(b. 1378, Firenze, d. 1455, Firenze)

Eastern Door of the Baptistery (Porta del Paradiso)

Bronze with gilding, 599 x 462 cm
Baptistery, Florence

In 1425, Ghiberti was at the peak of his fame, and he received the most important commission of his career. Evidently impressed by the doors he had just completed (2 Jan 1425), the Arte di Calimala entrusted him with a commission for a third pair of doors for the Baptistery. In the same year Leonardo Bruni suggested a scheme, similar to that of the two older doors, for twenty-eight reliefs in seven rows of four each, depicting eight prophets and twenty Old Testament episodes. It may be supposed that the reliefs were intended to be enclosed within quatrefoils and that the competition relief of the Sacrifice of Isaac (1401) was to be incorporated. However, this plan was abandoned - it is not known why or when, nor at whose direction it was changed.

As finally executed, the door is divided into ten large, nearly square panels, each illustrating a number of episodes and set within borders richly decorated with small figures and heads. The outer frame is ornamented with leaves, birds and animals. The programme must have been decided on soon after the commission was awarded, as the ten scenes were already rough cast by 4 April 1436 (or possibly 1437). The ten reliefs were completed by 7 August 1447 and the following years devoted to the framing; the gilding was completed on 16 June 1452.

On 13 July 1452 the consuls of the Arte di Calimala decided that the new doors would replace Ghiberti's first set in the main portal of the Baptistery, and the earlier doors would be reinstalled on the northern side. This second set of bronze doors has become known in art history as the Gates of Paradise. Vasari reported that Michelangelo thought the door worthy to adorn the entrance to Paradise, but the name may have referred to the relief of Genesis, which was especially admired, judging by the frequency with which its individual motifs were borrowed in subsequent painting. A third possible explanation for the name is that there may formerly have been a parvis between the cathedral and the Baptistery.