Gold Ambition

A set of thirty-four thousand pound gold doors might seem extravagant, but in the early Renaissance, they signified everything that made up Florentine commercial and creative pride. Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise are evidence of the flourishing and competitive art market at the time, as the commercial atmosphere in Florence allowed for an ever-growing number of commissions. In his book “The Renaissance,” Paul Johnson writes that “the standards of craftsmanship demanded and provided in late medieval, early Renaissance times were of a quality inconceivable to the modern age…” In fact, Ghiberti and his workshop worked on these doors for twenty-seven years, and he, like many other prominent artists, were given all the support of the government and wealthy patrons. The panels, depicting Biblical scenes, show the stylistic innovations up to that point in time, including schiacciato relief, linear perspective, and an overall realism that was to develop later in the Renaissance.

The gold folding screens of the Kano school also emerged when the art market started catering to a wider audience that wanted more decorative art, in part, to reflect their bourgeois lifestyle. Just as the previous Renaissance work, the Kano style coexisted, to some degree, with religious institutions, though it adapted to new tastes. The Old Plum, for example, was originally located in a Zen temple and depicted Chinese themes on the other side. These golden folding screens sometimes would have occupied entire walls, offering an impressive sight to anyone who entered. Wealthy patrons exploited the awe-inspiring quality of gold as a manifestation of their power and influence, whether as a set of doors or a paper-thin screen.