The Great Mediaeval Bronze Doors

On the Continent there are many striking and splendid reminders of the permanence of copper and bronze in the fine arts, especially from the Renaissance period onwards. Italy is full of examples, embracing the whole of the 15th and 16th Centuries, when the native genius for art, under the protection of the powerful Dukes, the City States, and particularly the Papacy, flourished then as it has never done before or since. Of particular note are the many fine architectural remains which include a considerable number of magnificent sculptured bronze doors. In some cases their design can be traced back to the Imperial days of the Pantheon which possesses the oldest surviving bronze doors in the world. These were erected by Hadrian in A.D. 164, and are truly gigantic, being 39 ft high and 19 ft wide overall. They hang upon fluted bronze pilasters; and above them, in the ceiling of the portico, is an ancient bronze grating, just as it was erected 1800 years ago. On either side of this grand doorway stood colossal bronze statues of Augustus and Agrippa.

Similar designs were adopted in many of the larger Italian churches throughout the succeeding centuries. Florence has a number of examples, including some of the most famous of all, the three pairs of doors in the Baptistry. The South Door, which was designed by Andrea Pisano, was erected in 1336; its twenty-eight compartments show in relief events in the life of St. John the Baptist. The North Door, which also has twenty-eight panels, was mainly executed by Ghiberti between 1403 and 1424; while the celebrated East Door, the work of the same sculptor and only completed in his extreme old age, has rich reliefs of biblical subjects (Fig. 17). It was erected in 1452.

Bronze bapistry doors Figure 17. One of the famous pairs of bronze doors of the Baptiotry at Florence. These doors, which depict biblical subjects in relief, were the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti and were completed in 1453.

Rome also possesses some magnificent mediaeval bronze doors, Those of the Lateran Basilica, which was originally built by Constantine the Great, were taken from the Senate House. They were adapted for their new position by fitting a strip of bronze to each edge; but in all other respects they are reported to be unchanged. The three bronze doors in the main entrance to St. Peter's at Rome, which are embellished with a curious admixture of biblical and political subjects, were cast by A. Filarete and S. Ghini in 1445. Great new doors of bronze are now being made for St. Peter's at Rome.

There are in the north of Italy 9th Century bronze doors in the famous Basilica of Saint Ambrogio at Milan, and others may be seen in Pisa Cathedral (A.D. 1180), the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle (A.D. 804); and several pairs still exist in the Basilica of St. Mark and the Baptistry at Venice. One of the latter, which was damascened in silver, is the oldest of its type in Europe. The Sacristy of the even more famous Basilica Ostiensis at Rome has silvered bronze doors which were cast by Staurakios at Constantinople in A.D. 1070; they contain fifty-four panels illustrating scenes from the New Testament.