Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti was born in Pelago, near Florence, Italy, in 1378 (the exact month and day of his birth are unknown). He was well-trained by his father, Bartoluccio Ghiberti, a well-respected goldsmith in Florence. In 1392, he was admitted to the “Silk and Gold” Guild as an apprentice, and quickly rose to the level of master goldsmith. In 1400, he traveled to Rimini to escape the plague in Florence and received further training as a painter, working on wall frescoes at a Castle.

Ghiberti’s career would be dominated by 2 major works, 2 sets of doors for the Baptistry of Florence. Ghiberti won a contest to receive the work, submitting one panel showing the story of the sacrifice of Isaac from the bible. Originally the doors were planned to show scenes from the Old Testament, but then changed to 14 scenes from the life of Christ in framed panels. It took over 20 years to complete the doors. Each panel is strikingly detailed and are cast in 3D (remember this is in the 1400s; so no power tools or computers!)

During that time, Ghiberti also created the designs for the stained-glass windows of the Florence cathedral, and served as architectural consultant to the cathedral’s building supervisors. He also cast bronze sculptures including a larger than life sized statue of John the Baptist and bronze reliefs for another baptistry.

After completing the doors, he spent the next 10 years traveling and studying art and philosophy, he was especially inspired by Humanism. (A Renaissance cultural movement that turned away from medieval focus on the divine in favor of the Greek and Roman views of man, his struggle and thought and the goodness found in everyone.) Lorenzo Ghiberti incorporated these techniques into the baptistery’s next set of bronze doors, which are considered his greatest work. Dubbed the “Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo, each door portrays five scenes from the Old Testament. In the individual panels, Ghiberti used a painter’s point-of-view to heighten the illusion of depth. He also extended that illusion by having the figures closer to the viewer extend outward, appearing almost fully round, with some of the heads standing completely free from the background. Figures in the background are accented with barely raised lines that appear flatter against the background, making them appear farther from the viewer.

Throughout his career, Ghiberti was actively interested in other artists’ work; his workshop was a gathering place for several prominent artists who were on the cutting edge of early Renaissance technology. Whether through collaboration, competitive rivalry or just familiarity with each other’s work, each artist influenced the other. Several apprentices working in his shop would later become well-known artists themselves.

Ghiberti was also a historian and collector of classical artifacts. In his Commentarii, a collection of three books that included his autobiography (the earliest surviving autobiography of an artist.), he expounded on the history of art as well as his theories on art and humanist ideals. After a life of building the foundation of Renaissance art and expanding its boundaries, Lorenzo Ghiberti died on December 1, 1455, at the age of 77, in Florence.

Simplified Biography:

Here is a simplified biography for lower grades. Please son’t feel you have to read either of these word for word, use the information and tailor it to what you think is best for your class.

Lorenzo Ghiberti was born in Italy, in 1378, the exact month and day of his birth are unknown because that is a really long time ago! His father was a goldsmith, who is someone who makes things out of gold. You can imagine that this was a pretty respected profession. Ghiberti was very talented and became well-known for his work. When he was in his 20s, he won a contest to make special doors for a very famous church in Italy. He made scenes out of gold from Christ’s life, then later made another set showing scenes from the bible. These were so detailed and so much work, it took about 20 years to make each set!

Ghiberti also made statues out bronze, another type of metal. A few of these were larger than life sized, like the one in the picture of John the Baptist. Imagine how much work it took to make these back in a time when there weren’t computers, power tools or even electricity to help! Look at the intricate detail.

Another thing that was special about Ghiberti was that he was very interested in other artists. He built a large studio that was a gathering place for many of the most talented artists of the early Renaissance. Many famous artists studied and developed under his care.


Today we will create foil reliefs (a raised or embossed design) that mirror Ghiberti’s work. His panels were cast in bronze, which is a complicated process, requiring the artist to sculpt the piece out of clay or wax, they use that scultpure to make a mold which is then filled with molten (hot melted) bronze. We will be carving a pressed sheet of aluminum. You will want to make sure to follow the steps carefully to get the best result for your relief.

1. Draw a preliminary sketch: artists do this to prepare for a new project. It allows you to get all the details where you want them before creating the final piece. You won’t be able to erase on the foil, so get things how you want them in sketch. You will trace over your sketch to emboss the design on your foil.

2. Lay the piece of foil on a cardboard square, then lay your drawing on top. Grades 4-6 can flip the foil over to create a design with raised and lowered lines. For the younger grades, it is probably best to keep it simple and just trace the design. Use the wooden sticks on the cart, one end is pointed for fine lines (Tell the kids to be careful, if they press too hard they could tear through.) The other side can be used to make thick lines or emboss an area. *If you pick up your drawing to check the foil, make sure you carefully line it back up before you start tracing again! (We do have a few extra, but encourage kids to work with what they’ve got. If it feels like it is an emergency, you can give them a new one.)

3. After you have finished your relief, you can mount it on the card stock square provided. Apply the glue to the paper so that it doesn’t accidentally mark the foil (Don’t get too much glue!). It is a good idea to center the foil and then make a few light marks so you know where to put the glue. Then gently lay the foil on top and lightly press it down.