The Renaissance in Florence
In the year 1401, Florence, under an essentially democratic form of government, had risen to be one of the most flourishing cities of Europe. In this civic democracy the trades were distinguished as guilds, called "Arti", represented by deputies (consoli). The Consuls resolved in the above- mentioned year to raise another gate of bronze to the Baptistery, as a pendant to that of Andrea Pisano, which had been previously executed in a very noble, but still Gothic style.
The Signoria, or executive government, made known this resolve to the best artists of Italy, and a public competition was opened. Lorenzo Ghiberti, a native of Florence, at that time very young (twenty-two), ventured on the trial, and with two others, Brunelleschi and Donatello, was pronounced worthy. These two last-named artists appear to have voluntarily retired in his favour; and in twenty- three years from that date the gate was finished, and put up.
The beauty of its design and workmanship induced the Signoria to order another of him, which was ultimately finished about the year 1444. It would be impossible to overrate the importance of this work, either as regards its historical influence on art or its intrinsic merit, - standing, as it does, unrivalled by any similar specimen in any age for excellence of design and workmanship. The ornament (for a portion of which see Plate LXXV., Fig. 3), which encloses and surrounds the panels, is worthy of the most careful study. Lorenzo Ghiberti belonged to no school, neither can it be said he founded one; he received his education from his father-in-law, a goldsmith; and his influence on Art is to be seen rather in the homage and study his works received from men such as Buonarotti and Raphael than from his formation of any school of pupils. He died in his native city at a good old age, in the year 1455.
One of his immediate followers, Donatello, imparted a life and masculine vigour to the art, which, in spite of all their beauty, were often wanting in the compositions of Ghiberti; and the qualities of both these artists were happily united in the person of Luca della Robbia, who, during his long life (which extended from 1400 to 1480), executed an infinity of works, the ornamental details of which were carried out in a style of the freest and most graceful analogy with the antique. In the person of Filippo Brunelleschi the talents of the sculptor and the architect were combined. The former are sufficiently evinced by the excellence of the trial-piece in which he competed with Ghiberti for the execution of the celebrated gates of San Giovanni Battista; and the latter, by his magnificent Cathedral of Sta. Maria della Fiore at Florence. This combination of architectural and sculpturesque ability was, indeed, a distinguishing feature of the period. Figures, foliage, and conventional ornaments, were so happily blended with mouldings and other structural forms, as to convey the idea that the whole sprang to life in one perfect form in the mind of the artist by whom the work was executed.