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Ghiberti, Lorenzo

    Image Credit: The Art Story

    Full Name: Ghiberti, Lorenzo

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1378

    Date Died: 1455

    Place Born: Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Place Died: Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), fourteenth century (dates CE), and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): authors, biographers, and memoirists


    Sculptor and architect; his Book II of his memoirs forms an important account of 14th-century artists. Ghibert’s parents were Cione Paltami Ghiberti (d. 1406), somewhat of a n’er-do-well, and Mona Fiore. Shortly after his birth his mother left Cione to live with the goldsmith Bartolo di Michele (d 1422), known as Bartoluccio, marring him after Cione’s death. Ghiberti learned goldsmithing from Bartoluccio. He left Florence in 1400 along with another artist to serve the ruling Malatesta of Pesaro. Learning of a competition for the design of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery he returned to the city, winning the commission. Bartoluccio also collaborated bronze doors (today the north doors) of the Baptistery in Florence. He was elevated to the rank of master in the goldsmith’s guild in 1409. At the end of his life, Ghiberti wrote his memoirs, I commentarii, a work in three sections (or books) begun around 1447 and never completed. The first book theoretical, an assessment of classical art, quoting from the writings of Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder. Because Ghiberti was a sculptor, he understandibly praised ancient art (mostly sculpture) and the necessity of the artist to know both the liberal arts and theoretical sciences. Like Pliny before him, Ghiberti saw ancient sculputre’s strength in its naturalism. He supplemented this, again from Pliny, with a long discourse on classical bronze statuary and clay modelling. Book 2 is an art history, begining with Giotto’s resurrection of art from its moribund state in the middle ages. To Ghiberti, Giotto “abandoned the crudeness of the Greeks and rose to be the most excellent painter in Etruria.” Ghiberti continued with a history of painting and sculpture in Florence and Siena the 13th and 14th centuries. He largely confined himself in these histories to style rather than the anecdotal treatment other art narratives did. The history ends with an account of his own life, the earliest autobiography of an artist, largely a list in chronology of his works. The work ends with Book 3, a discussion of the knowledge (“sciences”) necessary for a sculptor: optics, anatomy, and human proportion. Ghiberti’s I commentarii is unique among 15th-century writings on art in its goal as a developmental art history from antiquity to his own time. Ghiberti was the first to insist upon the humanistic belief that ancient art was unequaled. He praised Sienese painters, Ambrogio Lorenzetti in particular, whose naturalistic settings Ghiberti felt his own art was indebted. Ghiberti as an art historian interested two of the top art historians of the twentieth century, Julius Alwin von Schlosser and Richard Krautheimer.

    Selected Bibliography

    English [second book], Fengler, Christie Knapp, trans. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Second Commentary: the Translation and Interpretation of a Fundamental Renaissance Treatise on Art. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1979


    KGK, 19-20; Schlosser, Julius. Denkwürdigkeiten des florentinischen Bildhauers Lorenzo Ghiberti. Berlin: J. Bard, 1920, Die Kunstliteratur: ein Handbuch zur Quellenkunde der neueren Kunstgeschichte. Vienna: Anton Schroll, 1924, pp. 87-91; and Leben und Meinungen des florentinischen Bildners Lorenzo Ghiberti. Basel: Holbein-Verlag, 1941; Bartoli, Lorenzo. “Rewriting History: Vasari’s Life of Lorenzo Ghiberti: Why Vasari Classified Ghiberti as a Painter.” Word & Image 13 (1997): 245-52; Krautheimer, Richard, and Krautheimer-Hess, Trude. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Princeton,NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982, pp. 3-


    "Ghiberti, Lorenzo." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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