Below: Stories of Adam and Eve. Bronze. Gates of Paradise, Baptistery, Florence.

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LORENZO GHIBERTI (1378-1455)
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Part TWO



FLORENCE had received so much praise by reason of the excellent works of this most ingenious craftsman, that the Consuls of the Guild of Merchants determined to commission him to make the third door of S. Giovanni, likewise in bronze. Now, in the door that he had made before, he had followed their directions and had made it with that ornament which goes round the figures, and which encircles the framework of both parts of the door, as in the one of Andrea Pisano; but on seeing how greatly Lorenzo had surpassed him, the Consuls determined to remove that of Andrea from its position in the centre, and to place it in the doorway that is opposite to the Misericordia, and to commission Lorenzo to make a new door to be placed in the centre, looking to him to put forth the greatest effort of which he was capable in that art. And they placed themselves in his hands, saying that they gave him leave to make it as he pleased, and in whatsoever manner he thought it would turn out as ornate, as rich, as perfect, and as beautiful as it could be made or imagined ; nor was he to spare time or expense, to the end that, even as he had surpassed all other sculptors up to his own time, he might surpass and excel all his own previous works.

Lorenzo began the said work, putting therein all the knowledge that he could; wherefore he divided the said door into ten squares, five on each side, so that the spaces enclosing the scenes were one braccio and a third in extent, and round them, to adorn the framework that surrounds the scenes, there are niches upright, in that part of the door contain- ing figures in almost full relief, twenty in number and all most beautiful, such as a nude Samson, who, embracing a column, with a jawbone in his hand, displays a perfection as great as can be shown by anything made in the time of the ancients, in their figures of Hercules, whether in bronze or in marble; and to this a Joshua bears witness, who, in the act of speaking, appears to be really addressing his army; besides many prophets and sibyls, all of which he adorned with various manners of draperies over their shoulders, and with headdresses, hair, and other adornments; not to mention twelve figures which are lying down in the niches that go horizontally along the ornament of the scenes. At the intersections of the corners, in certain medallions, he made heads of women, of youths, and of old men, to the number of thirty-four; among which, in the middle of the said door, near the place where he engraved his own name, is the portrait of his father Bartoluccio, who is the oldest of them, while the youngest is his son Lorenzo himself, the master of the whole work; besides an infinite quantity of foliage, mouldings, and other ornaments, made with the greatest mastery.

The scenes that are in the said door are from the Old Testament; and in the first is the Creation of Adam, and of Eve, his wife, who are executed most perfectly, it being evident that Lorenzo strove to make their limbs as beautiful as he was able to do, wishing to show that, even as these figures by the hand of God were the most beautiful that were ever made, so these by his own hand should surpass all the others that had been made by him in his other works truly a very grand intention. In the same scene, likewise, he made them eating the apple, and also being driven out of Paradise; and in these actions the figures express the effect, first of their sin, recognizing their nakedness and covering it with their hands, and then of repentance, when they are made by the Angel to go forth out of Paradise. In the second square are figures of Adam and Eve, with Cain and Abel as little children, born from them; and there, also, is Abel making a sacrifice of his firstlings, with Cain making one not so good, while in the expression of Cain there is shown envy against his brother, and in Abel love towards God. And what is singularly beautiful is to see Cain ploughing the earth with a pair of oxen, which, with their laboring to pull at the yoke of the plough, appear real and natural; and the same is shown in Abel, who is watching his flocks, and Cain puts him to death, when he is seen, in a most impious and cruel attitude, slaughtering his brother with a club, in such a manner that the very bronze shows the limpness of the dead limbs in the most beautiful person of Abel; and in the distance, likewise, there is God asking Cain what he has done with Abel. Each square contains the representation of four stories. In the third square Lorenzo made Noah issuing from the Ark, with his wife, his sons and daughters, and his sons' wives, together with all the animals, both of the air and of the earth, which, each in its kind, are wrought with the greatest perfection wherewith art is able to imitate nature; the Ark is seen open, with the poles in perspective, in very low relief, insomuch that their grace cannot be expressed; besides that, the figures of Noah and of his kindred could not be more lively or more vivacious, while, as he is offering sacrifice, there is seen the rainbow, a sign of peace between God and Noah.

But much more excellent than all the others are the scenes where he is planting the vine, and, having been made drunk by the wine, is showing his nakedness, and his son Ham is deriding him; and in truth a man sleeping could not be imitated better, the limbs being seen outstretched in drunken abandonment, while his other two sons, with consideration and love, are covering him in very beautiful attitudes; not to mention that there are the cask, the vine-leaves, and the other features of the vintage, so carefully made and fitted into certain places, that they do not impede the story, but serve as a most beautiful adornment. In the fourth scene it pleased Lorenzo to make the apparition of the three Angels in the valley of Mamre, giving them a close likeness one to the other, while that most holy patriarch is seen adoring them, with much appropriateness and vivacity in the position of his hands and the expression of his countenance; and, in addition, Lorenzo showed very beautiful feeling in the figures of his servants, who, remaining at the foot of the mountain with an ass, are awaiting Abraham, who had gone to sacrifice his son. Isaac is placed naked on the altar, and his father, with uplifted arm, is about to show his obedience, but he is hirdered by the Angel, who is restraining him with one hand, while with the other he is pointing to where is the ram for the sacrifice, and delivering Isaac from death. This scene is truly very beautiful, since, among other things, there is seen a very great difference between the delicate limbs of Isaac and those of the servants, which are more robust; insomuch that there appears to be no touch therein that was not given with the greatest art. In this work, also, Lorenzo showed that he surpassed his own self in the difficulties of making buildings ; in the birth-scene of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau; in the scene when Esau is hunting, at the wish of his father; and in that when Jacob, instructed by Rebecca, is offering the cooked kid, with its skin wrapped round his neck, while Isaac is feeling for him and giving him his blessing. In this scene there are some dogs, very beautiful and lifelike, besides the figures, which produce the very same effect that Jacob, Isaac, and Rebecca did by their actions when they were alive.

Emboldened by his study of the art, which was making it ever easier to him, he tried his genius on matters more complicated and difficult; wherefore, in the sixth square, he made Joseph cast by his brethren into the well, and the scene when they sell him to the merchants, and where he is given by them to Pharaoh, to whom he interprets the dream of the famine; together with the provision against it, and the honors given by Pharaoh to Joseph. Likewise there is Jacob sending his sons for corn into Egypt, and Joseph recognizing them and making them return for their father; in which scene Lorenzo made a round temple, drawn in perspective with great mastery, wherein are figures in diverse manners which are loading corn and flour, together with some marvellous asses. Likewise there is the feast that Joseph gives them, and the hiding of the gold cup in Benjamin's sack, and its discovery, and how he embraces and acknowledges his brethren; which scene, by reason of the many effects and the great variety of incidents, is held the most noble, the most difficult, and the most beautiful of all his works.

And in truth, having so beautiful a genius and so good a grace in this manner of statuary, when there came into his mind the compositions of beautiful scenes, Lorenzo could not but make the figures most beautiful; as it is apparent in the seventh square, where he represents Mount Sinai, and on its summit Moses, who is receiving the Laws from God. Reverently kneeling, half-way up the mountain, is Joshua, who is awaiting him, and at the foot are all the people, terrified by the thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, in diverse attitudes wrought with very great vivacity. After this, he showed diligence and great love in the eighth square, wherein he made Joshua marching against Jericho and turning back the Jordan, and placed there the twelve tents of the twelve Tribes, full of very lifelike figures; but more beautiful are some in low-relief, in the scene when, as they go with the Ark round the walls of the aforesaid city, these walls fall down at the sound of trumpets, and the Hebrews take Jericho; and here the landscape is ever diminished and made lower with great judgment, from the first figures to the mountains, from the mountains to the city, and from the city to the distant part of the land- scape, in very low relief, the whole being executed with great perfection. And since Lorenzo became from day to day more practised in that art, there is next seen, in the ninth square, the slaying of the giant Goliath by David, who is cutting off his head in a proud and boyish attitude; and the host of the Lord is routing that of the Philistines, wherein Lorenzo made horses, chariots, and other warlike things. Next, he made David returning with the head of Goliath in his hand, and the people are meeting him, sounding instruments and singing; and these effects are all appropriate and vivacious. It now remained for Lorenzo to do all that he was able in the tenth and last scene, wherein the Queen of Sheba is visiting Solomon, with a very great train; in this part he made a very beautiful building drawn in perspective, with all the other figures similar to the aforesaid scenes; not to mention the ornaments of the architraves, which go round the said doors, wherein are fruits and festoons made with his usual excellence.

In this work, both in detail and as a whole, it is seen how much the ability and the power of a craftsman in statuary can effect by means of figures, some being almost in the round, some in half relief, some in low relief, and some in the lowest, with invention in the grouping of the figures, and extravagance of attitude both in the males and in the females; and by variety in the buildings, by perspectives, and by having likewise shown a sense of fitness in the gracious expressions of each sex throughout the whole work, giving to the old gravity, and to the young elegance and grace. And it may be said, in truth, that this work is in every way perfect, and that it is the most beautiful work which has ever been seen in the world, whether ancient or modern. And right truly does Lorenzo deserve to be praised, seeing that one day Michelagnolo Buonarroti, having stopped to look at this work, and being asked what he thought of it, and whether these doors were beautiful, answered: "They are so beautiful that they would do well for the gates of Paradise": praise truly appropriate, and given by an able judge. And well indeed might Lorenzo complete them, seeing that from the age of twenty, when he began them, he worked at them for forty years, with labor beyond belief.

Lorenzo was assisted in finishing and polishing this work, after it was cast, by many men, then youths, who afterwards became excellent masters namely, by Filippo Brunelleschi, Masolino da Panicale, and Niccolo Lamberti, goldsmiths; and by Parri Spinelli, Antonio Filarete, Paolo Uccello, Antonio del Pollaiuolo, who was then quite young, and many others, who, growing intimate together over that work, and conferring one with another, as men do when they work in company, gained no less advantage for themselves than they gave to Lorenzo. To him, besides the payment that he had from the Consuls, the Signoria gave a good farm near the Abbey of Settimo, and no long time elapsed before he was made one of the Signori, and honored with the supreme magistracy of the city; wherefore the Florentines deserve no less to be praised for their gratitude to him, than they deserve to be blamed for having been little grateful to other excellent men of their city.

After this most stupendous work, Lorenzo made the ornament in bronze for that door of the same church which is opposite to the Misericordia, with that marvellous foliage which he was not able to finish, death coming unexpectedly upon him when he was preparing having already almost made the model to reconstruct the said door, which Andrea Pisano had formerly made; which model has now been lost, although I saw it formerly, when a youth, in Borgo Allegri, before it was allowed to be lost by the descendants of Lorenzo.

Lorenzo had a son called Bonaccorso, who finished with his own hand the frieze and that ornament, which had been left incomplete, with very great diligence; which ornament, I declare, is the rarest and most marvellous work that there is to be seen in bronze. Bonaccorso, dying young, did not afterwards make many works, as he would have done, seeing that he had been left with the secret of making castings in such a way as to make them come out delicate, and also with the knowledge and the method of perforating the metal in that manner which is seen in the works left by Lorenzo. The latter, besides the works by his own hand, bequeathed to his heirs many antiquities both in marble and in bronze, such as the bed of Polycletus, which was something very rare; a leg of bronze as large as life; some heads, both male and female; together with some vases, all procured by him from Greece at no small cost. He left, likewise, some torsi of figures, and many other things; and all were dispersed together with the property of Lorenzo, some being sold to Messer Giovanni Gaddi, then Clerk of the Chamber to the Pope, and among these was the said bed of Polycletus, with the rest of the finer things.

Bonaccorso had a son called Vittorio, who survived him. He applied himself to sculpture, but with little profit, as it is shown by the heads that he made at Naples for the Palace of the Duke of Gravina, which are not very good, since he never applied himself to art with love or with diligence, but rather to scattering the property and the other things which had been left him by his father and his grandfather. Finally, going to Ascoli as architect under Pope Paul III, he had his throat cut one night by one of his servants, who came to rob him. And thus the family of Lorenzo became extinct, but not so his fame, which will live to all eternity.

But returning to the said Lorenzo: he applied himself, while he lived, to many things, and delighted in painting and in working in glass, and for S. Maria del Fiore he made the round windows that are round the cupola, excepting one, which is by the hand of Donate namely, the one wherein Christ is crowning Our Lady. Lorenzo likewise made the three that are over the principal door of the same S. Maria del Fiore, and all those of the chapels and of the tribunes, and also the rose- window in the facade of S. Croce. In Arezzo he made a window for the principal chapel of the Pieve, containing the Coronation of Our Lady, with two other figures, for Lazzaro di Feo di Baccio, a very rich merchant ; but since they were all of Venetian glass, loaded with color, they make the places where they were put rather dark than otherwise. Lorenzo was chosen to assist Brunellesco, when the latter was commissioned to make the Cupola of S. Maria del Fiore, but he was afterwards relieved of the task, as it will be told in the Life of Filippo.

The same Lorenzo wrote a book in the vulgar tongue, wherein he treated of many diverse matters, but in such wise that little profit can be drawn from it. The only good thing in it, in my judgment, is this, that after having discoursed of many ancient painters, and particularly of those cited by Pliny, he makes brief mention of Cimabue, Giotto, and many others of those times; and this he did, with much more brevity than was right, for no other reason but to slip with a good grace into a discourse about himself, and to enumerate minutely, as he did, one by one, all his own works. Nor will I forbear to say that he feigns that his book was written by another, whereas afterwards, in the process of writing as one who knew better how to draw, to chisel, and to cast in bronze, than how to weave stories talking of himself, he speaks in the first person, "I made," "I said," "I was making," "I was saying." Finally, having come to the sixty-fourth year of his age, and being assailed by a grievous and continuous fever, he died, leaving immortal fame for himself by reason of the works that he made, and through the pens of writers ; and he was honourably buried in S. Croce. His portrait is on the principal bronze door of the Church of S. Giovanni, on the border that is in the middle when the door is closed, in the form of a bald man, and beside him is his father Bartoluccio; and near them may be read these words:


LAURENTII CIONIS DE GHIBERTIS MIRA ARTE FABRICATUM. 

The drawings of Lorenzo were most excellent, being made with much relief, as it is seen in our book of drawings, in an Evangelist by his hand, and in some others in chiaroscuro, which are very beautiful.

His father Bartoluccio was also a passing good draughtsman, as it is shown by another Evangelist in the said book, which is by his hand, but no little inferior to that of Lorenzo. These drawings, with some by Giotto and by others, I had from Vittorio Ghiberti in the year 1528, when a youth, and I have ever held and still hold them in veneration, both because they are beautiful and as memorials of men so great. And if, when I was living in strait friendship and intimacy with Vittorio, I had known what I know now, it would have been easy for me to obtain many other truly beautiful things by the hand of Lorenzo. Among many verses, both in Latin and in the vulgar tongue, which were written at diverse times in honor of Lorenzo, it will be enough for me, in order not to weary my readers overmuch, to put down these that follow below:


Dum cernit valvas aurato ex aere nitentes 
In templo Michael Angelus, obstupuit: 
Attonitusque diu, sic alta silentia rupit: 
O divinum opus ! O janua digna polo! 



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