East doors, baptistery, Florence

   In 1401, a competition was announced in Florence for the east doors of the Baptistery that faced the cathedral. The south doors had already been executed in the previous century by Andrea Pisano with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. Seven artists submitted entries to the competition, including Filippo Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Jacopo della Quercia. Participants were to follow certain specifications. Entries were to represent the Sacrifice of Isaac, they were to be executed in bronze, and enclosed in a quatrefoil to harmonize with Andrea Pisano's reliefs on the south doors. In the end, Ghiberti won the competition as his relief was better suited to current tastes. Rejecting the medieval vocabulary that had permeated sculpture in the previous century, Ghiberti rendered a classicized Isaac, one of the earliest nudes of the Renaissance to depend on ancient prototypes. At first, officials intended the east doors (now the north doors) to include scenes from the Old Testament, with the winner's entry filling one of the panels. Soon, however, the source was changed to the New Testament and Ghiberti's Sacrifice of Isaac (now in Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello) was saved for inclusion in a third set of doors.
   The east doors, like Andrea Pisano's, are divided into 28 quatre-foils, arranged in seven rows of four. Each field is enclosed by a square composed of foliage, fruits, insects, lizards, and birds and, at each intersection, a bust of either a prophet or prophetess emerges. On the lowest panels are the four Evangelists and four Doctors of the Church. Of the scenes from the New Testament, which relate the story of Christ, the most often discussed is the Flagellation. Here, the event unfolds in front of a classical portico. Like Brunelleschi's architecture, the scene is symmetrical and balanced. The figure of Christ is based on ancient models, with realistic anatomical details and believable drapery. Once installed, the doors were highly praised by contemporaries. The competition for the commission marked the transition from the Proto- to the Early Renaissance era.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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