Lorenzo Ghiberti born Lorenzo di Bartolo, was a Florentine Italian artist of the Early for sculpture in metal. His book of Commentarii contains important writing on art, as well as what may be the earliest surviving autobiography by any artist. “Finding, Fixing, and Faking in Ghiberti’s Third Commentarii,” in Inganno –The Art of Deception: Imitation, Reception, and Deceit in Early Modern Art, in S. Ghiberti’s writings, I commentarii, which include his autobiography, established him as the first modern historian of the fine arts, and bear witness to his ideal of.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. But first I would like to make certain observations about some economic aspects of the production of sculpture. As compared to painters in Quattrocento Florence, the cost of materials and the labour of production for sculptors were significantly higher, sufficiently so that these factors had a uniquely huge effect on both workshop practice and the type of objects that were produced. Much has been written about the demand for art and the taste of the patron as reflected in the types of projects they commissioned and their choices of commentaarii.

Yet by logical necessity there must have been the equal but opposing force of supply. In his vita of Luca della Robbia, Vasari writes: But since, on reckoning up after these works how much there had come to his hand and how much time he spent in making them, he recognized that he had gained very little and that the labour had been very great, he resolved to abandon marble and bronze and to see whether thiberti could gather better fruits from another method.

For this method of working, as cpmmentarii its inventor, he gained very great praise, and all the ages to come will therefore owe him an obligation. The truth of commentaroi can be proved; for the sculptor in carving his statue out of marble or other stone wherein it is potentially contained has to take off the superfluous and excessive parts with the hammer — a very mechanical exercise causing much perspiration which mingling with the grit turns into mud.

His face is pasted and smeared all over with marble powder, making him look gjiberti a baker, and he is covered with minute chips ghibsrti if emerging from a snowstorm, and his dwelling is dirty and filled ghibeti dust and chips of stone.

In order to produce an object, the sculptor would model it in pliable wax or clay, at which point it could be passed along, without the need for continued intervention on the part of the master, for mould ghibertti and ghibberti later stages of production — casting for bronze or glazing and firing for terracotta.

The attractiveness of replication, especially when it came to bronze, was commentarji much of the artistic challenges of a project, such as optical corrections and refinements, could be confronted early on, at a point of minimal investment on the part of the master, and the final chasing could be delegated to assistants.

Wax sculpture destined for bronze is eminently fixable and adjustable and, as such, it is forgiving in ways that marble is not. Mould- making and casting, the difficult, risky and vastly time-consuming parts of the bronze process, were specialties in and of themselves, and were usually by necessity executed by someone other than the master. Thus, an artist who was also a foundry owner had a commenyarii competitive edge, as Ghiberti did in the city of Florence for the better part of the fifteenth century.

In other cases, such as those of Donatello and Michelozzo, these aspects of production were outsourced, along with the liability for costly mistakes. Hence the attraction of substantial bronze commissions, but better replication techniques also had applications for less risky comjentarii, enabling high-volume production of more affordable objects, such as polychromed or glazed terracotta, which were manufactured for the population at large. Despite its economic appeal, the ability to indirectly replicate, that is, using mechanical pointing and sizing as a means for enlargement, lagged considerably throughout the century.

Incredibly, the technique for pointing and sizing remained at best rudimentary throughout the Ghierti, as reflected in the note Leonardo recorded on the subject near to c. However, even these labour-intensive production costs could be effectively mitigated.

For more experienced sculptors who had achieved repute, the solution was to anchor several marble sculptures to a larger architectural project, since this meant a long-term investment and commitment from the patron commentaii well as the possibility of outsourcing major portions of the project to less skilled and lower-paid individuals. The success of these commejtarii ventures would also depend upon increased sophistication and a certain level of corporatization within the workshop organization itself, a phenomenon which only started to materialize toward the end of the Quattrocento.

Unfortunately for young sculptors, the objects of greatest desire sought commentsrii the wealthy aristocratic and merchant classes in Quattrocento Florence were not sculptures of contemporary production, but rather those produced in antiquity. The modern notion that there was an abundance of authentic antiquities available in the fifteenth century ghibertl be documented and, on the contrary, contemporary sources consistently lament the lack of them.

At least as early as the fifth century ce, a shortage of visible antiquities in central Italy can be deduced from edicts that called for their protection. Nonetheless, the burgeoning market for antiquities offered ways to increase the profit margin for working in sculpture for ambitious younger sculptors whose reputation could not yet attract monumental or architectural commissions. In the category of artist-dealer, the particularly vivid example of Nanni di Miniato — comes to mind.


Letteratura artistica: Lorenzo Ghiberti. The Commentaries. Introduced and edited by Lorenzo Bartoli

Nanni was an assistant to Michelozzo and Donatello from toghigerti the production of the tomb monument for Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci which, though destined for Naples, was manufactured in a workshop in Pisa. Both were evidently located while Donatello, Michelozzo and Nanni were working in nearby Pisa.

In a more active way, Quattrocento Florentine sculptors took to restoring and re-carving abused and damaged fragments of past time.

Among the more legendary examples are the two statues of Marsyas that had been in the Medici collection, which, during the tenure of Lorenzo the Magnificent, were displayed on either side of the entrance of the palace garden that faced via dei Ginori. According to Vasari, the white Marsyas was restored by Donatello, whereas the red Marsyas was restored by Verrocchio. This method poses a significant challenge for the sculptor since he must recuperate figural or pictorial surface from an already diminished and compromised area of an object.

In the case of the red Marsyas, the treatment of the surface is barely noticeable in a frontal view, whereas, when viewed from the ccommentarii, it becomes readily apparent that the head and face are the result of the removal of stone, carving down a significant portion of the physical mass of the statue.

Conceptually, this kind of restoration is masterful ghuberti, if executed well and with adroit use of optical corrections, there is no obvious physical trace of the intervention as is ghibfrti case when stucco or stone parts are used for the repair.

In the face of a quickly dwindling supply of fixable fragments, it took little imagination to segue to the clandestine production of newly made antiquities. Many well-documented cases of detected forgeries, along with extant letters from the Quattrocento questioning the authenticity of an object offered for comemntarii, dispel doubts that counterfeiting as we understand it today was operative in the fifteenth century, even though this type of production necessarily operated in the shadows.

At issue here is the depth and breadth of its practice, which is ghiebrti least in some way directly proportionate to the robustness of the art market, then and now. One particularly lively case in point is contained in a letter to Lorenzo the Magnificent from his agent Nofri Tornabuoni dated 21 Juneconcerning a potential transaction with a Roman dealer by the name of Giovanni Ciampolini.

Although a previously purchased gemstone from Ciampolini was considered to be bogus, Nofri found himself in the uncomfortable position of not revealing this to Ciampolini, lest an insult should derail the promise of a presumed authentic antique gem then in the offing.

Messer Luigi tells me that Your Magnificence replied to his brother in such a way that you suspected that Ciampolini wanted to show you the moon in the well. Ghibrrti, according commentairi Vasari, Ghiberti counterfeited antique coins.

Once again, an cpmmentarii on behalf of Lorenzo the Magnificent, cojmentarii Nofri Tornabuoni and Giovanni Ciampolini, provides the ghlberti of this particular kind of practice. Likewise, connoisseurship meets the same level of challenge, to evaluate the style of an object that has been earnestly pretending to be something else for hundreds of years.

Rather it is the very powerful paradigmatic models of art-historical investigation established by the generation of early twentieth-century scholars who in most instances held a vantage point more sensitive to the collecting commentarii of the dynamic than to that of production and supply.

For these scholars, the synthetic recapitulation of antiquity, in its texts and objects, defined Renaissance culture as it evolved commfntarii the course of the fifteenth century. Based on the notion that antiquity had been available in varying archaeological measure, the aggregate of normative values was tamed into a comfortable theoretical framework that, in itself, further defined the period. And in one fatally auspicious moment it succeeded. This is why the mediaeval concept of the antique was so concrete and at the same time so incomplete and distorted; whereas the modern one, gradually developed during the last three or four hundred years, is comprehensive and consistent but, if I may say so, abstract.

And this is why the medieval renascences were transitory; whereas the Renaissance was permanent. He acknowledged the necessary relationship between humanism and the visual arts, locating the seeds of the Quattrocento revival of antiquity in the time and circle of Petrarch.

And if you compare to them what is produced nowadays, it will be evident that their authors were superior in natural genius and more knowing in the application of their art. When carefully observing ancient buildings, statues, reliefs, and the like, the artists of our commentwrii are amazed. I knew a sculptor in marble famous in his craft among those living in Italy, particularly as far as figures are concerned; him I have often heard hold forth cmomentarii the statues and reliefs which he had seen in Rome with such admiration and reverence that, in merely relating it, he seemed to get beside himself with enthusiasm.

Lorenzo Ghiberti

Once so I was toldwhen in the company of five friends he passed by a place where images of this commetarii could be seen, he stayed behind and looked at them, enraptured by their artistry; and he kept standing there, forgetful of his companions, until they had proceeded five hundred paces or more. Krautheimer used the letter more as an example of the difference between humanists and artists, and that it took a special combination of humanist-collector to figure in the interchange with practising artists.

But the very fact that Giovanni Dondi was spending this kind of time in the company of artists, and participating in a dialogue with them, suggests that this exchange was already taking place.

Panofsky tackled the big questions, brilliantly, but the sheer power of his abstract construct has perpetuated investigation and analysis in kind, mainly having to do with emulation, borrowing and reformulation of antique motifs and styles, or at its most recent extreme, that of a complete internalization. As such, other avenues of inquiry have not been so vigorously pursued and research opportunities have been overlooked.


Their expertise in discerning authenticity derived as much from experience with actual antiquities, sought, collected and restored, as from newly manufactured ones, since they were also the logical suppliers of bogus antiquities, of sufficient quality to fool astute collectors. Ghiberti was in a position to understand the dynamic from multiple points of view, as were a handful of other fifteenth-century artists who were also collectors, such as Donatello, Squarcione and Mantegna.


In the third section of I Commentarii, Ghiberti undertook to extrapolate theoretical and practical components for the practice of sculpture, concerning himself mainly with principles of light and optics. Although presumably left unfinished at his death, this last section is more than six times the length of the first section and more than ten times the length of the second.

And, despite its theoretical nature and ambition, near the very beginning are four essentially narrative passages derived from allegedly personal experiences with antiquities. In the very structure of his treatise Ghiberti creates the relationship between pre- existing ancient works and contemporary manufacture.

Even a cursory reading of these passages underscores the intimacy with which Ghiberti interacted with ancient objects. Further, these testimonies have been excised from the larger text and put to service in the modern collation which attempts to explain in concrete terms the ideology of the early Renaissance. However, when considered in their manuscript context, the placement of these passages in the third Commentary is odd because, as exempla of the theoretical issues Ghiberti undertook to record, they are poorly contrived.

And then there is the issue of their order. In the third Commentary, though, there is an obvious enallage wherein Ghiberti chose a chronological order that is substantially reversed. Ghiberti begins with his so-called personal witnessing of the discovery of a Hermaphrodite in Rome c. This is followed by the story of the Venus in Siena, which he knew only from a drawing he saw c.

In doing so, the meta-narrative is guised as memory, obfuscating the theme that unites the four passages, one which is directly associated with collecting and the marketplace as it existed. Significantly, in each case, the artist as intermediary is a critical component of the formula. When the anecdotes regarding the statues are read in an essentially reversed order, they function as a transition from historical narrative to theoretical and practical considerations, astutely critiquing the marketplace while at the same time providing the exempla, as it were, for the finding, fixing and faking of antiquities.

The Siena Venus … it was found in the city of Siena, for which a great festival was held. The experts considered it a marvelous work, and on the base was written the name of the master, who was a most excellent artist, whose name was Lysippus. It had one leg raised and that on which it rested was a dolphin. This statue I have seen only in a drawing by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, one of the greatest painters of the city of Siena, which was kept with the greatest care by a very old friar of the order of the Carthusians.

The friar was a goldsmith — as his father had been — and was called Fra Jacopo [del Torchio]. He was a draughtsman and took great pleasure in the art of sculpture.

He undertook to tell me how the statue was found during the digging of a foundation where the houses of the Malavolti stand, and how all the experts, and those learned in the art of sculpture, the goldsmiths, and the painters ran to see this statue of such wonder and art.

Everyone admiring praised it; to each of the great painters that were in Siena at the time it appeared to be of the greatest perfection. With much honour they set it on their fountain as a thing of great eminence. All flocked to place it with great festivities and honors and they set it magnificently above the fountain. In the place it reigned for a short time. As the country had met with much adversity in a war with the Florentines, the flower of their citizenry assembled in council.

One citizen arose and spoke in this vein of the statue: Consider how idolatry is forbidden by our faith. We must believe that God sent us all our adversities because of our errors. And see the result, since we have honored this statue, always we have gone from bad to worse. I am sure that as long as we have it in our territory we shall always come out badly. I am one of those who would advise taking it down, destroying it entirely, and smashing it and sending [the pieces] to be buried in the land of the Florentines.

In this event Ghiberti calls attention to several ideas which are then developed further in the other anecdotes. First of all, antiquities can be discovered, that is, excavated, turning up out of nowhere. Second, the antique was highly valued, even excessively so, as indicated by its privileged installation. The modern reader must be critical, at least as critical as Ghiberti would have been if only on the basis of Pliny, and ask the obvious question: The answer is nil, with a similar result were it a marble Roman copy.

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