The maintenance and completion of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, one of the oldest and most significant buildings in Florence, was entrusted to the Arte del Calimala Guild. This wool merchants’ guild was the oldest of Florentine guilds and was extremely powerful and wealthy. This wealth and power was due in large part to the fact that Florence was the fabric capitol of Italy. The Baptistery was dedicated to Florence’s patron saint John the Baptist. Consequently, the first set of doors created by Andrea Pisano in 1336 depicted scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist and was installed on the east or main entrance side. Plans for the other two sets of doors were delayed because of the economic crash, political unrest, and the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348.
In the early years of the Quattrocento, the Calimala guild decided to erect a second set of bronze doors showing scenes from the Old Testament. As with most large commissions at that time, a competition was held to find the artist who could create exactly what the guild was looking for in this work of art. Seven of the best sculptors in Tuscany were given one year to complete a panel showing the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. However, the real competition was between Filippo Brunelleschi, the future architect of the Cathedral’s dome, and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Opposing stories state that the Calimala guild asked Brunelleschi and Ghiberti to create the panels together. Brunelleschi could not see the panels to completion because he agreed to complete another commission outside of Florence. Ghiberti claims that he won with a unanimous vote from the judges and Brunelleschi was never a part of the creation of the second set of doors. Lorenzo Ghiberti cast one entire piece and put Abraham and Isaac off center. Ghiberti also displayed more heart-felt emotion and gracefulness of movement in his panel. Whereas Brunelleschi created a harsh and jagged movements in his interpretation of the story. At scarcely more than twenty, Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition and thus became the creator of the second set of doors for the Baptistery. This was his first important commission and was awarded in 1401, the first year of the Renaissance.
The intention of the Calimala guild was to show scenes from the Old Testament was changed to reflect the life of Christ and Ghiberti was expected to make them match the earlier doors in layout. Andrea Pisano used this same layout when he created the first set of Baptistery doors, twenty-eight panels arranged in seven rows of four.
Both the guilds commissioning the work of art and the artists completing it understood the importance of assistants. By the year of 1407 Ghiberti had employed over twenty-five assistants, including Donatello and Michelozzo. These assistant artists were closely supervised by Ghiberti, often times completing the simpler tasks and leaving the ornate work to the master artist. Ghiberti would say that the art...