Gates of Paradise, Florence Baptistry

Lorenzo Ghiberti
1425-1452, gilded bronze
individual reliefs: 31 ¼ inches square

Note: these photographs were taken of the reliefs outside on the doors. These are actually copies of the original panels which are now in the Duomo museum for safekeeping. See my later site with images of the actual reliefs inside the Duomo Museum. Because the reliefs are under glass in the museum, some parts have glare. Some of the reliefs are still being restored as well.

The Baptistry, built about 1050, has a central plan, with eight sides and three doors--doors on the east, north, and south. The south doors, finished in 1330 by Andrea Pisano, have quatrefoils with eight seated Virtues and 20 scenes from the life of John the Baptist. (The baptistry is dedicated to him--as many were.) Ghiberti designed the north doors, 1404-24, using the same quatrefoil format as Pisano and with the same number of reliefs--28. His second set of doors--the so-called Gates of Paradise, however, have much larger panels and use a square format rather than the medieval quatrefoil. Thus, they can accommodate several scenes relating to one Old Testament hero and use many figures (more than a hundred in some panels) and extensive details. These doors depict events from the Creation to the reign of Solomon.

Executed in the lost wax technique, these doors have figures nearly in the round with parts of their bodies extended from the background as well as details in very shallow relief. Deep space is convincing through one-point linear perspective, aerial or atmospheric perspective, and the receding sizes of figures as they recede in the distance. Thus, Ghiberti is almost painting in sculpture. For this technique--so-called relievo schiacciato, see also Donatello's relief below his statue of St George in the niche of Orsanmichele (c. 1415-17) and Donatello's relief The Feast of Herod on the baptismal font in the Siena Baptistry (1427).

Although Ghiberti uses the medieval narrative method of combining several stories within one frame, the reliefs show the influence of classical sculpture in the figure style and poses of some of the characters, the influence of classical architecture in the buildings portrayed, and the influence of Renaissance realism in the gestures and movements of his figures.

Schema of the Gates of Paradise

Click on the subject below for the full relief panel. See below table for details of the panels.


Cain and Abel









Genesis: Creation of Adam (Temptation in the background); Creation of Eve

Part of the figure of Eve can be seen at the top of this panel. Figures of Adam and Eve occupy the topmost border. See my later site for details of the actual relief, not a copy.

Cain and Abel

In the distance the brothers offer their sacrifices and somewhat nearer, Cain slays Abel. In the middle ground Abel is seen with his dog watching his flocks. In the foreground Cain ploughs and on the right receives God's curse.

Noah; Animals leaving the Ark

In the foreground are Noah's shame (his drunkenness) and on the right his sacrifice.

Abraham; Angels announcing that Sarah will bear a son; the Sacrifice of Isaac

See my later site for details of the actual relief with stories of Abraham.


In the foreground are the women attending the birth of Jacob and Esau, with Rebecca in labor in the middle ground. Also in the foreground are Isaac sending Esau on the hunt and on the right Jacob receiving Isaac's blessing, with a beautiful classical Rebecca, the conspirator, standing nearby. In the background Esau is seen in low relief hunting and on the roof Rebecca is hearing God's warning about the eventual conflict between her two unborn sons.

Joseph; architectural detail

See my later site for several details of the actual relief, not a copy.

Moses: Daughters of Israel; Receiving the Law

See my later site for details of the actual relief, not a copy.

Joshua; Joshua on chariot preceded by the ark of the covenant; the Carrying of the Stones; the background with the city of Jericho and the priests with trumpets

See my later site for details of this relief, the original, not the copy, as here.

David; Fallen Goliath

David is in the process of severing the head of Goliath with his own large sword. Part of the figure of Noah can be seen at the lower border. (Noah and his wife occupy the lowest border.) See also my later site for photographs of the actual relief, not a copy as here.

Solomon; architectural detail


Solomon: Solomon and Queen of Sheba


Border details: left--Jonah and Hannah?; center and detail: Self-Portrait of Ghiberti

Instead of depicting prophets and/or Evangelists in the lower rows, as Ghiberti had done in the first set of doors, here they are relegated to small niches in the borders. But the number has increased. Here there are twenty figures in niches in the borders and 24 heads in the roundels.
See also Ghiberti's first set of doors on the North entrance of the Baptistry.
See also Andrea Pisano's doors on the South entrance of the Baptistry.

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© 2005 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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