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The Gates of Paradise

The gates of Paradise are located in the so-called Open-Air Museum, or in other words – the fabulous Florence, Italy. The eastern gates of the Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista in Florence bear this impressive name. The sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti created the actual work, and it took him 27 years to make – between 1425 and 1452.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista, or St. John the Baptist, is the oldest preserved building in Florence. Its unique architecture, which we can see today, dates back to the 13th century. It is octagonal and lined with white and green marble, and the three gates created especially for it are real works of art.

Giberti received his most important commission in 1425 from the Board of Trustees of the Florence Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore when he was hired to build the third gate for the baptistery. Initially, Leonardo Bruni proposed a scheme of twenty-eight reliefs in seven rows of four, depicting the prophet and twenty scenes from the Old Testament. Subsequently, it 

was decided that they would be only ten large panels. Each was richly decorated with small figures, and each frame had ornaments of leaves, birds, and animals. A little later it was decided that the new creation will replace the first doors that the sculptor made for the main eastern portal, and it will be installed on the north side.

The new gates became known as the Gates of Paradise. Interestingly, their name was not given by the author, but by Michelangelo Buanarotti himself. It is said that when he first saw them, he declared that they were “so beautiful that they are worthy of being the gates of Heaven.” And so, to this day, they impress with their name and lead thousands of visitors who want to see them.

The impressive work consists of two wings, each with five beautiful reliefs of gilded bronze. On them are depicted scenes from the “Old Testament”, occupying places on square shapes. Most of them are presented with more than one scene, creating a whole composition. This technique is typical of

medieval art. The panels on the gates depict the consistent vision of the artistic genius Ghiberti.

He uses a straight perspective to give a sense of depth and space to his creation. The figures in the foreground are strongly embossed, and the further back they go, the flatter they are depicted. In some places, only engraved elements are noticeable for even greater effect. Critics claim, to this day, that the implementation of such workmanship is possible only with perfect mastery of technology. The Renaissance worldview of the artist prevails over the Gothic in the construction of these gates.

The first panel on the doors is that of Adam and Eve. It depicts episodes from their history, the creation of Adam, the formation of Eve from one rib, mutual temptations, and, of course, their expulsion from Paradise. Ghiberti distinguishes the four scenes with changes in the size of the details and the projection of the angels.

The panel of Jacob and Esau uses a linear perspective that constructs the story. In David’s panel, the artist depicts his victory over Goliath. David

is illustrated in the foreground by cutting off the giant’s head.

The panels mainly frame images of prophets, but also include portraits of Giberti himself and his son Vittorio, who continued the family workshop even after his father’s death.

Over time, the doors gradually began to receive damage due to external influences. Over the years, a lot of work has been done on the restoration of the gates. The entire frame was removed from the baptistery in 1990, and an exact replica of the Gates of Paradise was installed in its place. Since then, scientists have developed a revolutionary technique for cleaning panels using lasers.

Today, going to Florence, we can not miss visiting the Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista. And there we will notice the Gates of Paradise – a true work of art that impresses to this day. The original gates can be seen in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’s museum, and their exact copies take their place in the baptistery.