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Step into the Renaissance

The Gates of Paradise, a landmark sculpture from the Florentine Renaissance, arrives in the city and brings with it an important period in art history

If you walk into Bhau Daji Lad Museum before June 3, expect a grander welcome. A glorious 17-feet gate set with heavy bronze doors will greet you. Rich in detail, 10 delicately sculpted panels, carved in gold are mounted on the doors. These “paintings in sculptures” — as they are often called — are in linear perspective, a style made popular during 15th century Florence.

They narrate stories from the Old Testament: of creation, Garden of Eden, Cain begging for forgiveness, Noah’s Ark surviving the flood and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. It is no wonder that Renaissance man Michelangelo pronounced this piece of architecture by Florentine artist Lorenzo Ghiberti, “The Gates of Paradise”.

March 30 onwards the city will play host to this true-to-scale bronze replica of the Florentine Renaissance masterpiece. The gates have guarded the Florence Baptistry, popularly called the Duomo, since the 15th century. The gates are on their first trip abroad, and have been brought to the country in collaboration with the Italian organisation, Guild of the Dome, which is formed by a group of entrepreneurs who work to preserve art on a global level. Beginning with Mumbai, the two-month-long exhibition titled “The Florentine Renaissance: The City as the Crucible of Culture” will travel to Delhi before heading to New York.

Apart from the obvious religious significance, the Gates have a symbolic reference to Mumbai, believes Tasneem Mehta. “The Renaissance was an extraordinary coming together of forces; artisans, merchants and traders lifted the economy and provided a boost to artistes from every field. Art and architecture changed the political, economical and cultural map of Florence,” she says.

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Mehta draws parallels to Mumbai with the thrust that philantropists such as David Sassoon, and Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy proved to be worthy patrons. Art and architecture dictated the cityscape with structures that remain an important historical landmark even today. “Much like the Renaissance, art and culture of the city flourished,” she says.

The original gates — currently residing in the Museo dell’Opera in Florence in its restored condition — were the epitome of Florentine Renaissance. Ghiberti, a goldsmith by profession, began working on the gates in 1425 and spent 27 years labouring over the high and low relief panels. “They were recognised for the artiste’s revolutionary approach to bronze casting and the newly-discovered linear perspective in art,” says Enrico Marinelli, President of the Guild of the Dome. Due to the building of the Florence Cathedral and artist Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome in the neighbourhood, the area became known as “Paradiso”.

The mounting of the Ghiberti’s gates to this area was only fitting.


The gates are a doorway into a larger exhibition that takes the viewer through the Renaissance. Stretching across the four corners of the museum, the exhibition takes one through a mapped tour of Florence, stopping at significant milestones during the Renaissance. The contributions of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi (who introduced linear perspective in art) and founder of the Aldine Press, Aldo Manuzio, among others, are explained.

Another elaborate display has replicated panels from the North Gates of the Baptistry, which were also commissioned to Ghiberti. The 27 panels that have stories from the New Testament, are currently being restored by the Guild of the Dome. “The gates are an ambassador for Florence and the Renaissance. These pieces of history will travel the world, and are an appeal for conservation and renovation of history,” curator Gerald Wolf says.

First published on: 01-04-2014 at 00:24 IST
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