Art at its highest: The Gates of Paradise

Updated: Jan 18, 2019


The eighth and tenth panels with scenes from the Book of Joshua at the top, and depicting Solomon meeting Sheba at the bottom

Art is a language of communication. Its practitioners are in communication with works of art created before them. Artists also strive to add their own word to the conversation they exchange with their fellow artists. Last, but not least they want to speak to the public: to fulfill or preferably surpass their audiences’ expectations. Art critique is as old as art, praising or decrying the success or failure of conveying a communicative message through art.


Art tenders were open competitions in Renaissance Florence where candidates publicly displayed their designs before a committee chose and commissioned the nominee with the task of executing the work. At the age of only 23, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) won the execution of the north side doors of the Florence Baptistery in the course of a competition over seven finalists, including such famous names as Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello. Ghiberti’s work seemed to have surpassed that of Brunelleschi by moulding the figures of the panel out of one piece of bronze, using less material and resulting in a lighter pair of doors.


He worked 21 years to produce the 28 gilded bronze panels on order of the influential Cloth Importing Guild. It shows 20 scenes of the life of Christ from the New Testaments, the four evangelists, as well as the four fathers of the Church on the lowest row of panels.


He was so successful in executing the task, that in 1425 he was commissioned again to decorate the eastern doors of the Baptistery, this time with scenes from the Old Testament. He asked to limit the number of panels making several scenes on each. In pairs from top down they display the Creation (Adam and Eve) – Cain and Abel, Noah – Abraham, Esau and Jacob – Joseph, Moses – Joshua, and finally David – in pair with Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. His 10 new panels show the elegant application of perspective invented in the meantime by Filippo Brunelleschi. The reliefs took 27 years to produce. Upon completion, Michelangelo expressed his admiration praising them as the Gates of Paradise.

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