the “gates of paradise” restored

Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise on Florence's Baptistry
Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise on Florence’s Baptistery

After 27 years of research and restoration, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” are being returned to public display inside the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore beginning on September 8, 2012.

The restoration took exactly as many years as it took Ghiberti to complete the project between 1425-1453 after a competition was announced by the Arte di Calimala (Cloth Importers Guild) in 1401 to design a set of doors that would eventually be installed on the North side of the Florence Baptistery. Finalists in the competition also included  Filippo BrunelleschiDonatello and Jacopo della Quercia, but Ghiberti (only 21 years old at the time) ultimately won in a famous creative battle between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, and he created one of the most important masterpieces of the 15th century. Ghiberti had re-invented the lost-wax bronze casting as it was used by the ancient Romans.  According to Giorgio Vasari, it was Michelangelo who described the doors to be so beautiful that they could possibly be the “Gates to Paradise.”

The 5.20 meters high doors have a width of 3.10 meters, weigh 8 tons, and were made of bronze and gold. The 10 richly detailed panels tell the stories of the Old Testament. The doors were temporarily removed to save them from WWII destruction, but the flood of 1966 in Florence violently ripped 6 of the 10 panels off, causing much damage. In 1990, a fine copy of the doors replaced the original ones that were sent off to be restored at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze. One of the few copies made in the 1940s is still installed in Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco.

Florence Baptistery Now carefully restored back to its gold splendor, the doors will once again be on public view. To celebrate this historic event, there will be a free concert of sacred music by Andrea Bocelli and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Choir held inside Florence’s Duomo on September 8.

For more information about Lorenzo Ghiberti and his involvement with the guilds of Florence, see a recent art925 post: Guilds of Florence.

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