In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lorenzo Ghiberti

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Early Life and Work, Training, and Workshop
  • The Commentaries: Complete Editions
  • The Commentaries: Annotated Partial Editions
  • Scholarship on the Commentaries
  • Statues and Other Works for Orsanmichele
  • Sculptures for Various Ecclesiastical Sites
  • Gates of Paradise
  • Ghiberti, Optics, Vision, and Perspective
  • Ghiberti and Antiquity
  • Ghiberti and the Goldsmith’s Art
  • Ghiberti and Architecture
  • Collaboration/Work with Other Artists
  • Ghiberti and His Patrons
  • Ghiberti and the Status of the Artist
  • Collections of Essays
  • Major Exhibition Catalogues
  • Restoration and Technical Reports
  • Influence and Legacy

Renaissance and Reformation Lorenzo Ghiberti
Amy R. Bloch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0464


Born in, or just outside, Florence c. 1380, Lorenzo Ghiberti probably trained in the shop of a goldsmith. He established himself, in the early 15th century, as one of the most skilled bronze/brass sculptors on the Italian peninsula; indeed, he reinvigorated the art of casting metal sculpture in Florence. He demonstrated his abilities in working with cooper alloys first in the famous competition of 1401–1402, in which sculptors, vying for the commission to fashion the Florence Baptistery’s second set of doors, made trial reliefs representing the sacrifice of Isaac. His victory led to his completion of a set of doors (1403–1424) representing scenes from the New Testament. He carried out this project, along with many others, with the assistance of his large workshop. Ghiberti’s mastery of bronze/brass sculpture subsequently led to numerous commissions in these media: between 1412 and 1429, he sculpted three colossal statues for the church of Orsanmichele (St. John the Baptist, St. Matthew, and St. Stephen) and two reliefs for the Siena Baptistery (1417–1427). He received commissions in other materials as well. In the 1420s he produced a number of designs for marble tombs, cast another in bronze, and made two elaborate papal miters (1419 and c. 1434). Between 1425 and 1452, he completed the Florence Baptistery’s third and final set of doors, known as the Gates of Paradise, which both demonstrate his ability to represent—in reliefs made of copper alloys—fictive space through linear perspective and elegant bodies inspired by Antiquity, and highlight his understanding of the meaning and power of Old Testament stories. While working on the Gates he completed other projects, including, for Florence Cathedral, a tomb-shrine of St. Zenobius. In these years and earlier he also made designs for stained-glass windows throughout the cathedral. During his career, he dabbled in architecture, working on the project for the cathedral’s new dome and designing a sacristy-chapel space for the Strozzi family in Santa Trinita. Aside from his sculptures, he is in the early 21st century unquestionably best known for his remarkable Commentaries, a three-book treatise containing the first history of art penned after Antiquity—he included histories of ancient and recent Italian art, culminating in his autobiography—and an extensive section on the science of optics. Ghiberti was an avid collector of ancient art and also owned a number of books. His uncommon acumen as a businessman led him to acquire a great deal of wealth, including a number of properties. After a long, productive, and influential life, he died on 28 November 1455.

General Overviews

Ghiberti has been the subject of many monographic treatments, but no book has been as influential as the magisterial, comprehensive, and endlessly fascinating Krautheimer and Krautheimer-Hess 1982 (first edition published in 1956). Indeed, it is still the most complete treatment of the artist, and any Ghiberti-related topic should begin with a study of this book’s contents. It could legitimately be included under every category of this article, so expansive is its coverage. Before the publication of Krautheimer and Krautheimer-Hess 1982, there had been earlier single treatments of Ghiberti, such as Planiscig 1949, but many of these studies are limited, focusing on, for example, only stylistic matters. Krautheimer and Krautheimer-Hess 1982 covers Ghiberti life and posthumous reputation, as well as every major work, discussing for each one its chronology, style, and influences. Following these wide-ranging analyses, the book proceeds to examine various “Renaissance Problems,” including Ghiberti’s use of perspective, his work in architecture, his engagement with Antiquity, his writing, and his connection to the humanist Leon Battista Alberti. The book also contains transcriptions of the documentation connected to Ghiberti’s life and work, a digest of the documents, and a catalogue of the antiquities that inspired Ghiberti’s creations. The last edition, from 1982, additionally includes the most recent bibliography to that point. Other more recent, monographic treatments of Ghiberti (e.g., Brunetti 1966 and Fischer Perrig 1987) have made useful contributions, but these studies are far more limited, and no author has come close to approaching or surpassing Krautheimer and Krautheimer-Hess 1982. The succinct and useful Galli 2005, a text written as part of a series with predetermined format, is the best of all later, single treatments of Ghiberti’s art.

  • Brunetti, Giulia. Ghiberti. Florence: Sadea, 1966.

    Very brief and general introduction to the artist and his works. Small format limits the usefulness of the many illustrations.

  • Fischer Perrig, Alexander. Lorenzo Ghiberti, die Paradiesestür: Warum ein Künstler den Rahmen sprengt. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1987.

    Slender book that outlines Ghiberti’s work and life and then discusses the Gates of Paradise. Focuses on the content of the narratives.

  • Galli, Aldo. Grandi scultori: Lorenzo Ghiberti. Rome: L’Espresso, 2005.

    Offers a brief but comprehensive overview of Ghiberti’s career and influence, as well as short essays on Ghiberti’s major sculptures.

  • Krautheimer, Richard, and Trude Krautheimer-Hess. Lorenzo Ghiberti. 3d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

    Published first in 1956 and then in second and third editions in 1970 and 1982. Comprehensive and essential monograph on Ghiberti’s life and work. Contains individual chapters on the major commissions and others on key themes. Includes transcripts and summaries of extant documentary evidence, photographs of all major works plus comparative examples, and a list of antiquities that influenced Ghiberti. A source not extensively concerned with interpretation but, unquestionably, to be consulted in connection with any Ghiberti-related topic.

  • Planiscig, Leo. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Florence: Del Turco, 1949.

    Revised version of German text published in 1940. Emphasizes the evolution of Ghiberti’s style in his Baptistery doors (based on an analysis of the doors after they were cleaned c. 1946–1948). The analysis of the Gates of Paradise postulates that the ten panels were designed and cast c. 1438–1447, an assumption not supported by the documentation.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.