#27 – Boccaccio Part Three
September 23, 2018
#29 Ghiberti & The Doors II
October 12, 2018

#28 Ghiberti & The Doors I

  • If you’ve ever been to Florence, you’ve no doubt paid a visit to the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.
  • Known as the Duomo.
  • Well we’re NOT going to be talking about that today.
  • Instead we’re going to be talking about the building right next to it – the Baptistery of St John, one of the most historic and important buildings in Florence.
  • Aka  the Battistero di San Giovanni
  • John the Baptist was the patron saint of baptistries as well as the patron saint of the city of Florence.
  • In particular we want to talk about the doors of the Baptistery.
  • And the man who cast them in bronze – Lorenzo Ghiberti.
  • Also sometimes called Di Bartoluccio.
  • When we were in Florence in July, I took everyone to see the bronze doors but unfortunately the greatest of them, the so-called ‘Gates of Paradise”, were covered up and undergoing cleaning.
  • However – the doors that ARE there – aren’t even the original doors!
  • They are a copy of the originals, made in 1990 so they could preserve the originals which had over five hundred years of exposure and damage.
  • To protect the original panels for the future, they are being restored and kept in a dry environment in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the museum of the Duomo’s art and sculpture
  • But they are easy to miss because I think for most tourists, the Duomo is far more famous and attention-grabbing.
  • But the baptistery doors are famous, brilliant and played a huge role in the Duomo’s construction.
  • Lorenzo was born just outside of Florence in the year 1378 or 1381.
  • According to one story, he was the son of Cione di Ser Buonaccorso Ghiberti and Fiore Ghiberti.
  • At some point, his mother, Fiore, went to Florence and shacked up with a goldsmith by the name of Bartolo di Michele.
  • Either true love or he was able to give her lots of nice shiny necklaces.
  • So we’re not sure who Lorenzo’s biological father really was.
  • But either way, Bartolo was the only father he ever knew.
  • And when Cione died, Fiore married Bartolo.
  • But that wasn’t until 1406 when Lorenzo would have been around 25.
  • Lorenzo started studying goldsmithing under Bartolo.
  • And apparently was starting to overtake him, then the plague hit Florence again in 1400.
  • Young Lorenzo, aged about 20, went to Rimini with another artist, where he worked as a painter, painting the apartment of a rich dude.
  • While he was away from Florence, he kept up his studies, including studying sculpture.
  • Once the plague had died down in Florence, in 1401, the governors of the Baptistery were holding a competition and sending for masters who were skilled in bronze working.
  • It was actually the Arte di Calimala (Cloth Importers Guild) who were paying the commission.
  • The doors were to serve as a votive offering to celebrate the sparing of Florence from the recent plague.
  • And it was going to be an expensive project.
  • The eventual cost was 22,000 florins, equal to the entire defense budget of the city of Florence.
  • Imagine if the United States spent $700 billion on a single art project?
  • So Lorenzo headed back to his hometown to enter into the competition.
  • Now let’s talk about The Baptistery
  • It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128.
  • But there was another baptistery on that site from way way back.
  • A baptistery BTW is where people get baptised.
  • And it’s still being used for that today!
  • We got Fox baptised in it while we were there.
  • Only joking.
  • For a long time, people believed the Baptistery was originally a Roman temple dedicated to Mars.
  • But twentieth-century excavations have shown that there was a first-century Roman wall running through the piazza with the Baptistery, which may have been built on the remains of a Roman guard tower on the corner of this wall, or possibly another Roman building.
  • It is, however, certain that a first octagonal baptistery was erected here in the late fourth or early fifth century. It was replaced or altered by another early Christian baptistery in the sixth century.
  • Its construction is attributed to Theodolinda, queen of the Lombards (570-628) to seal the conversion of her husband, King Authari.
  • She was a Bavarian Catholic and he, being a Lombard, was probably Arian, although he could have still been a pagan.
  • It didn’t stop her from poisoning him and marrying his successor a year later but anyway.
  • At least he died a Catholic.
  • So then it was re-built from 1059 and 1128 in green and white marble, like the Cathedral next door, which wasn’t started for another 150 years.
  • The sculptor Andrea Pisano had built the first set of doors in 1329.
  • Depicting twenty scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist.
  • And now they wanted more doors.
  • Because you can never have enough doors.
  • That’s my policy.
  • The original idea for the doors was to have them depict scenes from the Old Testament.
  • There were seven artists from around Italy who were chosen for the competition.
  • They were all given some funds, some bronze and a year to complete their submission – a single panel in the style of the original panels by Pisano.
  • The subject selected for competition was the Old Testament story of how God tested the faith of Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, who had been born to Abraham and his wife Sarah in their extreme old age (Genesis 22: 1-12).
  • Abraham, accompanied by two servants and a donkey, took Isaac into the wilderness, but just as he held the knife to his son’s throat, God sent an angel to tell him that the Lord was pleased by his faith and would be satisfied with the offering of a ram caught in a nearby thicket.
  • Because Yahweh, in his extreme wisdom, couldn’t think of any other way to test Abraham’s faith than by putting him through the emotional torture of thinking he had to murder his only son in cold blood.
  • It’s not like Yahweh is omnipotent or anything, and could just look into Abraham’s mind.
  • I bet this is a story is that Isaac was being a little dick, not listening, talking back to his father, and Abraham one day decided to teach him a lesson, and said “right! That’s it! I’m going to fucking take you up into the hills and cut your throat!” And he dragged him up there by his hair, and held the kid down, pulled out his dagger and then said “What’s that Lord? Give him another chance? Okay Lord, if you say so. You’re fucking lucky, kid.”
  • Christians think the story was interpreted as foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ, “his only son”, etc – like it’s Chekhov’s gun, which BTW is my favourite episode of Star Trek – but of course Jews had been telling each other this story for hundreds of years before Jesus showed up and started ruining the livelihood of Israeli fisherman and bakers.
  • What’s more likely? That Yahweh told Abraham to kill his son so 1000 years later Christians would have something to point at and say “oh look! Yahweh was hinting at this 1000 years ago!”
  • Or that the guys who wrote the New Testament had a copy of the Old Testament in front of them and were like “let’s write a modern adaptation that Gentiles can get into too!” ????

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