In 1401, the wool merchant’s guild sponsored a competition for artists to create a relief panel depicting the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham for the east doors of the baptistery in Florence. Many artists entered their panels into the competition, but only two of the panels entered have survived. These are the panels of the winner, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and the runner-up, Filippo Brunelleschi. Both Ghiberti and Brunelleschi’s panels have a humanist theme, in that both panels emphasize the human form. Brunelleschi’s panel focuses more on the action of Abraham, and the angel halting the thrust of Abraham’s knife into the throat of Isaac. Ghiberti’s panel focuses on the postures and the form of the human body. Due to Ghiberti’s use of two pieces of cast bronze, perspective, and focus on the form, his design was chosen for the east doors of the Florence Baptistery.
I like how Ghiberti decided to focus on the poses for each of the figures rather than focus on the dramatic action; much like Brunelleschi did with his panel. The figures of Abraham and Isaac in Ghiberti’s panel are displayed in classical poses based off of Gothic statuary, with Abraham’s outthrust hip being an example. What I also find quite interesting about Ghiberti’s panel compared to Brunelleschi’s, is that Ghiberti chose to render Isaac as a muscular nude in the classical sense, rather than a skinny man in a loincloth, as Brunelleschi did in his panel. Ghiberti’s use of space also makes his panel work with the subject matter. Whereas Brunelleschi uses quite a flat planar approach in his panel, Ghiberti uses spatial illusion to create a three dimensional plane on the flat surface of the panel. And while I will admit that Brunelleschi’s panel is interesting to look at, I simply find Ghiberti’s panel to be more successful with its composition.
Below is Brunelleschi’s version of Sacrifice of Isaac.
Kleiner, Fred S. “Gardener’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History”. 13th Edition Vol. 2 pg.542-544