Mar 30, 2014 - Jul 8, 2014

Florentine Renaissance: The City as a Crucible of Culture

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

Co-curated by Dr. Gerhard Wolf, Director of Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institute, Dr. Timothy Verdon, Director of the Museum of the Opera del Duomo and advised by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta

The Gates of Paradise
The Museum hosted an acclaimed masterpiece of the Florentine Renaissance, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s (Italian, 1378-1455) Gates of Paradise (1425-52). On display in India for the first time, the full-scale lost-wax bronze replica of the Gates, cast from the original mould, allowed visitors to discover Ghiberti’s masterpiece and to contextualise the civic values promoted by the great art of the period. The Gates of Paradise reflect the artistic, political, religious, and social contexts of Ghiberti and his patrons in fifteenth-century Florence. At the Museum, the Gates of Paradise evoked a fascinating thematic parallel between the artistic climate and civic values that shaped the Florentine Renaissance and the extraordinary Indian patronage and entrepreneurship that created Mumbai. The exhibition offered visitors a rare experience of the civic values that gave birth to the Florentine Renaissance – values that carry significant implications for the development of urban culture in a rapidly-urbanizing India.

The Gates of Paradise, courtesy a generous loan from the Guild of the Dome Association, are identical to the replica that currently decorates the exterior facade of the Eastern Door of the Florence Baptistery. The original masterpiece underwent nearly twenty-seven years of restoration and is permanently located inside the Museo dell’Opera in Florence.

Named “The Gates of Paradise” by the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo (Italian, 1475-1564), the centerpiece of the exhibition was created by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian, 1378-1455) between 1425 and 1452 to complete the ensemble surrounding the Dome. The Gates of Paradise depict Ghiberti’s masterful sculptural and narrative rendering of ten biblical panels from the Old Testament.

The gates were located at the Eastern entrance to the Battistero di San Giovanni (Florence Baptistery), the oldest civic temple in Florence and a crucial public gathering place for urban rituals and performances.

With the Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti displayed his brilliant talent as storyteller and master artist by incorporating multiple narratives within each panel and experimenting with the latest scientific and technical innovations.

The scenes are based on biblical passages from the early history of humankind to the life of King David and Solomon. They read from left to right, beginning with the upper left panel.

The top left panel depicts scenes from the story of Adam & Eve. In the lower left corner of the panel is the Creation of Adam, in the centre, the creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib. On the far left Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent in the Garden of Paradise and, at far right, one sees their expulsion from the Garden for their sin.

In the upper right corner of the panel, Adam and Eve are depicted with their children, Cain and Abel. Below, at center, Cain tills the soil, while Abel watches his flock of sheep. In the upper left, Cain and Abel make sacrifices to god. Directly below, Cain, out of jealousy, kills Abel. As a consequence of this act, Cain is cursed by god (lower right).

Noah and his family and a host of animals are placed before a pyramid-shaped ark. At lower right, Noah makes an offering to god, who emerges from a series of circles in the upper right corner. In the lower left, Noah, half-nude and drunk, is sprawled before a vine-draped hut containing barrels of wine, with his sons on the right.

In the lower right, angels announce to Abraham that his wife Sarah will give birth to a son. On the upper right, Abraham, having been instructed by god, prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac, but is stopped by an angel.

On the upper right, Rebecca receives the prophecy of the conflict between her sons, Esau and Jacob. On the left, within an arcaded interior, Rebecca gives birth. At the centre, Esau sells his birthright as the elder twin to Jacob. Isaac has instructed Esau to go hunting, but within the arcaded space Rebecca hatches her plan for Jacob to receive the blessing of their father. At the centre right, Jacob sets off to hunt. In the far right Jacob, pretending to be his brother offering goat meat and, mistaken by the blind Isaac for Esau, receives his father’s blessing. At the centre, Esau is informed by Isaac that his brother has received the blessing.

Moses receives the Ten Commandments from god, while all the tribes of Israel gather at the foot of the mountain in front of their tents in awe and amazement.

Solomon, King of Israel, welcomes the Queen of Sheba in an architectural setting that recalls the nave of Florence Cathedral, while attendants who witness the event carry gifts.

Located on the door frame, centre left, this sculptural relief portrait is of the artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti himself.

The frame also shows Prophets, Prophetesses, and other biblical heroes. An inscription, not reproduced in the replica, declares the doors a work of Lorenzo Ghiberti, as marvelous art (mira arte fabricatum).

Florence in Photographs
On display at the exhibition, was also a rich collection of high-quality historical photographs that document Florence. With its wealth of artistic treasures and its Medieval and Renaissance buildings, Florence in the 19th century was not only a tourist attraction and market for art and antiques, but it had also become a place where the young discipline of art history flourished, and this led to a great interest in photographic documentation.  
Photography played an essential role in creating the "myth of Florence" in the 19th century. Shifting between a medium of experimentation, art and souvenir, photography met various requirements and performed several functions. Photographic reproductions of famous buildings and works of art were, however, not limited to acting solely as souvenirs for travellers or research tools of art aficionados, who bought photographs as the raw material upon which to base their studies. Florence's flourishing antique business also benefited from the photographic representations of artistic subjects. Precisely for this reason, photography played an important role in the dissemination of Florentine works of art.

Enlarged reproductions often adorned the homes of bourgeois scholars and amateurs. The urban transformations that occurred after Florence became the capital of the newly formed Italian nation were accompanied by photographic campaigns.

This photographic exhibition is based on the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence and combines two intertwined aspects: the pictorial evocation of the Florentine city space, and the history of its representation through the medium of photography between 1860 and 1960 in a variety of techniques, reproduced here in digital prints, and a number of originals from 1900 to 1950.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with its huge dome and bell tower is the best-known building of Florence. The dome is visible throughout the city and has become a symbol of early Renaissance architecture. Although construction of the Florentine Cathedral dates back to 1296, the façade remained unfinished until the 16th century and was demolished in 1587. In the following years, on the occasion of various solemnities, it was covered with pictorial decorations. Emilio De Fabris (1807-1883) began construction of the new façade in 1871, yet its official inauguration by King Umberto I did not take place until May 12, 1887.

Map of Florence with Names of Churches, Schools, Convents and Monasteries, Theatres, Palaces, 2007

The exhibition also featured replicas of five restored panels from Ghiberti’s North Door of the Florence Baptistery in the Special Projects Space in the Museum Plaza, along with replicas of the five bronze statues, including Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1552), created by Benvenuto Cellini (Italian, 1500-71) for the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The Gates of Paradise and North Door panel replicas demonstrate technical innovations in lost wax bronze casting and invite visitors to a comparison of artistic traditions and restoration technologies across cultures, both Florentine and Indian.
The North Door are also known as the Doors of the Cross. Ghiberti used the same quatrefoil format as Pisano and also has 28 quatrefoils arranged in 7 rows. The molding is framed with designs of fruits, animals and flora and has a prophet at each intersection. After winning the competition against Brunelleschi and other artists, the 20-year old Lorenzo Ghiberti, son of a goldsmith, was commissioned by the Guild of the Wool Merchants to create the doors for the Baptistry with scenes from the life of Christ. This was a highly complex enterprise which moved from preparatory drawings and models to the casting, chasing and gilding of the 28 bronze panels and the jambs. Ghiberti and his workshop fulfilled this task in some twenty years. The doors were put in place in 1424 and were immediately highly admired. In fact, they were first installed on the eastern side of the Baptistry, the most honorable position, where the doors are ceremonially opened only once a year on Easter Sunday. The narrative panels show an experimentation with new and dynamic concepts of narrative, still confined in the quatrefoil format established by the first doors created in the fourteenth century by Andrea Pisano. The success of Ghiberti’s work led to the commission of the Gates of Paradise in 1424 and their success, in turn, to the removal of his first doors to the north side of the Cathedral. From the first moment of the competition (1401) to the placement of his second doors (1452), Ghiberti had worked a full 50 years for the doors of the Baptistery, even if not exclusively.
Ghiberti’s doors changed over time exposed to climatic and historical vicissitudes. They were covered by wooden shutters to protect them in the eighteenth century; their golden surface was hidden under a greyish patina in the nineteenth century; they were removed during the Second World War, restored and again put in place in 1948; damaged by the flood of 1966. The North doors have suffered from centuries of pollution, which has greatly increased over the last decades. Their golden surface was nearly hidden for generations of visitors, but it is now being brought to light again through an ongoing restoration, thanks to the international patronage promoted by the Guild of the Dome.The long restoration of the Gates of Paradise has profoundly changed the methods of conservation of gilded bronze panels by means of new technologies and has set new international standards which are now being applied to the restoration of the first set of doors created by Ghiberti.

This panel depicting the Baptism of Christ, is a replica of the original panel after restoration.

This panel depicting the Baptism of Christ, is a replica of the original panel after restoration.

The exhibition featured replicas of the five bronze statues, including Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1552), created by Benvenuto Cellini (Italian, 1500-71) for the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.These were displayed at the Special Project Space in the Museum Plaza.  

Benvenuto Cellini was one of the most acclaimed and exposed court artists. His Florentine masterpiece is the Perseus and Medusa for the Loggia dei Lanzi. Unveiled in 1554 after nine years of work, it was highly celebrated by the Florentine public.

Like Ghiberti, Cellini wrote an autobiography. In dramatic words he describes the casting of the statue of Perseus, holding the head of petrifying Medusa and positioned over her, with streams of blood breaking out of both body and head. It is the richest and most fascinating text of the Renaissance about working in bronze, evoking the volcanic element of the liquid metal itself.

For the niches Cellini created bronze figures of ancient classical Gods: Jupiter, Minerva, Mercury and Danae (the mother of Perseus). When they were finished, Cellini showed them to the duchess Eleonora of Toleda, who liked them so much that she wanted to keep them in the Palace, whereas the artist took them secretly—so contemporary voices say—to the piazza and mounted them on the plinth of the statue.  

The replicas of the four figures shown here, serve as a counterpoint to Ghiberti’s partly restored panels of the North doors. They belong to the other dimension of Renaissance imagery, the mythological, rather than the religious.

Cellini’s statues were carefully restored between 1996 to 2000 in an open laboratory which could be followed via video transmission. After long debates, the original monumental statue has returned to the piazza (being constantly monitored), whereas the figures and the relief of the plinth are replicas, and the originals are now displayed in the Museo del Bargello.

Organized by the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in collaboration with the Guild of the Dome Association, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institute, and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. Supported by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation
Credits: Story

Courtesy The Frilli Gallery/Guild of the Dome Association, Florence, from the exhibition, 'The Florentine Renaissance: The City as the Crucible of Culture' at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai (March 30, 2014 - July 8, 2014). Organized by the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in collaboration with the Guild of the Dome Association, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institute, and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. Supported by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.

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