Ghiberti, Lorenzo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Ghiberti, Lorenzo

Lorenzo Ghiberti (lōrĕn´tsō gēbĕr´tē), c.1378–1455, Florentine sculptor. He received his early training in the workshop of Bartoluccio. In 1401 he entered the competition for a bronze portal for the baptistery in Florence. He won the contest against his closest rival, Brunelleschi. Their trial panels, depicting The Sacrifice of Isaac, are now in the Bargello. From 1403 to 1424 Ghiberti worked on the north portal. The door was designed to match the earlier portal by Andrea Pisano. Consequently, Ghiberti had to work within the limits of the ornate quatrefoil framework of the Gothic period. The reliefs depicted scenes from the life of Jesus and representations of the Evangelists and the Fathers of the Church. During these years Ghiberti also executed several imposing statues for the Church of Orsanmichele: St. John the Baptist,St. Matthew, and St. Stephen. In 1424 he took a short trip to Venice. On his return to Florence he began to design the east portal of the baptistery. He devoted some 23 years to this project, during which time his workshop became one of the leading centers of Florentine activity. Ghiberti was allowed more freedom in the execution of this portal, and within ten square panels he adapted the recent innovations in art. He employed various grades of relief most effectively, from the round to the almost flat schiacciato technique. The new system of perspective was skillfully used in the architectural setting of three reliefs, Isaac,Joseph, and Solomon. The Florentines proudly named his portal the Gates of Paradise. Five of the ten panels were torn off the doors by the flood of 1966 and restored with the aid of exact replicas from San Francisco, Calif. To protect them from the elements and pollution, the original panels were replaced on the doors by replicas in 1990. Ghiberti was asked to supervise the building of the Cathedral dome, but he was unsuccessful in this endeavor. In his last years he wrote an important book, the Commentarii (tr. by Ludwig Goldscheider, 1949), which contains an analysis of earlier art and an account of his own life. This is the earliest surviving autobiography by an artist.

See study by R. Krautheimer (2d ed. 1970).

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