Festival of Religious Art: Old and New Masters of Religious Art
April 07 – April 20, 1931
Monday, April 20, 1931, 8:30 pm
The Gates of Paradise
Location: Mandell Hall, University of Chicago
The Gates of Paradise is a Renaissance Play by Laredo Taft.
Scenes of Florence in the Fifteenth Century leading to the production of the great Ghiberti doors.
The Story of the Play
In the year 1334, Giotto, returning to Florence laden with triumphs, was made supervising architect of the great unfinished cathedral of that city. He lived only two years longer but had time to design the lovely Campanile or bell tower of the church and the see it well begun. It was modified later but will always be known as "Giotto's tower." Alongside, and often working with Giotto, was his friend, Andrea of Pisa, now engaged in modeling a pair of enormous bronze doors for the Baptistery across the way.
Andrea spent six happy years in the execution of the twenty-eight panels which so vividly portray scenes in the life of John the Baptist. In 1336, the year of Giotto's death, the doors were set up and all Florence pronounced them the most beautiful ever made.
Our play opens in the year of 1400 with a scene showing these doors. The shades of Andrea and Giotto have returned to earth and deplore the fact that so little of artistic merit has been produced in their beloved city since their time. They leave the scene with a prayer that the Florentines recover their love of beauty. The day breaks and we are confronted with stern reality. A terrible plague is raging, filling Florence with grief and woe. The people beg for deliverance and promise if... (section missing)...to show their gratitude by making a thank-offering... (section missing)... of two new bronze gates for the Baptistery.
From different parts of Italy, artists are summoned to compete for the honor of making these gates. We see Jacopo della Quercia from Siena, Brunelleschi, the young architect who later built the dome of the great cathedral of Florence, Donatello, a boy of fourteen, already showing promise as a sculptor, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, the most famous man among the many artists who are interested in the competition. They study Andrea's doors as a model after which they may pattern the new gates. In scene 2 the competition is shown in pantomime and Ghiberti receives the commission to make the new doors.
The third scene shows us Donatello's studio. In the twenty-two years that have elapsed since Ghiberti was given the order to make the new bronze doors, Donatello has become a very famous sculptor. The statues in the scene are authentic reproductions of his work and were made in the Midway Studios for the play. In the fourth scene we find the artists of Florence celebrating Ghiberti's completion of his first doors. He is commissioned to make another pair which are the subject of the next act in our play.
In scene 6 another period of twenty-five years has elapsed and the second pair has been finished- the beautiful "Gates of Pradise" are pratically ready to be hung in place. It is Ghiberti's birthday and a great gathering has been arranged to visit the sculptor and express the gratitude and gratitude and congratulations due him on so joyous occasion. The whole city smiles with satisfaction and happiness over the completion of the masterpiece. Florence has indeed become the artistic, cultural and spiritual capital of the world. The hopes and prayers of Andrea and Giotto have been fully realized.
The doors which Ghiberti designed are today hanging in Florence and still command the admiration of artists and critics. They portray in bas-relief ten scenes from the Old Testament:
1. Creation of Adam and Eve.
2. Cain and Abel.
4. Abraham and Isaac.
5. Jacob and Esau.
6. Joseph and his Brethren.
7. Moses on Mount Sinai.
8. Joshua before Jericho.
9. David and Goliath.
10. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.