These imposing copies of Lorenzo Ghiberti's celebrated Baptistery Doors retain much of the original's astonishing naturalism and virtuosity. Wealthy collectors in the 19th century created a demand for reproductions of the Renaissance portal, resulting in the prestigious Barbedienne Foundry producing large-scale bronze reductions of the doors between 1855 and 1911. The sale of the present, very rare, example follows that of another pair at Hotel Drouot, Paris, on 12 March 2014, which achieved a price of €337,500.
Collectively comprising one of the most celebrated artworks of Quattrocento
Florence, Ghiberti’s reliefs adorning the gates to the Florence Baptistery assured the artist’s reputation into posterity. Ghiberti ably showcased his diversity of talents; as a painter through his reliefs' compositional complexity, as a goldsmith through their precise detail, and as a sculptor through their wondrous interaction with light and shade.
After being declared victor of the competition for the Baptistery’s north doors held by the Arte di Calimala in 1401 alongside Brunelleschi, Ghiberti would complete the commission without his rival, leaving him with a free hand to express his own classicising style. The success of the resulting panels prompted his patrons to commission a second set of doors in 1425, consisting of ten Old Testament panels - destined for the Baptistery’s east side - from which the present work is taken.
The present cast dates from a period of renewed acclaim for Ghiberti's reliefs. When the Pre-Raphaelites formed in the 1840s, Ghiberti was among three sculptors added to the 'list of immortal thinkers and workers' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He was joined by the Greek sculptor Phidias and Michelangelo, responsible for immortalising Ghiberti’s Gates to Paradise:
“When Michelangelo the panels saw
Amaz’d he stood; after long wonder thus
The solemn silence broke: ‘O Work divine!
O door worthy of heaven!’"
L. Goldscheider, Ghiberti, London, 1949; G. Vasari, The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol. 1, London, 1996, pp. 289-307; F. Rionnet, Les Bronzes Barbedienne: l'oeuvre d'une dynastie de fondeurs (1834-1954), Paris, 2016, p. 229, no. 169