Gilded doors with panels depicting scenes from religious lore – I have so far seen them only in temples. Therefore, it came as a surprise to know that churches in Europe had gilded doors too, representing scenes from the Bible! Thankfully, I didn’t need to make a trip to Europe to see them, but just had to make a visit to our very own Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, to get a glimpse of the ‘Gates of Paradise’, as this particular one is called!
The Gates of Paradise are the doors which graced the East entrance to the Florence Baptistry. This is a minor Basilica in Florence, Italy, and is an octagonal structure which stands right across the Florence Cathedral. Of course, we had to imagine the actual structure from the depictions and photographs at the museum, but the door itself is an exact replica of the original, and stands right at the entrance, towering over all the displays.
These doors are the handiwork of Lorenzo Ghiberti, who won a contest where his design was selected. Ghiberti was a young man of 21 when he won the commission, and it took him 21 years to complete the work! The doors were finished in 1452, and installed in the Baptistry, facing the magnificent cathedral opposite it. They get their nickname from none other than Michelangelo, who was so impressed by their beauty that he said they were fit to grace the entrance to paradise!
The doors guarded the entrance of the Baptistry for centuries, bearing the vagaries of nature, but the flood of 1966 caused them so much damage that they were removed, and, efforts began, to restore them to their former glory. The restoration work once again took over two decades, and the originals are now preserved in a dry environment at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, the museum of the Duomo's art and sculpture. Meanwhile, exact copies were also made, one of which now graces the Baptistry, while others are exhibited in museums across the world.
If you (like we did) are wondering why these doors are so special, the answer lies in the detail depicted on the panels. Normally, the panels together tell us a story, but here, each panel tells us a story, with multiple depictions within the same panel! Also, the intricate manner in which these stories are depicted, and the multiple layers achieved, all using the lost wax technique add to the beauty as well as importance of these doors! Take a look at this one for instance – the top left panel…
It tells us the story of Adam and Eve starting with God creating Adam (look closely at the bottom left), then the creation of Eve (centre), Eve being tempted by the serpent (background, left), to Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden (right).
The same holds true for every panel! Take a closer look at each of the panels, and see if you can notice the sequential storytelling!
|Cain and Abel|
|Abraham and Isaac|
|Jacob and Esau|
|David and Goliath|
|King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba|
I have only mentioned the stories in the captions instead of elaborating on each one, simply because this post is already long enough. If you want to get an in depth understanding of these depictions, go over to this site, where you can see excellent photographs, zoom into them and see all the details, along with the story.
|a Prophet, on the side|
Besides these main panels, even the sides of the doors are decorated, with faces and figures from Biblical stories and prophets.
|Noah, depicted at the bottom|
Most interestingly, Lorenzo Ghiberti has included himself among these figures, as one of the door knobs, with his name etched on the side! A unique signature, wouldn’t you agree?
|The bust on the left is Ghiberti's self portrait. On the right is his son, Vittore Ghiberti, who assisted him in his work!|
Apart from the Gates of Paradise, the exhibition also includes a set of photographs which show us Florence of that period, and help us visualize the doors, as well as the other exhibits, at the spaces they were made for.
|Life size photograph of the North door.|
Besides, the special projects gallery in the Museum Plaza has replicas of 5 restored panels of the North door of the Baptistry, once again created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, as well as 5 famed sculptures of the period, including Perseus with the head of Medusa, the creation of Benvenuto Cellini.
|Replicas of the north door panels, as they were, before the restoration|
|Replica of one of the north door panels, after restoration.|
We spent over two hours at the museum that day, admiring the beauty of the ancient work. Interestingly, we would have missed this entire exhibition, but for the museum extending their dates! Through the two months that the exhibition was on, we were so busy that I was unable to visit. I had given up all hopes of ever seeing it, when I heard of the exhibition being extended for another month, and rushed to see it! We were also lucky that we landed up at the museum just in time for the guided tour. Though I have been here many times, this is the first time that I took the tour, and both, Samhith and I, really enjoyed it! The tour wasn’t only about this special display, but about the entire museum. That, however, calls for another post, so I shall contain myself for now!
Meanwhile, if you still haven’t seen this exhibition, it is on till the 8th of July, so go, see it!