One of the greatest artists of the early Renaissance in Florence was certainly Lorenzo Ghiberti. He was a sculptor, goldsmith, architect, painter and writer on art, who worked in Florence but also in other important cities. His greatest works are the doors of the Baptistery, later renamed by Michelangelo as the gates of Paradise for their beauty. He’s a typical example of an artist born in the late gothic age who witnessed the start of the Renaissance, changing his style throughout his life.
Lorenzo Ghiberti bio
Born in Florence in 1378 and educated in the workshop of his stepfather, the goldsmith Bartolo di Michele, Ghiberti signed his works as Lorenzo di Bartolo, until in 1444 took up the father’s name (Lorenzo di Cione). In 1401, his panel of the Sacrifice of Isaac (Florence, Bargello Museum) won the famous competition for the second door of the Baptistery (north gate) prevailing on Filippo Brunelleschi. The doors, built (1403-23) in a pattern that follows the model of the first doors performed by Andrea Pisano, depicted stories from the New Testament, the Evangelists and the Fathers of the Church in 28 panels, made with great technical ability, balancing a late Gothic naturalism with the constant references to classical art.
Lorenzo Ghiberti was educated in Florence on the examples of French art and classical art that he had the opportunity to learn during a trip to Rome in 1416. His workshop became the first important center of bronze casting, and Lorenzo Ghiberti received the most important commissions, like the statues ordered by the Merchants guild, the Bankers guild and the Wool manufacturers guild for Orsanmichele (St. John the Baptist, 1414-16; St. Matthew, 1419-22; St. Stephen, 1425-29) or the reliefs for the baptismal font of Siena (Baptism of Christ and John the Baptist meets Herod, 1417-27). Also provided designs for stained glass windows (from 1404 and then from 1434 to 1443) for the cathedral and performed fine pieces of jewelry (no remains). After a second stay in Rome, between the end of 1429 and the first months of 1430, he received the assignment, with Filippo Brunelleschi, to supervise the work of the cathedral, a difficult partnership, which brought to an end in 1436. In 1452, he completed the third set of doors of the Baptistery (perhaps begun in 1425) depicting stories of the Old Testament, summarized in ten large frames. In this work, created in collaboration with numerous helpers, the artist abandoned the Gothic style for a simple compositional scheme that proves the adhesion of Lorenzo Ghiberti with the principles of perspective. However, he does not give up on the narrative richness and taste for details. The rich gilding of the doors greatly enhances the value of the work which later was renamed by Michelangelo as the “Gates of Paradise”. Among the works of those years, as well as numerous statues and bas-reliefs in terracotta: the Ark of the Three Martyrs (1428, Florence, Bargello Museum) and the bronze urn of S. Zanobi (1442, Florence, Cathedral). In his commentaries in three books, written after 1448, Lorenzo Ghiberti shows a direct knowledge of ancient art (Pliny, Vitruvius) and a lively sense of the Tuscan art of the 14th and 15th century. Lorenzo Ghiberti died in 1455 and his tomb is in the Basilica di Santa Croce.