Golden Oldies With a New Sparkle

Here are some questions. With your own eyes, have you ever:

For over four centuries it has been the case that if the answer to the first question is “No,” then all the other questions have the same answer, for all these works of art can be found in Florence.

I’ve only visited Florence once, in February, 2003. Before going there I did some reading. One of the things I learned was that the United Nations estimates about 60 percent of the world’s greatest art is in Italy, and many of Italy’s greatest works of art are in Florence. [2]

I believe Florence to be the single greatest city in the world in terms of the quality of the art that can be found there. Though I had known Florence had played a role in the Renaissance, it was only by visiting Florence that I came to appreciate that many of the seminal works of art of the Renaissance were created in a single location, Florence, over the course of a century, from about 1410 to 1510.

I took a course in the French Revolution when I was in college. Yet I didn’t fully understand its origins until I first visited Versailles many years ago. As you leave the train station, you look up a long hill that slopes upward for perhaps a half mile. On the top of that hill you see Versailles, and when I first saw Versailles I understood the cause of the French Revolution.

I had a similar experience in Florence, the first time I saw Michelangelo’s David. It is monumental in scope, yet the work of a single artist, who created the sculpture as a young man using a large piece of marble that other sculptors had refused to use due to known cracks and limitations.

Perhaps the best-preserved sculpture I have seen from ancient times can be found in the Uffizi. It appears to be perhaps a century or two old, yet it is almost two thousand years old.

By the way, you must go to the Uffizi to see the works of art inside it, as the last survivor of the ruling Medici family left his collection to the city on the condition that no part of it could ever leave Florence.

This true of almost all the other works of art in the long list, for Michelangelo’s David is too large to move, and many of the other works are buildings, or frescoes within those buildings.

This is, however, one exception. Though the Baptistry is a remarkable building, it is most notable as the building that was entered via doors containing panels that are among the most remarkable works of art in Florence. The panels were the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti.

I was thus greatly pleased to learn today that three of the ten magnificent panels from the doors will be on display for the next few months at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, courtesy of the lead story in the Arts section by Roberta Smith, Golden Oldies With a New Sparkle, that begins as follows:

Most of the historic sculptures, frescoes and edifices of early-15th-century Florence are not the least bit portable. It’s simple: You want to see them, you go to Florence. But right now nearly a third of one of the city’s greatest glories can be seen without leaving town, by visiting “The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance Masterpiece” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This show presents 3 of the 10 gilded bronze reliefs that decorate the doors created by Ghiberti from 1425 to 1452 for the 12th- to 13th-century Baptistery of San Giovanni. Newly cleaned, they have never looked more golden or less oldie.

One of the treasures of the early Renaissance, the 17-foot-high doors depict Old Testament scenes in a radically new fusion of physical action, emotional intensity and narrative complexity. Especially the three reliefs at the Met. Their subjects are Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and David and Goliath. Each is pictorially unified and yet, in a different way, almost cinematic in effect.

Some may be disappointed that all 10 of Ghiberti’s reliefs did not make this first and only American tour. (The Met is the third of four stops.) But the three reliefs here, accompanied by a life-size photo panel of the fully assembled doors, can by themselves sustain multiple visits. You have until the middle of January.

“Gates of Paradise” will be on view through Jan. 13 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The article contains a photo of one of the panels that should be more than enough to put this exhibit on your “must see” list.

It’s worth noting that the Doors will also be shown at other locations, though I don’t know where.

However, I will be in the City within a few days, and will attempt to learn where they go next.


1. The Medici Family displayed their art collection in long halls, or galleria, whence the term “Art Gallery.”

2. I prepared the list of art works using the Wikipedia entry for Florence. I had forgotten just how many great works of art there are in Florence. I believe I saw all of the works listed during a week’s visit, though of course you could spend the rest of your life in Florence savoring the uniquely great art that can be found there.

My wife and I visited Rome this past summer.

Shortly after I first viewed Michelangelo’s David I wondered why any artist had ever attempted to sculpt after seeing it for the first time. However, after seeing the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, notably his sculptures in the Galleria Borghese, I now rate him Michelango’s equal.

One of Bernini’s greatest works is Apollo and Daphne. The subtlety of the stone as it turns from skin to bark is breathtaking.

Rome is also the home of the single greatest work of art ever created by a single individual, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Though I knew of hie famed frescoes on the ceiling, I wasn’t aware that one wall consists of another masterpiece, his fresco of The Last Judgment.

You have to see the Sistine Chapel personally to appreciate its enormous size. It would be unimaginable to think that so much of the art within it was the work of a single individual, yet your eyes tell you this is so.

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