The first door of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1403-1424 north side)
It was not until two years after Ghiberti had won the contest that the contract was signed on 23 November 1403 by Lorenzo Ghiberti and his stepfather Bartolo di Michele. According to the contract, each year three panels had to be delivered for a payment of two hundred florins. On Easter of 1424, the door on the east side opposite the cathedral was placed. The doors of Andrea Pisano moved to the southern side. In 1452, the first doors of Ghiberti were moved to the northern side: they had to make room for the most splendid of the three doors, the so-called ‘Paradise door’, another design by Ghiberti. The total costs for the second doors were an astounding 22000 florins. For more images of the first door (north side) of Ghiberti, see Wikipedia)
Ghiberti took fourteen years longer than Pisano to complete his doors. Doors with the same dimensions and the exact number of panels, both with the gothic quatrefoil. This shows that Ghiberti was working more slowly, but very precisely. For instance, the contract from 1403 listed that Calimala expected Lorenzo to ‘carve the figures, trees and other reliefs with his own hands.’
While the commission for the contest involved a theme from the Old Testament, the Sacrifice of Isaac, it was later decided to instead opt for the story of Jesus. Twenty panels are devoted to New Testament scenes and eight to the evangelists and the church fathers. Lorenzo Ghiberti chose for a different design than Pisano. The reading direction was not from top to bottom as with the first doors, but from bottom to the top. The story begins at eye level (Click here for an overview of the panels with the scenes) and it continues from the left to the other door leaf on the right. The sequence of the first door, a work by Andrea Pisano, looks akin to reading a book, with each door leaf being a page. For many images of the door of Pisano, see Wikipedia.
The story of Christ emphasises epiphanies (revelations). It reveals the true nature of Christ for the believer. Scenes like: ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, ‘Christ between the scholars’, Entry into Jerusalem’ and finally ‘the Glorification’. Six panels show the way of sorrow. In the Resurrection and Pentecost, it becomes clear that Christ not only triumphs, but also lives on in the church (See Wikipedia).
By 1407, only four panels have been completed, a farcry from the three a year set out in the contract. And so a new contract was drawn up. The majority of the reliefs were made between 1407 and 1415. Only afterwards was the frame of the door leaves cast and everything received a polish and gilt layer.
For twenty years, the doors were worked on inside Lorenzo’s gallery. Artists like Paolo Uccello, Michelozzo, but also a young Donatello have worked in Ghiberti’s workshop.
Despite the long period and the many workers, we can still make out a uniform style. Seemingly, Lorenzo was in firm control of his workshop. That is not to say that Ghiberti’s work did not evolve. Generally, as the work progressed, the compositions became larger and the movement became more complex.
Essentially, the second door does not deviate much from the work of Andrea Pisano and has clear hallmarks of medieval style. One difference is that Ghiberti is strongly influenced by the then international court style from Paris, later often called the international (gothic) style. This shows at the elegantly bent figures like in the quatrefoil in which Mary receives the blessed message from the angel that she is carrying a child. The decorative way in which the folds of Mary’s and the angel’s cloaks are portrayed is not very realistic, but is definitely graceful.
‘The Adoration of the Magi’ scene is one of the first reliefs and was in any case made before 1410. This panel, too, shows folds in the drapes that are typical for the international style. Typical for late Gothicism, which you can also see with Pisano, is how a group of figures is being represented: people are placed vertically and increasingly higher in the picture plane. The front two figures look left to the old king kneeling for the child Christ. This quickly draws attention to the king. The lines of vision of Joseph on the background and Mary with her child amplify the effect. ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ scene is one of the first reliefs and was in any case made before 1410. This panel, too, shows folds in the drapes that are typical for the international style. Typical for late Gothicism, which you can also see with Pisano, is how a group of figures is being represented: people are placed vertically and increasingly higher in the picture plane. The front two figures look left to the old king kneeling for the child Christ. This quickly draws attention to the king. The lines of vision of Joseph on the background and Mary with her child amplify the effect.
The architecture in which Ghiberti places his figures is more complex and convincing than his predecessor Andrea Pisano. For instance, the space in which Mary is sitting is placed at a 45 degree angle. Andrea sometimes placed his architecture slightly curved relative to the picture plane, but did not at all create as much depth as Ghiberti. The Beheading of John the Baptist, for example, is not placed very convincingly in the architecture by Pisano, something Ghiberti does a lot better with his Mary depiction. This panel of Ghiberti also shows Joseph being behind the column, with his left hand holding the front of the pillar. While Pisano and Ghiberti may both be children of Gothicism, it is clear that in terms of realism Ghiberti is far ahead of his predecessor Andrea. Ghiberti did omit one column on the front. While this makes less sense in an architectonic way, but it does benefit the view of Mary and a beautiful composition.
In ‘the arrest of Jesus’, we see a noticeable improvement in the realistic portrayal of a group of people. There is no vertical stacking of figures like Ghiberti did for his ‘Adoration of the Magi’, but instead we see a realistic setting with all figures having their feet at equal levels. In addition, the three rows of people behind each other are more convincing because their faces are at equal heights. This is reminiscent of the Renaissance and particularly the Tribute Money by Masaccio.
Ghiberti signed his work above the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi with: OPVS LAURENTII FLORENTINI or ‘A work by Lorenzo the Florentine.’ In addition, the artist depicted himself with a turban in between the two aforementioned scenes. He was one of 48 heads of prophets.
In 1452, the work of Ghiberti moved to the north side of the Baptistry. It was to make room for doors by the same artist ‘for its beauty’, but in a novel style: the Renaissance.
After the ‘Paradise Gate’ (second door of Ghiberti) was restored (can be seen in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo), the first door of Ghiberti has also been restored since 2013. The restoration revealed remarkable differences, especially with regard to the gilded figures that are now clearly visible again, such as in the panel: ‘The temptation of Christ’. It is expected that all 28 panels will be completed by fall 2015. The first door, like Ghiberti’s second, will then be placed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Anticipated completion for all 28 panels is set for the autumn of 2015, at which point the first door, like Ghiberti’s second, will find its new home in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.