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Lorenzo Ghiberti
Lorenzo Ghiberti was among the most prolific and innovative sculptors in Renaissance Florence. He is best remembered for “The Gates of Paradise”, the magnificent doors of the Baptistery of St John, cast in glittering bronze.

In 1401 the people of Florence decided their baptistry needed spectacular new doors. A competition was held to find the most suitable sculptor. There were really only two contenders: the temperamental goldsmith, Filippo Brunelleschi, and the sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Brunelleschi slaved away behind closed doors and perfected his models in secrecy. Ghiberti played a far more clever game. He established an open studio and allowed the general public to wander in and provide feedback. Visitors ranged from humble citizens to dignitaries like Giovanni de'Medici, who was on the selection committee.

Ghiberti changed his designs to suit the public's tastes, thus ensuring his eventual victory. Getting the contract proved far easier than actually delivering.

For more than 20 years Ghiberti toiled on the 28 panels; refining and perfecting, casting and recasting them, until at last, in 1424, the brand new façade of the baptistry was unveiled to the public.

No sooner were the new doors hung than yet another competition was announced. This time for the east façade, opposite Florence Cathedral. The single-minded Ghiberti was the obvious choice, and he believed he could improve on his previous work.

Gates of ParadiseAnother 24 years passed and Ghiberti grew old, still bent over the furnace of his studio, still struggling to perfect the casts of his exquisite designs. He polished the bronze until it shone like gold. And when the east doors were finally unveiled in 1452, just three years before his death, they were greeted with awe. No one had ever achieved such vivid truth in bronze.

Ghiberti had cast buildings, creatures and people as real as if they had been frozen in time. He had reinvented the practice of casting in bronze and brought realism, emotion and drama to the stories of the Bible. Michelangelo later named them the “Gates of Paradise”.

His doors had taken a lifetime to complete but they sealed Ghiberti's reputation forever.

Where to next
Brunelleschi   Brunelleschi: Ghiberti's rival
Florence Florence Scape: Baptistry of St John

The Renaissance

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Science & Architecture
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