|THE MAIN VESTIBULE|
DEMIDOFF MALACHITE URN
DRAWN BY DURIN PRINTED BY CHAMPENOIS
|MOSAIC FRIEZE, VESTIBULE. FROM A DESIGN BY LAMBERT.|
The Vestibule, entirely exposed, is a lofty chamber roofed with colored glass. It is lined and floored with choice marbles. No part of the architects' task has been performed in a manner so entirely grave and noble as this monumental chamber. It suggests ancient Roman building in the way it unites simplicity with enduring dignity. Every accessory is of a classical and almost Latin type, and it seems the realization of those modes of stately decoration of which the specimens survive in certain devastated chambers revealed by the spade of the excavator in Rome or Pompeii. From this room the collector's mania, the intrusion of magnificent trifles, has been rigorously kept out. Every object is adapted to last a thousand years. The mosaic frieze which runs below the cornice, by Pacchina, of Venice, represents classical children, or children posed in the classical manner, who stand or sit in encircling wreaths of ivy-plant; these figures, constructed of small marble dice of the appropriate colors, are inlaid upon a ground of gold mosaic, which lends an additional light to the portion of the wall most shadowed by the cornice and furthest from the eye. Of all contrivances for enriching an architectural lining or groundwork, nothing has been invented so satisfactorily splendid as this chequerwork of gold protected between two thicknesses of glass; the breaking-up of the surface into little cubes adds to the beauty, conferring a sort of warp and woof upon the flatness of a masonwork surface, and suggesting in distant effect a sort of velvet or tapestry executed in gold; it is a very old device, perfectly well known to the Romans and even to the Assyrians, and revived in the present century with great acceptance.
|FIGURE FROM THE GHIBERTI GATE.|
DESIGNED BY KREUTZBERGER.
The walls, of polished colored marble from the old Roman quarries in Africa, are perfectly flat from surbase to cornice, except for certain bosses of bronze which stud them at small intervals; three rows of these chiselled bronze studs are counted on the middle portion of the wall, while a series of large ones, each almost as broad as a shield, occupy a range below the mosaic frieze, spacing the divisions of an inlaid marble pattern. Lamps protrude from the walls overhead, enclosed in lanterns of bevelled crystal in square gold frames. There are tables set against the walls, of yellow marble or giallo antico, on griffin supports suggesting the often-imitated table in the House of Rufus in Pompeii. The marble bench against the west wall, facing the entrance, is of harmonizing design. These, with the central Vase next to be described, form the only furniture of this stone chamber.
|A CORNER IN THE VAULTED VESTIBULE. |
F'ROM A DESIGN BY GOUTZWILLER.
This Vase, in the catalogue of the Demidoff sale, was called the "Medici Vase." There was no justification for this, except that the Demidoff estates near Florence were Medici property once. The Prince's country-seat of the Pratolino, in the vicinity of the city, is an ancient resting-place of the Medici, in whose ground is seen the colossal figure executed for them by John of Hologna, and representing the Appenines.
In the southern wall of the Vestibule open the Ghiberti Gates, cast in bronze from the originals at Florence, and overlaid with gold. The subjects on these famous Gates may be considered as historical rather than religious, and as not interfering, therefore, with the classical rule so severely applied to the apartment.
The old Florentine sculptor never had the chance to see how his inimitable design would look in the precious metal. He would scarcely have been afraid of the added splendor, considering the luxurious taste then beginning to creep into Italy, and would probably have been apt to demand the gilding of his Gates, in order that they might glow with hardly a diminution of glory even when Giotto's bell-tower swept them with its shadow. Except for this enhancement of the surface, we have here a copy of Ghiberti's work, strict and complete, comprising even the fruit-garlands on the jambs, and being even improved in altitude by a modest addition of blank panels at the base. A projecting cornice over them, necessary for the architects purpose, is a rich maze of non-committal geometric ornament, throwing back the bas-reliefs into perspective without venturing to add any definite architectural order to the conception of Ghiberti. The "Gates of Paradise," so called from Michael Angelo's exclamation, "Son tanto belle che starebon bene alle porte del Paradiso," were executed from 1427 to 1447, by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The ten panels, whose subjects were selected by the famous Leonardo Bruni, are all taken from the Old Testament. The borders which frame these panels contain in little niches twenty-four statues of prophets and other Bible personages. These statues are separated from each other by twenty-four disks encircling as many heads of larger scale and incomparable spirit, mostly portraits of eminent personages of the artist's time. Ghiberti represents among them his father-in-law Bartoluccio, and also, in one of them, his own likeness.
|SKYLIGHT OK VESTIBULE. FROM A DESIGN BY KREUTZBERGER.|
The "Gates of Paradise" are not only an extraordinary anticipation of all that decorative sculpture has found out since, but they have never been approached in merit in our own time.
The treatment of bas-relief, alto-relief and detached sculpture all together, so that each scene has the effect of a rich picture in full aerial perspective, was an innovation of this ancient artist's, executed with such overmastering good taste as to make itself a canon of art. Before his time, and in any other man's hands, it would have been a fault thus to combine the planes of distance in sculpture. But Lorenzo succeeded, and broadened by his audacity the liberties of his art. No ancient example gave him warrant for this peculiar combination. He created a style, in these magnificent subjects, by studying what remained of Roman sarcophagi, and embroidering, behind the detached figures so suggested, backgrounds in which he not only merely absorbed all suggestions of the painting-schools in his day, but distanced and surpassed them. The panels have been called "pictures," by some never-satisfied purists of the modeler's art. Let them be so, and what "pictures" can be found of Ghiberti's date which approach them in opulence, grace and Composition ? In every way, these wonderful Gates are worthy of the most humble and prolonged study. Besides their purely sculptural grandeur, the decorative composition is a concentration of all that the renaissance discovered in arrangement and selection. The borders with the niches catch the light in three different degrees, for the protruded heads, for the niched figures, and for the flat ornaments; enriching with three kinds of emphasis and variety of shadow the mere plan of the ornament, which of itself would make a most beautiful drawing. Every portion is a marvel of invention and thinking, even to the external fruit-festoon, increasing in relief from the flat plants at the bottom to the projecting fruits and birds with entirely detached wings which seek the less perfect light at the cornice. The Ghiberti Gates here installed, a masterpiece of Barbedienne's casting, were exhibited at Paris, with so many other wonders, in 1878.
|THE GHIBERTI DOOR|
GATES OF PARADISE