Gates of Paradise, Baptistery of Florence

   Executed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the Gates of Paradise were the last set of bronze doors commissioned for the Baptistery of Florence. Initially, Ghiberti was asked to include 28 scenes from the Old Testament enclosed in quatrefoil fields to match his earlier east doors (1403-1424). The number was then reduced to 24 and finally to 10 panels. Also different is the fact that gilding was applied to the entire surface and the quatrefoil rejected in favor of quadrangular fields. The prophets and Evangelists, usually relegated to the lower panels, were here moved into small niches along the borders. These alternate with bust heads emerging from circular fields, one recognized as Ghiberti's self-portrait. The main scenes depict the biblical narrative from the Creation to the era of Solomon. These all utilize the then newly introduced one-point linear perspective technique and diminished depth of carving in the background to further the illusion of depth. They also use the continuous narrative technique whereby several episodes of the same story are rendered on one pictorial field. Of the panels, the one to stand out is Jacob and Esau, in the center of the left door, which includes God's warning to Rebecca that conflict will plague the relationship of her unborn sons, the birth of the two boys, Isaac sending his son Esau to the hunt, and Jacob receiving Isaac's blessing. The scenes are coherently arranged along the panel, with a series of classical arches that recede believably into space, providing logical partitions between the various episodes. Ghiberti's are the doors that face the walkway leading from the Baptistery to the Cathedral of Florence—in Italian, the paradiso. This inspired Michelangelo in the 16th century to coin the name Gates of Paradise. By this he meant that the doors were so extraordinary as to be worthy for use as the gates to heaven.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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