#28 Ghiberti & The Doors I
October 6, 2018

#29 Ghiberti & The Doors II

  • Anyway – governors of Florence may have had a more immediate reason for selecting this story.
  • The climax of the story emphasizes divine intervention, and we must remember that the Florentines were facing a series of threats from outside forces – we’ll discuss them in later episodes – and had just had another dose of the plague.
  • So at the end of the year, all of the artists handed in their work.
  • And it came down to two finalists: Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi.
  • So let’s introduce him.
  • He’s another one of the founding fathers of the Renaissance.
  • Born in 1377 in Florence and is considered the first modern engineer.
  • AND for developing a technique for linear perspective in art.
  • Because hey – only complete losers are famous for just one thing.
  • I mean – I invented long form history podcast, the world’s first podcast network AND – recording podcasts over Skype.
  • So that’s THREE things.
  • One better than Brunelleschi.
  • So fuck him.
  • We don’t know much about his youth, except his father was a notary,  a civil servant, and like all sons, Filippo – aka Philly B – was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps.
  • But Bruno was artistically inclined, and he enrolled in the Arte della Seta, the silk merchants’ Guild.
  • We’ll explain the role of the guilds in detail in future episodes.
  • But for now, just think of them as secular corporations that controlled the arts and trades in Florence from the twelfth into the sixteenth century.
  • They also had a significant role in the government of Florence, in between the years when the Medici family ran it.
  • Florence was a city run by business people, which is one of the reasons it prospered and the arts flourished.
  • But more on that in later episodes when we get into the politics of Florence.
  • The silk merchants’ Guild also included goldsmiths, metalworkers, and bronze workers.
  • Which is why Bruno joined it.
  • He became a master goldsmith in 1398.
  • So when the Baptistery door competition was being held, Philly B was only 24 years old.
  • Lorenzo Ghiberti – Gibbo – was only 21.
  • Their submissions – the Abraham and Isaac panel – have been preserved.
  • They are the only ones that have survived.
  • The two preserved competition panels represent the same moment in the story: the angel intervenes as Isaac kneels on the altar, his father about to put a knife to his throat.
  • The two servants, the ram caught in the thicket, and the donkey drinking from a stream are represented in both panels.
  • Perhaps the inclusion of these elements was required by the competition.
  • Brunelleschi’s relief is an original creation, full of action-filled poses.
  • Abraham twists Isaac’s head to expose his neck, while the angel has to rush in and physically restrain Abraham to prevent the sacrifice.
  • The body of the boy is scrawny, the poses of the two main figures tense, and the drapery rhythms sharp and broken.
  • All are rendered in a new, profoundly naturalistic style.
  • This is a big thing because art, including painting as well as sculpture, before this time, was very boring.
  • Even into the 14th century or the “trecento” as it’s known.
  • Even if you look at the works of Giotto, the master of the 14th century, the first artist to depict three-dimensional figures in western European art.
  • When I think of Byzantine art, I think of flat paintings.
  • Very 2D.
  • And a ton of gold and silver, because they wanted to show how much insane bling Jesus had given them.
  • But Giotto tried to make his scenes more realistic.
  • His fabric folds are more realistic, and he used light, shadow, and color to create the appearance of fabric.
  • You can also see the Contours of the body underneath these fabric fold.
  • But His figures all have faces made of stone.
  • Look at the Ognissanti Madonna from 1310 which is in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy.
  • The faces are all ’tranquil’ like drugged cows walking into the slaughterhouse.
  • But Giotto was a huge step forward.
  • The importance of Giotto was not lost on his contemporaries.
  • Our friend Boccaccio wrote in The Decameron that Giotto had “brought back to light” the art of painting “that for many centuries had been buried under the errors of some who painted more to delight the eyes of the ignorant than to please the intellect of the wise” (Decameron, VI, 5).
  • One artist in the 15th century declared that Giotto had translated painting from Greek (by which he meant Byzantine) into Latin.
  • In the sixteenth century, Vasari wrote that Giotto had abandoned the “rude manner” of the Greeks and, since he continued to “derive from Nature, he deserves to be called the pupil of Nature and no other.”
  • For his contemporaries and successors the virtue of Giotto’s style seems to have been based in its fidelity to the human, natural, Italian world they knew, as against the artificial manner from the Byzantine East.
  • But let’s not get too deep into Giotto.
  • We’ll talk about him in another episode.
  • But the creators of the Renaissance style – Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello – rejected their contemporaries and went back a century to the work of Giotto.
  • The quality they admired most about his work was his ability to make dramatic and moving statements about the Christian tradition by creating realistic human forms.
  • Note again that they are still deeply Christian.
  • Giotto had a way of focusing the viewer’s attention upon a few monumental figures.
  • From him they learned Naturalism, the depiction of reality.
  • But this wasn’t about just copying nature, creating a mirror image of the physical universe.
  • Why they were doing was selecting particular elements of the visible world and organising them to create the illusion of reality.
  • But before we leave Giotto, I want to point out that Giotto was the second Chief Architect of the Florence Cathedral – and the third was Andrea Pisano, the guy who made the first set of doors for the Baptistery and was hugely influenced by Giotto.
  • And if you look at the panels of Pisano’s door, they still don’t have a lot of emotion in them.
  • If ANY emotion.
  • Even the scene where John the Baptist is getting his head cut off.
  • No emotion.
  • So these guys Brunelleschi and Ghiberti were bringing a new level of realistic human emotion to their sculpture.
  • At least it’s new when compared to what’s been produced in the last thousand years.
  • Which in turn is going to influence Renaissance painters.
  • So let’s talk about their panels.
  • They both show evidence that the two guys were very familiar with ancient Roman art.
  • In fact there are so many that some historians wonder if allusions to ancient art were another requirement for the competition.
  • Keep in mind that at this stage, people were still just starting to appreciate the art and literature of the ancient world.
  • The young Ghiberti, who was trained as a painter but had not yet matriculated in any guild, displays extraordinary accomplishment in handling bronze.
  • In his interpretation the boy looks upward for deliverance from death.
  • Abraham, his arm embracing the boy, is poised with his knife pointed toward but not touching his son.
  • The fore shortened angel stops the sacrifice with a gesture.
  • The ram rests quietly before his thicket, while the servants converse gently.
  • There is none of the physical contact and psychological strain of Brunelleschi’s relief, and his jagged movements are replaced in Ghiberti’s work by poses as graceful as those of dancers.
  • Throughout Ghiberti’s composition in every figure and drapery fold and even in the rockscurving rhythms create an effect of continuous melody Ghiberti’s flowing lines draw our attention to the body of Isaac.
  • While Brunelleschi has analyzed the human body with unprecedented naturalism, his end result is ungainly, Albeit expressive.
  • It’s said that Ghiberti’s figure of Isaac is the first truly ideal Renaissance nude; it combines naturalism and classicism with a new vision of what a human being can be.
  • The body displays the strength and resilience of a perfectly proportioned youth, overflowing with energy yet remarkably graceful.
  • Not since the last Roman sculptor capable of imitating a Greek or Hellenistic original had such a nude been created.
  • Without special study of anatomy, as far as we know, Ghiberti understood how to represent the difference between bone and muscular tissue, as well as the dynamic possibilities of muscles and the softness of skin.
  • Most natural of all, perhaps, is the expression of the boy-not only his upturned face but the spring and lightness of his pose.
  • Ghiberti’s Isaac was certainly inspired by a study of ancient Roman nude figures, and other references to classical antiquity are evident in the reliefs.
  • In both, the head of Abraham shows the inspiration of ancient Roman heads of Jupiter.
  • History of Italian Renaissance Art__Painting, Sculpture, Architecture_Hartt, Frederick_7th ed_2011.pdf page 182
  • Personally – I prefer Brunelleschi’s panel.
  • As for the judges….
  • Well we don’t know.
  • One version is that they chose Ghiberti.
  • Giorgio Vasari, the Italian painter and historian, who wrote one of the most famous art books ever, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, in the mid-Sixteenth century, writes: Only that scene which Lorenzo made as a specimen, which is still seen in the Audience Chamber of the Guild of Merchants, was in every part wholly perfect. The whole work had design, and was very well composed. The figures had so graceful a manner, being made with grace and with very beautiful attitudes, and the whole was finished with so great diligence, that it appeared not made by casting and polished with tools of iron, but blown with the breath.
  • But there are other theories about why they chose Gibbo.
  • Maybe because he used less bronze.
  • Brunelleschi’s panel is composed of a bronze sheet to which the individually cast figures are attached, but Ghiberti’s background and figures are cast in a single, continuous piece, with the exception of the figure of Isaac, which was attached.
  • Ghiberti’s relief is, therefore, stronger and, because his figures are hollow, his relief is only about two-thirds as heavy as Brunelleschi’s.
  • The judges of the competition would surely have realized that doors made following Ghiberti’s technique would be both more durable and require less bronze.
  • Maybe because Brunelleschi’s work was TOO dramatic.
  • Or maybe they just liked Ghiberti’s version better.
  • Maybe because Bruno worked in secret, but Gibbo invited anyone and everyone to stop by his workshop so they could see what he was doing.
  • Maybe because the judges thought he was the man most likely to carry through the job to a conclusion.
  • But another version of the story – and I like this one the most – is that the judges couldn’t choose and asked the artists to work on it together.
  • And Brunelleschi said “FUCK YOU” and went to Rome to study ancient Roman architecture.
  • And so the job went to Gibbo.
  • Judged by a special committee of 34 painters, sculptors and goldsmiths.
  • By the way, one of the judges for the competition was Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici – father of Cosimo De Medici.
  • He founded the Medici bank in 1397, a few years before the competition.
  • And he owned two wool workshops in Florence and was a member of two guilds: the Arte della Lana – the wool guild – and the Arte del Cambio,  the guild of bankers and money-changers.
  • The original plan was for the doors to depict scenes from the Old Testament, but the plan was changed to depict scenes from the New Testament instead.
  • And they were designed to match the doors of Andrea Pisano, which were organized in twenty-eight quatrefoils arranged in seven rows of four.
  • A quatrefoil is an ornamental design of four lobes or leaves resembling a flower or clover leaf.
  • To carry out this commission, Gibbo set up a large workshop in which many artists trained, including Donatello, who had actually been one of the contestants in the commission for the door, and later became another famous sculptor in his own right.
  • He made the famous homo-erotic statue of David, David at Bargello, for Cosimo de’ Medici.
  • At the time of his first commission for the Baptistery Ghiberti was twenty-three;
  • By the time he was finished, he was seventy-three.
  • Gibbo was a perfectionist.
  • It’s said he cast and re-cast panel after panel before he was satisfied that the reliefs were as perfect as he could make them.
  • Driving his assistants crazy by his striving ‘to imitate nature to the utmost’.
  • After twenty-two years’ work on the first set of the doors were finished
  • It was such a big deal in Florence that the Priori, the government of Florence, came out in procession from the their palace, the Palazzo della Signoria, which was only permitted for the most solemn occasions, to pay their respects to the artist and his great work.
  • As soon as the ceremony was over, Ghiberti returned to his foundry and immediately began to work on another set of doors for the eastern front of the Baptistery.
  • This time there wasn’t a competition.
  • Can you imagine spending 22 years working on a single set of doors, finally finishing, and then starting work on another set of doors?!?
  • Now, of course, because he’d already done it once, it was easier and faster the second time around, right?
  • WRONG.
  • This second set of doors took him 28 years to finish!
  • This time the doors were to have scenes from the Old Testament, as originally intended for his first set.
  • Instead of twenty-eight scenes, he produced ten rectangular scenes in a completely different style.
  • These were more naturalistic, with perspective and a greater idealization of the subject.
  • Vasari: And it may be said, in truth, that this work is in every way perfect, and that it is the most beautiful work which has ever been seen in the world, whether ancient or modern. And right truly does Lorenzo deserve to be praised, seeing that one day Michelangelo Buonarroti, having stopped to look at this work, and being asked what he thought of it, and whether these doors were beautiful, answered: “They are so beautiful that they would do well for the gates of Paradise” praise truly appropriate, and given by an able judge. And well indeed might Lorenzo complete them, seeing that from the age of twenty, when he began them, he worked at them for forty years, with labour beyond belief.
  • By the time he finished he was a frail old man close to death, a bit like Ray but with a lot more work.
  • And he was forced reluctantly to conclude that he could make no further improvement.
  • The gilded bronze panels, representing scenes from stories in the Old Testament, were mounted at last, in 1456, in the eastern door of the Baptistery where Michelangelo was later to stand transfixed in wonderment before them and to declare that they were ‘fit to be the gates of Paradise’.
  • Gibbo died in 1455, before his second set of doors had been mounted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *