A Cultural Kaleidoscope

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Paradise Not Lost...

Intricately rendered gilt bronze relief panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament were once a backdrop for famous artists and thinkers of the 15th century like Michelangelo, Donatello, and Machiavelli as they walked the streets of Florence. Now, for the first time, three of these panels are in the United States and are currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through January 13, 2008). After a nearly seamless exhibition in Atlanta and a substandard one in Chicago, the pressure is on New York to exhibit the works successfully in true Italian style.

Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti completed the East Doors of the Baptistery of Florence, also known as the “Gates of Paradise,” between 1425 and 1452. To mirror this, the Met chose to display the works in a small room inspired by Renaissance architecture with marble floors, high ceilings, and cream colored walls treated to look like marble. A second story loggia with rustic wooden beams overhead and hand-painted ceramic tiles set in a design that calls to mind a coiffered ceiling perches above the gallery on the left. And six wooden window portals surrounded by marble carvings and grotesques of vases, flowers, and leaves decorate the right wall. The Renaissance architecture inspires viewers and sets the doors and panels within a cultural context and time period.

At the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, a special octagonal green room was created to house the pieces, echoing the accent color of the marble and structure of the Baptistery in Florence. The exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago employed bear walls and did not make use of Italian design elements, nor did it receive the acclaim that the show did in Atlanta.

You may never have a chance to travel to Italy and see the original “Gates of Paradise,” but the exhibition in New York provides viewers with an intimate encounter with Ghiberti’s panels in true Italian Renaissance style.


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