ITALIAN RENAISSANCE ARTIST
Lorenzo Ghiberti was born in 1378 c., in Pelago, Italy and died Dec. 1, 1455 in Florence. Ghiberti was an important early Italian Renaissance sculptor, whose doors (Gates of Paradise 1425-52) for the Baptistery of the cathedral of Florence are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Italian art in the Quattrocento. Other works include three bronze statues for Or San Michele (1416–25) and the reliefs for Siena cathedral (1417–27). Ghiberti also wrote I Commentarii, three treatises on art history and theory from antiquity to his time. Ghiberti’s mother had married Cione Ghiberti in 1370, and they lived in Pelago, near Florence; at some point she went to Florence and lived there as the common-law wife of a goldsmith named Bartolo di Michele. They were married in 1406 after Cione died, and it was in their home that Lorenzo Ghiberti spent his youth. It is not certain which man was Ghiberti’s father, for he claimed each as his father at separate times. But throughout his early years, Lorenzo considered himself Bartolo’s son, and it was Bartolo who trained the boy as a goldsmith. Ghiberti also received training as a painter; as he reported in the autobiographical part of his writings, he left Florence in 1400 with a painter to work in the town of Pesaro for its ruler, Sigismondo Malatesta. Ghiberti returned quickly to his home city when he heard, in 1401, that a competition was being held for the commission to make a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery of the cathedral of Florence. He and six other artists were given the task of representing the biblical scene of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in a bronze relief of quatrefoil shape, following the tradition of the first set of doors produced by Andrea Pisano (1330–36). The entry panels of Ghiberti and of Filippo Brunelleschi are the sole survivors of the contest. Ghiberti’s panels displayed a graceful and lively composition executed with a mastery of the goldsmith’s art. In 1402 Ghiberti was chosen to make the doors by a large panel of judges; their decision brought immediate and lasting recognition and prominence to the young artist. The contract was signed in 1403 with Bartolo di Michele’s workshop—overnight the most prestigious in Florence—and in 1407 Lorenzo legally took over the commission. The work on the doors lasted until 1424, but Ghiberti did not devote himself to this alone. He created designs for the stained-glass windows in the cathedral; he regularly served as architectural consultant to the cathedral building supervisors, although it is unlikely that he actually collaborated with Brunelleschi on the construction of the dome as he later claimed. The Arte dei Mercanti di Calimala, the guild of the merchant bankers, gave him another commission, about 1412, to make a larger than life-size bronze statue of their patron saint, John the Baptist, for a niche on the outside of the guilds’ communal building, Or San Michele. The job was a bold undertaking, Ghiberti’s first departure from goldsmith-scale work; it was, in fact, the first large bronze in Florence. Ghiberti successfully finished the St. John in 1416, adding gilding in the following year. The technical achievement and the modernity of its style brought Ghiberti commissions for two similarly large bronze figures for guild niches at Or San Michele: the St. Matthew in 1419 for the bankers’ guild and the St. Stephen for the wool guild in 1425. These last two commissions brought Ghiberti into open competition with the newly prominent younger sculptors Donatello and Nanni di Banco, who had made stone statues for Or San Michele after Ghiberti’s first figure there. Ghiberti’s St. John still followed many of the conventions of the Gothic tradition. It combined small-scale details with a larger-than-life scale that made the figure appear overwhelmed by the drapery. Donatello’s St. Mark and St. George and Nanni di Banco’s St. Philip and Quattro Santi Coronati...
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