The Gates of Paradise

Whether the marvel is a magic trick or an artwork, people always want to know, ?How did they do it?!? The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance Masterpiece, edited by Professor Gary M. Radke, details the history of both the Florentine sculptor’s greatest work and its most recent restoration. Ghiberti was precocious in every aspect of his career. Born in 1378, he was only 23 when he won the prize commission to design the door panels for the Baptistery of the Cathedral in Florence. In order to realize this enormous project — which entailed the completeion of three sets of doors over 50 years — he created a workshop that trained artists who later earned recognition in their own right, such as Donatello and Uccello. Aware of his own talents, he also wrote the first known autobiography of an artist. At the time the doors were produced, realistic perspective and psychological expressiveness were avant-garde ideas. An early proponent of humanism, Ghiberti wished to achieve plausibility while also imparting an idealized grace and sublimity to the biblical mortals he depicted. Often, each panel was a composition including many episodes of a story, and he would deftly use architectural framing devices and tricks of perspective, such as varying the level of relief of the figures to distinguish the various elements: thus, the anguish of Adam and Eve is palpable when they are exiled from Eden. The doors have since inspired centuries of artists, including Michelangelo, who dubbed them ?the Gates of Paradise.? The final portion of the book covers the various processes and experiments (including chemical baths and laser polishing) that conservation scientists used to restore the doors to their original glory without removing the evidence of the hands that originally created them. In explaining how the effects were achieved, the catalog doesn’t detract from the marvel but rather engenders even more respect for this stupendous feat of ingenuity. –