June 8, 2012

Here Are the Gates of Paradise!

Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Adam and Eve” (The Gates of Paradise,  detail)
Photo courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence
It took Lorenzo Ghiberti 27 years—from 1425 to 1452—to complete the 10 gilded bronze reliefs that decorate the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, and it took restorers as many years to complete the restoration of the work. I’m talking about one of the treasures of the early Renaissance, the 17-foot-high doors that Michelangelo dubbed “the Gates of Paradise.” The restored originals will go on display (see also here) in the city’s Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in September in a temperature controlled environment (copies have stood in their place on the Baptistery since 1990). Three of the ten panels, however, were already shown in 2007 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

A detail from “Adam and Eve”
(Librado Romero/ The New York Times)
Needless to say the doors are an absolute masterpiece. They had a lasting influence on Ghiberti’s successors. Not by chance, in fact, to carry out his work he set up a large workshop in which many artists trained, including Donatello, Masolino da Panicale, Michelozzo, Paolo Uccello, and Antonio Pollaiuolo. As it was not enough he had re-invented the lost-wax casting of bronze-casting—his St. John the Baptist is the first application of that technique—as it was used by the ancient Romans, which made his workshop special to young artists. In other words, in him native genius was aided by reflection and theory. After all, Ghiberti was also a collector of classical artifacts, a historian and an intellectual who was actively involved in the spreading of humanist ideas. His unfinished Commentarii are a valuable source of information about Renaissance art and contain an autobiography, the first of an artist. Last but not least, Ghiberti’s sense of the beautiful stamps him as the precursor of Raphael.

The restoration was carried out by Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which is widely considered the world’s leading laboratory for the restoration of Renaissance sculpture.