The competition for the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery at the turn of the fifteenth century was the city’s most prestigious public commission. Seven artists competed by submitting a bronze plaque on the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” to be judged by a committee of thirty-four native-born citizens of Florence. The competition quickly narrowed down to Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. After Ghiberti won, he unabashedly claimed, “To me was conceded the palm of victory by all the experts and by all my fellow competitors. Universally, they conceded to me the glory, without exception. Everyone felt I had surpassed the others in that time, without a single exception, after great consultation and examination by learned men.”
De gustibus non est disputandum, but was Ghiberti’s entry so clearly superior? As historian Rona Goffen put it in her excellent book Renaissance Rivals, “The committee’s decision was surely influenced by the fact that Ghiberti’s panel weighed 7 kilos [approx. 15½ lbs] less than Brunelleschi’s, savings in bronze that signified considerable savings of money.” The photographs of the backs of the panels clearly show how Ghiberti saved those 7 kilos.
In 2008, ARTstor supported the comprehensive photographic documentation of the Gates of Paradise in their restored state in collaboration with the Museo dell’ Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. The photographic campaign by photographer Antonio Quattrone documented the newly cleaned bronze panels and frieze elements, as well as Ghiberti and Brunelleschi’s competition panels, now housed in the Museum del Bargello in Florence.
Check out the more than 800 glorious images of the doors, including details and side views, in the Digital Library http://library.artstor.org/library/collection/ghiberti. Feel free to weigh in (ahem) on whether you think Ghiberti’s entry won on esthetic issues alone.