By Ann Leader and Maggie Bell 

From November 30- December 2, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence will hold a three-day conference entitled Ghiberti teorico. Natura, arte e coscienza storica nel QuattrocentoThe conference coincides with Lorenzo Ghiberti’s death on December 1, 1455 in Florence, where he was buried at the Franciscan church of Santa CroceGhiberti teorico, as the title suggests, seeks to explore Ghiberti’s role as a theorist of art, focusing in particular on his Commentaries, an informative autobiography which includes precious information on artistic practice in fifteenth-century Italy.  These writings will be discussed in relationship to the practicalities of his artistic work, such as his innovative bronze-casting techniques, but will also investigate intellectual currents in fifteenth-century art theory, such as the study of natural philosophy and optics. 

The sculptor rose to fame in 1401 with his victory in the competition for a new set of bronze doors on the Florentine Baptistery, a competition the young Filippo Brunelleschi had also entered. Lorenzo worked on the doors for over two decades, installing them in 1425. Showing scenes from the life of Jesus, the doors were so esteemed, Ghiberti was given a second commission immediately to create a third set. In these, he abandoned the Gothic quatrefoil frame of the earlier doors in favor of a square picture field, which allowed him to utilize recent developments in one-point linear perspective. He would work on these doors for another two decades, installing them in 1452 to great acclaim. Each set includes a self-portrait.

While bronze casting is a labor intensive process, the long production time was partly the result of Ghiberti’s many other responsibilities and projects, including monumental figures for Orsanmichele, like his imposing St. Matthew; the baptismal font in Siena; and writing his Commentaries. 

Tomb of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Church of Santa Croce, Florence 

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401, bronze, Florence.

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacob and Esau, 1425-1452, bronze, Florence

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Saint John the Baptist, 1412-1416, bronze, Orsanmichele, Florence (copy) (detail of original below).

Lorenzo Ghiberti, self-portrait, Doors of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence, 1425-1452.

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