God wants to be known through the arts.

Advait Praturi | @AdvaitPraturi

In 1401, a young 23-year-old goldsmith and sculptor entered a competition to design the doorways of a new cathedral in Florence, Italy. He was up against the best artists of his day – young people who had skill, talent and creativity unheard of in those times.  This young man, Lorenzo Ghiberti, won that competition.

As a result, Ghiberti became a young celebrity. For 27 years, he worked on creating his masterpiece, which became one of the trademark pieces of Rennaissance Italy a powerful and important contribution to the art world: the Gates of Paradise.

The Gates of Paradise

The “Gates of Paradise” – a large pair of bronze doors of 10 golden panels depicting 10 Old Testament stories looms over the spectator drawing him or her into the Bible’s origins storyline from the creation of man to the time of Solomon.

This masterpiece re-imagines the beginnings of the Christian narrative in such a captivating way. It leaves you asking, “How in the world could a 23-year-old envision this?”

Now, this beautiful piece of art is right here in Mumbai for us all to see - at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in Byculla until June 3rd. I think if you’re a follower of Jesus – and especially an artist who is a follower of Jesus – you really need to go. 

So let me try and convince you why. This exhibit called, “The Florentine Renaissance: City as the Crucible Culture” speaks directly to the vision Paul had when he visited Ephesus, Corinth and ultimately Rome. Paul knew that cities were going to transform the world. He knew that by his ministry in the cities he could push the gospel through to the ends of the earth, by interacting with artisans, businesspeople, politicians and governors, tradesman, farmers and people from all walks of life. So cities are important. 

According to the co-curator of the exhibition, Dr. Gehrard Wolf, Florence was a city that has always moved between innovation and tradition. One could say the same about Mumbai – a city with a number of innovative start-ups doing everything from app development to composting and with a historical traditional family set-up that dates back for many generations. We are constantly living in the tension between the old world and the next, constantly pressed by the innumerable opportunities that technology offers us and the latent desire within our hearts to honour our families and communities by performing age-old traditions.

Florence was, for all intents and purposes, Mumbai in 1400s Europe.

And in Florence, culture flourished. The Renaissance began. Why? Because wealthy businessmen took it upon themselves to patron and to care for the arts. They funded artists like young Ghiberti. The flourishing of culture was actually a public policy initiative by the Medici family that governed Florence at this time. This is a model for businesspeople and politicians in Mumbai today, to give themselves towards managing the arts through a system of patronage. Businesspeople could fund artists for their livelihood, to host galleries, to procure materials, to publish their works and many other innumerable supports. 

Arts have the potential to reach across history and speak directly to the magnitude and awe of humanity’s collective creativity – art, whether vision, performance or written, is the expression of one person’s soul speaking through whatever medium directly into another person’s soul. So if the gospel, by its nature, speaks to the souls of men and women, then it, by its nature, demands expression through the arts. 

In other words, God wants to be known through the arts. 

On a more fundamental level, the Renaissance allowed the people of Western Europe to reclaim the knowledge they lost during the Dark Ages – a time of death, plague, fear and uncertainty. The Renaissance gave people hope again. The arts gave people a new way to see God and to see themselves. 

 And that is why we should care. The Renaissance gave us a model of how businesspeople and artists worked together to revitalize a country caught in the aftermath of the Dark Ages. It reawakened the arts. It sparked a cultural movement. That movement, that began in small Florence, Italy, changed the course of history for Western Europe, and by extension, the rest of the world.

So go to the exhibit before June 3rd. Check out the sculptures that Ghiberti made. (Small side-note: there is a small building  – a special space – at the back of the museum that most people have ignored. You have to walk out at the back of the exhibit to see it. Some of Ghiberti's treasured sculptures are in that room, so don’t miss it.)

And as you look at each sculpture, remember the Renaissance and what we could do in this city if we collectively worked together to nurture young artists, reach them with the message of hope and transformation in these postmodern “Dark Ages” and reveal their talent and their creativity to a world longing for something meaningful. 

You can reach the author at @AdvaitPraturi or advait@nlfavatar.com