of Christ getting baptized.
Ghiberti collaborated with his art arch rival Filippo Brunelleschi in the construction of the dome of Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is said that the two men competed fiercely for the commission, and Brunelleschi emerged the victor.
However, the city’s officials insisted that the two artists put aside their differences and work on the project. Ultimately, Ghiberti left the project in 1425 to attend to a different project in Venice.
Described as one of Ghiberti’s last masterpieces, ‘Madonna and Child’ sculpture was made around 1450 using terracotta. The artwork, as of 2023, can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, United States.
Ghiberti’s autobiographical work, ‘commentaries’
Another stellar achievement of Ghiberti is that his work, ‘Commentaries’ (Commentarii), is generally praised as the oldest surviving autobiography by an artist from Europe. The work offers great insights into the style and works of Renaissance artists and artists of the past era. Ghiberti states in the work his disappointment with the Early Christians for destroying many works from the Classical era.
Relationship between Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi
Lorenzo Ghiberti and Alhazen
Recent scholarly research suggests that Ghiberti’s exploration of perspective was influenced by the writings of Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham (aka Alhazen), an Arab polymath who extensively discussed the optical principles underlying perspective as early as the eleventh century.
Other interesting facts about Lorenzo Ghiberti
- Lorenzo Ghiberti actually entered the artworld as a goldsmith. However, in a very short period of time, he showed such an immense ability in bronze sculpting that he rose to huge prominence in Florence. His skill sets became evident for everyone to see.
- Unlike many of his fellow sculptors at the time, he made his own casting. It is said that he used the direct lost-wax technique in the making of the casts. The technique involves making the wax model with clay at the core. After that the clay is baked so that the wax melts off.
- Famous Florentine artist Donatello (c. 1836-1466) once served as an assistant to Ghiberti. The two artists had strong influences on each other.
- The doors that sit at the Baptistery are in fact replicas. As part of conservation efforts, the actual doors by Ghiberti were removed from the Baptistery to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.
Did you know…?
In order to fulfill his first commission for the Baptistery, he established a substantial workshop that served as a training ground for numerous artists, among them Donatello (1386-1466), Masolino (c. 1383-c. 1447), Antonio del Pollaiuolo (c. 1430-1498)), and Paolo Uccello (1397-1475).
The Baptistery originally intended to place Ghiberti’s doors on the north side, however, when Ghiberti was through producing the doors, the doors were dazzling that the Baptistery decided to place them on the east side, facing the Cathedral itself.
Ghiberti’s ‘The Gates of Paradise’ was commissioned by the wool merchant’s guild, perhaps the wealthiest guild in Florence at the time.
As doors featured such a prominent role in many classical era buildings, it is not unlikely that Ghiberti, a big fan of the classical Greek and Roman artworks, took some bit of inspiration from the sculptural styles of that era, say the Great Bronze Doors on the Pantheon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here’s what you need to know:
Where was he born?
Lorenzo Ghiberti was born in Florence in 1378. His birth name was LORENZO DI Cione di ser Buonaccorso.
Where did Ghiberti get his inspiration from?
It is said that Florence-born sculptor studied the works of leading artists of the past and his era. For example, he was a big admirer of works from the Greek classical era. Some of the artists of his era that influenced his style include Donatello, his former assistant. His interaction with some German craftsmen of the era allowed him to incorporate Gothic styles into some of his works.
Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), an Italian painter and mathematician, who is often hailed as the pioneering master of perspective, spent a significant period in Ghiberti’s workshop, which complicates the assessment of how much Uccello’s advancements in perspective can be attributed to Ghiberti’s guidance.
Is Lorenzo Ghiberti one of the greatest of all time?
Lorenzo Ghiberti’s contributions to art and his mastery of bronze sculpture made him one of the leading figures of the Early Renaissance. His work continues to be celebrated for its beauty, technical skill, and contribution to the cultural heritage of Florence.
Where are the Gates of Paradise located?
They are currently located at the Cathedral of Florence. They were originally commissioned for the Baptistery, a very historical building in Florence. The two buildings stand side-by-side. In the past they were sort of the heart of Florence, with the latter being the place where the citizens of Florence were baptized.
What are some of the famous scenes from the Bible depicted on Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise?
Ghiberti’s doors comprise a number of scenes from the Old Testament, including the young David defeating the Philistine giant Goliath; Moses taking receipt of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; the sons of Rebecca and Isaac – Jacob and Esau; Noah making an animal sacrifice after the Great Flood; and the creation of Adam and Eve, their fall from grace and expulsion from Paradise.
On the right side of the door, the scenes that Ghiberti used are: the story of Cain and Abel, Abraham’s interaction with the angels and the sacrifice of his son Isaac, and the story of Joseph and his eleven brothers. It also includes scenes of King Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba.
How long did it take Ghiberti to produce the bronze doors of the Baptistery of Florence’s cathedral?
27 years! With those number of years and the sheer dedication to the bronze doors, it’s no wonder Michelangelo (1475-1564) termed them as the ‘Gates of Paradise’.
Who created the other doors of the Baptistery?
Ghiberti was commissioned to create the north doors of the Baptistery. The two other doorways – east and south – were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti (commissioned by the Arte dei Mercanti [(Cloth Importers Guild)] and Andrea Pisano (1290-1348), respectively. The south doors comprise scenes from the New Testament, specifically scenes of John the Baptist.
Initially, the doors commissioned by the Arte dei Mercanti were intended to be placed on the east side of the baptistry. However, following Ghiberti’s completion of his second commission, the renowned “Gates of Paradise,” the doors were relocated to the north side of the baptistry.
In 1453, Ghiberti and his son Vittorio received a commission to incorporate a door case into Pisano’s existing panels. However, Ghiberti passed away in 1455, eight years prior to the completion of the frame, leaving the majority of the task to be carried out by Vittorio and other artisans from his workshop.
What was Lorenzo Ghiberti’s style?
Ghiberti’s style evolved over time, and his later works displayed a more classical influence, embracing the ideals of humanism and naturalism. His use of perspective and his attention to detail were notable characteristics of his sculptures. Ghiberti’s works had a significant impact on the development of Renaissance art in Florence and influenced many artists who came after him.
What other things was Ghiberti most known for?
In addition to his artistic pursuits, Ghiberti was also a writer. He authored a treatise called “Commentarii,” in which he discussed various aspects of art and shared his experiences and knowledge with other artists.
Basically, Ghiberti’s commentarii, which is seen one of the earliest surviving autobiographies of any artist, presents his take on art and styles that go as far back as the Classical era.
Did he have any children?
It’s said that he tied the knot with a 16-year-old woman called Marsila, who was the daughter of Bartolommeo di Lucca, a wealthy comb-maker. The couple had two children: Vittorio Ghiberti and Tommaso Ghiberti.
When did he die?
He passed away in Florence in 1455. He died in his mid-70s. The artist was buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.
Lorenzo Ghiberti: Quick Facts
Birth name: Lorenzo di Bartolo
Born: c. 1378
Place of birth: Florence, Republic of Florence
Died: December 1, 1455
Place of death: Florence, Republic of Florence
Parents: Cione di Ser Buonaccorso Ghiberti and Fiore Ghiberti
Children: Tommaso Ghiberti, Vittorio Ghiberti
Movement: Early Renaissance
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