Ghiberti’s north doors on the move
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Ghiberti’s north doors on the move

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Fri 11 Sep 2015 7:00 AM

ph. Claudio Giovannini / Grande Museo del Duomo

Lorenzo Ghiberti’s North Doors for Florence’s Baptistery have been under restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure on via degli Alfani for two and half years. Finally complete, the restored doors are being transported to the new museum of the Opera del Duomo in two night-time voyages. The doors will be visible in the new museum as from November 29, 2015 (although the museum’s doors will open to the public exactly one month earlier on October 29).

The transportation of the North Doors began Thursday, September 10 at 9pm and continues Friday, September 11 for their final journey. Two trips were needed, one for each set of the doors—the weight of which is four tonnes, in addition to the weight of the metal cage designed to support and protect them, for a total of approximately seven tonnes per trip.

For conservation reasons, a replica of the doors—which has been skilfully created by Florence’s Galleria Frilli—will replace the original by November, as was done with Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise in 1990.

Restored for the first time 600 years after its construction, the beautiful original gilding of the sculpted reliefs in 28 panels, the portraits of prophets and sibyls, and friezes of plant motifs teeming with small animals has finally re-emerged.

The restoration and replica were directed and carried out by Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure commissioned by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Both works were financed entirely through private funds made available from the same Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, along with the Guild of the Dome Association, which includes entrepreneurs from around the world.

The North Doors are a symbol of the early Florentine Renaissance, portraying New Testament scenes and portraits of the fathers of the church in 28 quatrefoil bronze panels. They are the product of one of the most important contests ever held in Italy, a face-off between greats that determined much of the subsequent progress of the Renaissance. The contest to create the doors, held in 1401, required the creation of one quatrefoil-shaped panel representing the Sacrifice of Isaac. Anyone who has visited the Bargello will have seen the winner and the runner-up, by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. It is said that Brunelleschi’s loss prompted him to focus on architecture rather than sculpture. Ghiberti’s triumph was based in part on his technical skill (which required less bronze, hence cost less than his rival’s model) and in part on his technical resolution of the topic, with smooth integration of ancient influences.

From 1403 to 1424, Ghiberti worked on the North Doors, and then was directly awarded the contract to do the east-facing doors (1425-52), later dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo. The third set of doors on the Baptistery was the first to be sculpted, by Andrea Pisano (1330).

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