FERDINAND BARBEDIENNE (French, 1810 - 1892) after
LORENZO GHIBERTI (Italian, 1378 - 1455)

The Story of Joseph
From the Second Baptistery Doors, Florence ("The Gates of Paradise")

Signed at the lower right of the principal relief: F. BARBEDIENNE FONDEUR

Bronze relief set in a wooden frame
27 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches
(70 x 70 cm.)



(Joseph Cast by His Brethren into the Well, Joseph Sold to the Merchants, The merchants delivering Joseph to the pharaoh, Joseph Interpreting the Pharaoh's dream, The Pharaoh Paying him Honor, Jacob Sends His Sons to Egypt and Joseph Recognizes His Brothers and Returns Home

Nine Bronze reliefs set in to a wooden frame 27 ½ s 27 ½ inches overall (70 x 70 cm)

The present work is a half-size reduction of nine panels from the famous Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti, made for the Baptistery of Florence and now housed in the Museo del Opera del Duomo. The central scene is one of the most remarkable, The Story of Joseph, comprised of seven episodes from the Biblical narrative integrated into one composition. The surrounding reliefs –two vertical figures in niches, two recumbent figures, and four portrait heads in roundels – are as well faithful reductions of Ghiberti’s original bronzes on other parts of the doors. The maker of these casts was the renowned nineteenth-century French fondeur Ferdinand Barbedienne, Gary Radke has recently written of this great enterprise: 1 The Parisian bronze caster Ferdinand Brabedienne began making half-sized copies of ancient and Renaissance sculpture in the 1830s. His firm benefitted enormously from the collaboration of Achille Collas, whom Meredith Shedd has shown was one of numerous pioneers in the mechanical reproduction of sculpture. Their competitors largely devoted themselves to reproducing relief sculpture, but Collas devised a process for creating fully three-dimensional copies. A tracing needle, powered by a treadle, moved over the surface of a full-sized plaster cast or bronze of the original and triggered a complementary action in a cutting stylus set over a soft plaster blank….He signed an exclusive contract with Barbedienne on November 29, 1838, and won medals for his inventions in 1839 and 1844. Barbedienne’s half-sized copies of the Gates of Paradise were famous not only for their fidelity to the original, but also for the way their gilding … suggested the glimmering surface that was hidden under centuries of dirt. Some critics even saw Collas’s and Barbedienne’s work as “philanthropic, an exemplary adaptation of industry to the requirements of art, the artist, the workers, and the public alike. At 25,000 francs, Collas’s and Barbedienne’s reduction of the Gates of Paradise was singularly more expensive than any other item for sale in their shop. All the reliefs, individual statuettes, and busts were cast separately and could be purchased either by the piece or as an ensemble. Fittingly, Barbedienne’s accomplishment earned him the Grand Prix at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle, along with numerous other medals. Only two complete examples of the Barbedienne-Ghiberti doors are known. One, first installed in a chapel in the Villa Demidoff of San Donato near Pratolino, was later acquired by William Vanderbilt and installed in his mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York. Following the demolition of that house in 1946, the doors were gifted to the Noble H. Getchell University Library of the University of Nevada in Reno, where they remain. A second set recently appeared in a French auction (Hotel Drouot, Paris, March 12, 2014). Individual scenes, such as the present framed bronze ensemble, were cast to order, but, it would seem that few were actually made. We have found a record of only one other example. As Radke has stated, they were available from Barbedienne’s studio directly. Both the 1886 and 1893 editions of the Catalogue des Bronzes d’art of the Barbedienne Atelier list the “Histoire de Joseph” from the “Porte principale du Baptistère de Florence par Lorenzo Ghiberti” for sale at 700 francs. 


1 Gary Radke, “Ghiberti on Fifth Avenue: The Vanderbilt Copy of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise,” in The Historian’s Eye; Essays in Italian Art in Honor of Andrew Ladis, edited by Hayden B. J. Maginnis and Shelley E. Zuraw (Athens, Ga 2009), pp. 235-246.