Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gate of Paradise

Lorenzo Ghiberti
Sala del Paradiso
Original location
Baptistery of San Giovanni, exterior, east portal
Height: 520 cm ca.; Width: 310 cm ca.; Depth: 11 cm; Weight: 8 tonnellate ca.;

This famous gilded bronze doors, known as the “Gates of Paradise”, was realized for the Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1425 and 1452. The ten panels depict scenes from the Old Testament. The Wool Merchants Guild commissioned Ghiberti to realize the third and last door of the Baptistery depicting scenes from the Old Testament after his superb rendering of stories from the life of Christ on the second doors. Initially this third set of doors was destined for the northern side of the Baptistery, but proved so dazzlingly beautiful that they were given place of honor on the eastern side, opposite the Cathedral facade. For this commission Ghiberti was freed from the rigid pattern of 28 panels used for the previous sets of doors, allowing him to adopt a simpler scheme favoring the narrative: ten panels illustrating forty-seven stories from the Bible. The square shape of the panels permitted the artist to use perspective and group episodes together. The stories are read from left to right and from top to bottom: thus they begin with the creation of Adam and Eve and original sin and continue with the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and their sons Esau and Jacob, of Joseph, of Moses, of Joshua, of David and finally of Solomon. The choice of episodes is linked to the biblical exegesis of Christian theology and there are prefigurations of Baptism and the coming of Christ.

The frames are decorated with splendid niches containing Old Testament figures (including, for example, Jason and Judith) and oculi from which heads emerge (perhaps prophets or generically, representations of the "chosen people"). The portraits of Lorenzo Ghiberti and his son Vittore can be recognized in the two central ones. In the middle listello we can read the self-celebratory inscription with the "signature" of the author: "[Opus] Laurentii Cionis de Ghibertis mira[bile] arte fabricatum" (<This work was> created by the admirable art of Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti).

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Sala del Paradiso