Click on any photo to enlarge.

I have been taking a class (on video) on great artists of the Italian Renaissance. (I’m sure there’s a book in here somewhere!)

Anyway, my subject today was Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors, designed for the Cathedral of Florence, more commonly known as the Duomo.
For the first set of doors, the project organizers held a contest for sculptors. Ghiberti won the first contest, and his doors included 28 gilded panels, each depicting a scene from the life of Christ or the authors of the Gospels. Because the artist could not use color–other than the gold of the gilding–the figures had to be truly expressive and tell a picture.
Having never been to Italy (yet!), I’ve never seen these doors, but the journey is on my bucket list. 🙂 The sculptors used “simultaneous narration” and told a single story through many scenes in one picture.
After Ghiberti completed his first set of doors, the cathedral folks held a second contest for another entrance. The finalists were Filippo Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, and they were each asked to do a panel on the sacrifice of Isaac.
Both scenes are amazing, but Ghiberti won the job. This set of doors was comprised of ten square panels, and the larger panels literally gave the artist more room for story-telling. (He also included a self-portrait in the work–you can see his head in the detailing on the scrollwork between frames.)
If you begin in the lower left corner of the gold detailed picture, you see God (portrayed as a man) creating Adam from earth. Move to the bottom center and you see Adam sleeping while God creates a lovely Eve from Adam’s rib while angels look on in approval. Move to the upper left and you see Adam and Eve at the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil . . . with the treacherous Serpent. Upper center to lower right depicts a now ashamed Adam and Eve being forced to leave the Garden, which will remain guarded by angels.
Isn’t this work amazing?
Notice the photo of the Jacob/Esau story (this is a photo of a copy). Above the arch to the right, you see a pregnant Rebekkah being told that she will bear twins, and the younger shall rule the elder. In the background on the right, you see Rebekkah on her bed of labor, giving birth. Beneath the arch on the right, you see Rebekkah telling Jacob to kill the kid so she can prepare it the way Isaac favors while Esau goes off to hunt. In the right foreground, you see Jacob (with his mother watching) obtaining the blessing of the firstborn. In the center foreground, we see Esau being told by an aged Isaac that he’s too late. And the four lovely ladies to the left–we don’t know exactly who they are–they could be the Canaanite women Esau married, or the women that Jacob went off to find (Rachel, Leah, and their maids). Personally, I favor the latter idea. 🙂
I’ve always admired artists–probably because I am utterly unskilled in this area, and also because I think what they do is very much like writing. We all begin with a “blank canvas,” and we all strive to create something beautiful that will bring enjoyment, edification, and give food for thought. And finally, we all hope our finished work–into which we’ve invested a great deal of time and thought and labor–is something that will last and bring glory to the God who gives all good and perfect gifts.
Well, enough rambling for now. Enjoy!


  1. Anonymous

    I’ve seen these doors and they are truly amazing. It was difficult to get close as so many were looking at them. I appreciate your post as I now understand even more about them than I did before. Thanks!

  2. RumorsOfGlory

    I majored in Fine Art History and studied those doors as well. Saw them when I spent six weeks in Italy. Going to see them again this fall on my 25th wedding anniversary. Thanksvfor this.

  3. Anonymous

    Thank you, Renaissance Woman,for this lovely tour of Ghiberti’s doors plus the stories behind and in them. I’d never have gathered all those details on my own. Yes, amazing.

    Blessings, Angie,
    Mary Kay


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