Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian, 1378–1455) was one of the most influential artists of the Early Renaissance. He was the son of a goldsmith, from whom he learned the craft. Ghiberti’s first commission for the Florence Baptistery did not come by luck, but rather by skill. He entered a competition in 1401, at the age of 23, to design bronze doors for the Baptistery’s north portal. His closest competitor was the Italian artist and architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446). Two accounts survive regarding the outcome. In Ghiberti’s I commentarii, written in about 1447, he wrote that he won the competition. However, a biography of Brunelleschi, written between 1471 and 1497, suggests that the competition's judges could not decide between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Instead, they offered the commission to them both, but Brunelleschi did not want to share it and withdrew.It took Ghiberti and his workshop more than 20 years to complete this first pair of doors.

Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian, 1378-1455). Portrait of the artist, from Gates of Paradise, 1425-1452. Gilt bronze. Collection of the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Image courtesy Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence.

In 1425, shortly after completing the north doors, Ghiberti received another commission—by invitation this time—to design a new set of doors for the Baptistery. He labored for 27 years, creating a masterwork that the Italian artist Michelangelo called “truly worthy to be the Gates of Paradise.” This set of doors was a much more ambitious undertaking than the first commission, therefore requiring more assistance. Ghiberti created the east doors with a large workshop of artists, including the sculptor Donatello and the painter Paolo Uccello.

The completion of Ghiberti’s second set of doors fully communicated his skill and artistic genius. Others agreed, and they installed these works in the east portal of the Baptistery, facing Florence’s cathedral, a place of honor. This location held deep symbolic significance in the Christian church. The east doors represent a sacred threshold or portal through which the baptized passed on their way to the cathedral, which to believers signifies the Heavenly Kingdom.