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Monday, July 16, 2012

OPENING THE GATES OF PARADISE



Opening the Gates of Paradise
Thirty-four years work has gone in to the Ghiberti masterpieces, scheduled to go on display at the Museo dell’Opera in Florence

By Laura Lombardi and Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 27 June 2012

After 12 years of planning and a further 22 years of conservation work, all ten panels from the Gates of Paradise, a Florentine Renaissance masterpiece by Lorenzo Ghiberti, have been restored to their former glory by a team from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure—one of the foremost conservation institutes in the world. The monumental set of gilded bronze doors, constructed between 1425 and 1452, stand at just over five metres tall and contain scenes from the Old Testament. The panels, admired by Michelangelo, once adorned the east entrance to the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence.

The Baptistry, located in the Piazza del Duomo, was built between 1059 and 1128, making it one of the oldest buildings in the city. Together with the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known simply as the Duomo, and Giotto’s Campanile, the three buildings form part of a Unesco world heritage site that covers the centre of the city. Italy’s ministry of culture contributed €3m ($3.7m) towards the project, while the private American foundation, the Friends of Florence, gave €250,000. An additional €500,000 was provided by the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, which houses many of the works originally made for the Duomo.

The sculpted doors, however, will not go back on their hinges at the Baptistry where replicas have been installed since 1990. Instead, they are set to go on display on 8 September at the Museo dell’Opera. The doors will be installed in their own room in a protective case commissioned by the Museo dell’Opera under guidance from the Opificio, which has overseen the project since it began in 1978. The doors will be moved to a new space following the completion of the museum’s planned enlargement project, which is expected to finish sometime between 2014 and 2015. This new space will enable visitors a 360-degree-view of the work.

Anna Maria Giusti, a conservation expert from the Opificio, says the damage to the panels was caused by excessive humidity which allowed salts to crystallise on the bronze. These crystals slowly corroded small holes in the surface. “The protective casing will guarantee a constant level of humidity at 20%. We used a nitrogen atmosphere to protect the individual panels [which were detached for cleaning], but that is an expensive technique. Now that the door is whole again, we filter the air in the casing, removing dust and harmful gases. It took a year of research to fine-tune this technique.”


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