Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Renaissance Masterpiece, Missed in Florence, Turns Up in New York

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Renaissance Masterpiece, Missed in Florence, Turns Up in New York

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

On a recent trip to Florence--our first--my husband and I noticed a small, intently curious crowd gathered in front of the doors on the building behind the Duomo, the city's major cathedral sporting Filippo Bruneschelli's majestic dome; So commanding is the cathedral that the much smaller octagonal building behind it, which I later learned is called the Baptistery, could easily be dismissed. It was the crowd that caught my eye. This wasn't one of the ubiquitous tour groups obligingly trailing a guide, easily identified by such features as an umbrella held aloft, or a long stick tied with scarves. A glance in the direction of the Baptistery was enough to tell me that this was a spontaneous gathering of people intently interested in the doors. Alternately, they would consult their guidebooks and peer closely at what was before them.

Carrying a guidebook that didn't rate historic or artistic sites but treated them as if all were equal--a mistake we will not repeat--we had paid scant attention to the Baptistery. We later learned what more seasoned travelers may already know: that the Baptistery of San Giovanni is one of the oldest and most beloved buildings in Florence, and for that reason, it was chosen as the site for Lorenzo Ghiberti's celebrated 15-foot-high doors. When we got close enough to the doors, the east doors facing the Duomo, I was transfixed by the exquisitely detailed, three-dimensional renderings of scenes from the Hebrew Bible. They took 27 years to complete and are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

Once I had flipped through my guidebook and found the appropriate page, two points caught my attention. One is that Michelangelo, too, had been transfixed by Ghiberti's masterpiece and had reportedly labeled the work Porta del Paradiso, Gates of Paradise--a term that stuck. The other is that no matter how stunning the work before me, it was not the real thing. The doors in front of me were castings made in 1948 and installed in 1990. That year, the 15th-century gilded bronze originals were moved to the nearby Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, along with other treasures from the Baptistery's interior.

There is more to know about the Baptistery. Romanesque in style, it dates to the 11th century and is dedicated to the patron saint of Florence, St. …

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