Ghiberti (lorenzo Di Cione). 1378-1455.
( Originally Published 1915 )
Lorenzo Ghiberti worked in the goldsmith's shop of his stepfather Bartolo until an outbreak of the plague in 1400 drove him from Florence and he found occupation in painting in the palace of the Malatesta in Rimini. In 1401 his stepfather wrote, urging him to return to enter the competition for the Baptistery doors, in which he proved successful, much assisted by Bartolo's counsel. Forty-four years of his life were spent on the two pairs of doors. The figures of SS. John, Matthew, and Stephen were cast in bronze for Or San Michele, 1414-1428. Two bas-reliefs for the font in Siena were made in 1424-1427. Then follow several tomb reliefs and the shrine of S. Zenobio in 1446. Ghiberti's appreciation of the antique was very sincere. Of a statue found near Florence he writes, " the touch only can discover many of its beauties, which escape the eye in any light." All through his life he practiced his goldsmith's art, two papal miters being of especial note.
Ghiberti has been called a painter in bronze. His influence was greatest upon the painters of his time in his use of landscape, architecture, and aerial perspective.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 416. Sacrifice of Abraham.
Bronze relief, cast in a single piece. This and 429 are the trial panels submitted by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi in the competition instituted by the Signory of Florence and the Guild of Merchants in 1401 for the new doors for the Baptistery, to accord with those made in 1330—1332 by Andrea Pisano. The commission was awarded to Ghiberti.
Compare with 429 point by point. Study first the story; the completeness, the manner, and the spirit in which it is told.
Second, the design; grace or significance of lines, adequate or over-filling of space, regard for the frame outline, emphasis upon the principal theme.
Third, technical excellences in forms and draperies, relation of the relief to its background.
In studying the figure of Isaac recall Ghiberti's remark about discovering beauty by the touch. Note especially the new principle introduced by Ghiberti into sculpture in relief.
No. 417. North Doors.
No. 418. Christ bearing the Cross: Crucifixion.
No. 419. Transfiguration : Raising of Lazarus.
Ghiberti's first doors, begun in 1403, were completed in 1424. Twenty panels represent scenes from the life of Christ; below are the four evangelists and four church fathers. Vasari tells us that Ghiberti did the casting himself, each panel being cast separately, and fixed in its place. Compare with the doors by Andrea Pisano, 394-396, and with the earlier doors in Pisa, 376, noting the method of construction, ornamentation, and general effectiveness.
Study the arrangement of figures within the panels, the adaptation of the design to the framework.
Compare the two panels of 418, noting the decorative quality of the one, the introduction of aerial perspective in the other. A similar though less marked contrast is seen in 419. Note the relative effectiveness of the two methods in the door itself, 417.
Study the heads on the framework, their origin and the part they play in construction, their sculptural quality.
Read Balcarres, Evolution of Italian Sculpture, 29-32.
No. 420. East Doors.
No. 421. First Panel, Story of Adam and Eve.
No. 422. Fourth Panel, Story of Abraham.
No. 423. Fifth Panel, Isaac and his Sons.
No. 424. Ninth Panel, David and Goliath.
The success of the first doors brought to Ghiberti the commission for still another pair, on which he worked twenty-seven years, 1425-1452. The subjects from Old Testament story were suggested by learned Florentines, but the artist was released from the traditional quatre-foil pattern. The original gilding has largely disappeared. Michelangelo said of them, " They are so beautiful they might fittingly stand at the Gates of Paradise."
Notice the important differences in the construction and ornamentation. The larger field of the panel permits a freer telling of the story, there is an increasing use of perspective from the first to the last panel, landscape and architecture are introduced, the panels become pictures in bronze. The solid structure of the door, so satisfying in Andrea's work, is thus reduced to a picture-frame and the principle of relief sculpture is abandoned for pictorial effect. The beauty and perfection of the work are, however, their own justification.
421. The figures of Adam and Eve are four times repeated in different episodes, but are not disturbing, so skilful is the composition in its concentric curves.
422. The Sacrifice of Abraham is less beautiful than the trial panel, though the figure of the donkey is a tour de force to be wondered at. The three angels are figures of the truest beauty.
423. The story of Jacob and Esau is here told in all its parts. Few figures in all art are more graceful than that of Esau followed by his dogs. The four women play no part in the story, but show the artist's joy in modeling beautiful forms. Notice what slight dependence is put upon expression of faces.
424. The two panels at the bottom are crowded with figures, possibly with the intention of forming a more solid base for the lower part of the door. The retreating planes are defined by diminishing size and by softened outline.
The statuettes in niches of the frame are of great beauty.
No. 425. St. Stephen. Or San Michele, Florence.
Bronze statue, probably made about 1428, for the Guild of Woolstaplers. Each of the guilds of Florence placed its patron saint in a niche on the outer wall of Or San Michele. (See Series G.)
Within the Gothic tabernacle Ghiberti has placed this characteristic figure of St. Stephen, full of gentleness and grace. The " Gothic curve," as the line of drapery has been called, is found throughout his work.
No. 426. Reliquary of S. Zenobio.
The bronze sarcophagus, ordered by the wardens of the Duomo in 1402 for the remains of St. Zenobius, an early bishop of Florence, was completed in 1446. The front, representing a miracle of the saint, is here shown. At the back are beautifully poised angels holding a wreath with the inscription.
Notice here the extreme development of Ghiberti's perspective. Compare with work of the same period on the doors.
No. 427. St. John led to Prison.
S. Giovanni, Siena.
Bronze panel, 1427, for the font designed by Jacopo della Quercia. Cf. 413.
Notice the emphasis upon the decorative. Compare with 414 and 436, noting Ghiberti's characteristics in contrast.
Summarize the qualities of Ghiberti's work, his contributions to Art, his transgressions from its accepted formulæ; his influence upon sculpture and upon painting.
No. 428. Baptistery.
Dedicated to St. John. Founded in the seventh century, perhaps on the site of a Roman temple; rebuilt in the twelfth century and faced with marble by Arnolfo in 1293. The doorway at the left contains Andrea Pisano's doors, that to the right faces the Cathedral and contains the second doors by Ghiberti.
Filippo Brunelleschi. 1377-1446.
Filippo Brunelleschi, son of a notary of Florence, entered the guild of goldsmiths at the age of twenty-one. He took part in the competition for the Baptistery doors and but for his voluntary withdrawal would have been named with Ghiberti to carry out the work. In S. Maria Novella is a crucifix in wood which he carved in rivalry with his friend Donatello. As young men they went together to Rome, studying the ancient buildings and statues. Brunelleschi made a very careful examination of the dome of the Pantheon, and measured and made drawings of other domed buildings, a preparation for his great work, the dome of the Cathedral of Florence. He planned the reconstruction of San Lorenzo, the sacristy only being completed before his death. His plans for Santo Spirito were changed after his death. His most original building is the Pazzi Chapel, built in 1430. See Series G. The first plans for the Pitti Palace were his also.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 429. Sacrifice of Abraham.
Trial panel, cast in several pieces. See 416. Brunelleschi's panel has an architectonic quality, and is modeled on the principles of true bas-relief. It is dramatic and full of nervous force; nothing is still, even the garments flutter in an unseen wind. The frame scarcely holds the figures.
In Ghiberti's panel all is grace and flowing line; suggestion takes the place of action.
Compare the figure at the left with the Spinario, A 72, of which there is an ancient copy in Florence.
No. 430. Cathedral.
The corner stone of S. Maria del Fiore was laid, in 1298, Arnolfo di Cambio being the architect. The dome, whence the name Duomo, was added by Brunelleschi, 1420-1434, the lantern after his death, 1446-1461. Ghiberti was appointed as his associate, causing Brunelleschi great annoyance, from which he adroitly freed himself. The construction of the dome was a work of marked genius, both for the architectural principles which it originated and for the great engineering difficulties which had to be overcome. It is of especial interest as showing Brunelleschi's adaptation of the principle of the ancient dome, which he had studied in Rome, to the demands of Gothic architecture. It stands as the precursor to the great dome of St. Peter's by Michelangelo, and so to most domes of modern times.