Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, mid 15th century. Bronze doors, Baptistery of San Giovanni, Florence.

The Solomon and the Queen of Sheba panel is one of ten panels that make up the great bronze doors to the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. Nicknamed the Gates to Paradise, the door was built between 1424 and 1452 and is about eighteen feet tall. Ghiberti’s panel may be one of the first instances of Solomon and Sheba represented as if exchanging wedding vows.

The panel structure is defined by numerous elements drawn from the classical as well as Gothic architecture. The costumes also mix styles with classical Roman togas and armor next to Eastern turbans and conical hats. These clues of costuming seem to indicate that Ghiberti’s Meeting of Solomon and Sheba is making a subtle reference to the 1439 Council of Ferrara-Florence in which the Latin and Greek churches tried to reach agreement on their doctrinal differences and end the schism between them.  The Eastern Church is metaphorically represented by Sheba, the queen who came to Solomon from the East, while the Western Church is represented by Solomon.

Solomon-sheba-ghiberti

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