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1000s - Bronze doors from Constantinople     1100s - Italian craftsmen take over    Renaissance postscript






Bronze is an alloy of tin & copper (sometimes also containing a little lead).  Bronze expands and then contracts when solidifying, making it ideal for casting.


Cast bronze can be decorated by such techniques as engraving, inlaying, enamelling, demascening, niello work and gilding.  When used for doors, individual bronze panels or groups of panels can be secured to a wooden frame, or doors can be cast as a single unit.


Bronze is not the same as Brass, which is an alloy of zinc and copper.


Medieval metal furnishings and artworks were particularly vulnerable because of the temptation to melt them down to make other furnishings or, better still, guns.






Rare survivors from the Ancient Rome are the massive bronze doors of the Pantheon in Rome, which date from about 125.  They are not decorated and always in shadow, so you won't find many photos around.


The central doors of Saint Mark's Cathedral Venice originated in Byzantium (Constantinople) a bit later than those of the Pantheon, and were souvenired from there by the 4th Crusade in the early 1200s.






In 1001 Bishop Bernward was so awestruck by what he saw on a visit to Rome for the coronation of Otto III, that he ordered up a pair of bronze doors for the doorway between his abbey church of St Michael and its cloister.  The doors were designed and made in Hildesheim.  Each door was cast in one piece - an extraordinary achievement - and they were hung in 1015.  There are eight bas-relief panels on each door - Genesis on the left and the life of Jesus on the right.  The doors are now in Hildersheim cathedral.


Photo © Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations


Bishop Bernward's Doors - Hildesheim Cathedral (Germany)


Also in Germany - Not bronze, but very old wood and very beautiful - one of the "Cologne Romanesque Churches" - St Maria im Kapitol - has a c1065 set of doors with painted bas-relief wooden panels.


photo source not recorded


Top L to R - The shepherds are told the good news; Nativity scene.

Bottoim L to R:  The Magi ask Herod the way; the Magi find Mary and Jesus.






The earliest "post-Roman" bronze doors now in existence in Italy were also made in Constantinople.  They owe their existence to the merchant Pantaleone of Amalfi, who with his son Mauro ran a profitable Amalfi-Constantinople trading operation.


The first of their door gifts was as you would expect, given to the Cathedral of Amalfi itself.  It was made in Constantinople around 1060 by Symeon of Syria, is still in place, and includes four panels with images of saints in inlaid silver, and remaining panels decorated with crosses.



Amalfi Cathedral Bronze Door

Photo © Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations - more photos



A short distance east from Amalfi is Atrani, where the Church of San Salvatore de Bireto has very similarly patterned doors to the ones above, made in 1087.  This door formed part of the magnificent "Byzantium" exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2008-09.  The exhibition lives on through its coffee table book catalogue.




In 1066, as Gugliemo was subduing the Poms at Hastings, Pantaleone and Mauro had another door made in Constantinople, this time a gift for for the great Abbey of Montecassino.  This door, which is engraved with the names of the possessions and churches of the abbey, survived the destruction of WW II, and is now the middle of three door sets giving access to the church.


Montecassino Abbey Bronze Church Door

Photo from (English) Guide to the Abbey of Montecassino


1070 saw the boys from Amalfi commissioning another Constantinople door from Stavrakios (or maybe Teodoro), this one destined for the Major Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome.  This is a full on narrative door, containing 54 panels of scenes from the old and new testaments, and is now restored and located inside the Porta Santa on the right side of the main facade.



Detail of Bronze Door Panels - San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

Photo from "The Major Basilicas of Rome" by Roberta Vicchi

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The fourth and last of the gifted Byzantine doors dates from 1076, and was destined for the evocative cave sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo in the Gargano.  These doors contain 24 panels depicting a variety of angel episodes from Old and New Testaments and later church and grotto history.



Bronze door panel - Monte Sant'Angelo, Gargano (Puglia)

Photo from "L'Angelo la Montagna il Pelligrino"


Unrelated to the Amalfi merchants, Salerno Cathedral has a set  of  bronze doors acquired from Constantinople in 1099, and further east Benevento Cathedral has a magnificent pair dating from the 1100s.  No photos of these yet.






By the early 1100s the Italians had worked out how to do home made bronze doors.  The oldest survivors seem to be part of the doors of San Zeno, Verona, and the doors made in Melfi in 1111 for the Mausoleum of Bohemond at Canosa Cathedral (North Puglia) (no photos yet). 


The earlier more primitive left had panels and a few of those on the right of the doors of Verona's San Zeno church are thought to have been made in the earlier 1100s.  The balance of the 55 cast bronze panels on the right hand door are of a more sophisticated design and were probably made by a second workshop in the late 1100s.







San Zeno, Verona, Medieval Bronze Door, artist(s) unknown.


Photo from "Great Monasteries of Europe" by Barnard Schütz


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Above and Cologne door details from : 








The bronze doors on the west and south facades of the Cathedral of Troia were made by Oderiso di Benevento between 1119 and 1127.



Troia Cattedrale, Puglia - West door panels including self portrait of the maker, Oderiso



Troia Cattedrale, Puglia - South door panels by Oderiso, with image of the donor Bishop Gugliemo





The Trani master, Barisano da Trani, was responsible for the bronze doors of Trani Cattedrale sixty years later (c1180 and now displayed inside to avoid the sea air of this magnificent crusade harbourside setting).  They include a little artist "self portrait" and the panel depicting Saint George shown below.



Panel depicting San Giorgio - Bronze doors of Trani Cattedrale by Barisano da Trani



La Cattedrale di San Nicola il Pellegrino, Trani - the most magnificent setting for any bronze doors in Italy (and probably the world!)


Barisano also made the main bronze doors for the cathedral of Ravello (no photos yet), and the north doors of Monreale Duomo (near Palermo in Sicily), both of which which he made in Italy in the 1180s.  Barisano used a technique of low relief casting finished by chiselling. 






Monreale Duomo - North Doors by Barisano da Trani - Photo from Cathedral Guide


The main West doors of Monreale, with a much more sophisticated Adam & Eve to Resurrection cycle of Images, were made by a Tuscan - Bonanno Pisano - in 1189. 




Monreale Duomo - West Doors by Bonanno Pisano - sources: guidebook and  unknown





Bonanno Pisano had earlier (1180) done 3 west doors for the Pisa duomo which were tragically destroyed in a fire in 1595.  Not complete tragedy though as our man had also completed a fourth door - for the Ranieri Portal on the east side of the south transept - which is now in the museum.



Photo © Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations


Pisa - Ranieri Portal Door (1180) by Bonnano Pisano





In Abruzzo, just north of Puglia, the bronze doors of the powerful Abbazia di San Clemente a Casauria, showing crosses, abbots, rose patterns and 14 castles the abbey owned, date from 1191.



Panel from the door of the Abbazia di San Clemente in Abruzzo




London's V & A Museum provides an easy way to get to know four bronze doors via very realistic copies - San Zeno (Verona), Ranieri (Pisa), Bishop Bernward (Hildesheim) and Augsburg Cathedral - all contained, unbelievably, in a full scale copy of the late 1100s Pórtico de la Gloria of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.






By the time the Renaissance came round two hundred years later, Italian metalworking had become more commonplace and sophisticated - especially as several of the artistic players had originally trained as goldsmiths.


So for the last photos on this page we chose the greatest bronze door of them all, Ghiberti's East Door of the Florence Baptistery, described by Michelangelo as "The Gates of Paradise".




Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 - 1455 (77))

Self portrait in the Baptistery East Door




Joseph is sold into slavery

Original Baptistery East Door Panel in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence




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