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GAPAMET - Gates to Paradise


  • Project duration : 2022 – 2024
  • Project leader : Marianne Mödlinger
  • Project team members : Judith Utz, Martin Fera (2022–2023), Serhii Makhortykh (2022–2023)
  • Cooperation partners (Art History) at IMAREAL : Heike Schlie
  • Funding : FWF – Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung [P 34477-G]
  • Homepage : www.gates-to-paradise.com
  • Follow us on Twitter : @GAPAMET


Gates to Paradise: Bronze Doors of the 11th and 12th Century

Doors are and were mostly made of wood; only in special cases were they made of bronze in the past. In antiquity, for example, these were selected doors in temples or palaces. This tradition was consciously continued in the Middle Ages, especially by the church. Here, the doors, which were usually decorated with pictorial representations of biblical scenes, still had a liturgical-ritual significance, as they were also regarded as gates to paradise. The bronze doors still preserved today represent the only surviving complex of large bronzes from the Middle Ages in Europe; most of them date to the 11th-12th centuries.

Around 25 bronze doors from this period have survived: 22 in Italy, three in Germany and one each in Russia and Poland. All doors are made of different copper alloys and by the lost wax process; they could be cast as a whole, or individual metal fittings were attached to a wooden support. Some doors have inlays of various materials that allowed the coloured depiction of different biblical scenes or saints.

In previous art and cultural historical studies of the bronze doors, little attention was paid to the manufacture itself and the interaction between the material and the images. Comprehensive material analyses of all the doors on site now make it possible for the first time to answer questions about their manufacture, the choice of materials and the significance of the materials.

The interdisciplinary project investigates in Austria 1) which materials and techniques were used to make the doors; 2) how and which craftsmen, artists and commissioners were involved in the making process; and 3) how materials used and the pictorial representations on the doors together create meaning.

European bronze church doors from the 11th – 12th century. *Italian Byzantine doors; doors: no.s 1-22; door handles: no.s 23-24. Further doors are known from Germany (Augsburg, Mainz, Hildesheim), Poland (Gniezno) and Russia (Novgorod).

The project team after finishing the documentation and analysis of the bronze door of the main portal of the Troia Cathedral, Apulia, Italy.

Methods used include 1) three-dimensional photographic recording of the doors, documenting their relief structure for further study; 2) non-destructive chemical analysis to identify the alloys used; 3) dendrochronological analysis to identify and date the wood types used, providing important information about restorations, additions and the use of local woods.

3D models of the doors and the open access publication online of both the photographs and the analysis results allow comprehensive access to a closed corpus of material from anywhere for the first time. Here, the project is integrated into the data systems at IMAREAL as well as in the development of digital tools.

In the questions of what role the material “bronze" played in the 11th and 12th centuries, how the material was activated for the liturgical and symbolic functions in church construction and what material knowledge is recognisable, the project connects with the research perspective “Materialities" at IMAREAL. A connection to the research perspective “Object Links" is given by the investigation of the connections between the doors themselves, as well as the networks of the corresponding cities and workshops.

Rectified image of the main portal of the Troia Cathedral, Apulia (left) and a detailed image and 3D model of the door handles in the shape of a dragon (right).


Session at the International Congress on the Study of the Middle Ages, Leeds (IMC 2023, 03 – 06 July):

Linking Medieval Bronze Doors: Making, Sensing, Documentation

Tuesday 4 July 2023: 11.15-12.45

Organiser:  Marianne Mödlinger, Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit, Paris-Lodron-Universität Salzburg / Dipartimento di Chimica e Chimica Industriale, Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy

Chair: Judith Utz, Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit, Paris-Lodron-Universität Salzburg 

Heike Schlie, Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit, Paris-Lodron-Universität Salzburg:

The Iconology of Technique and Material in Medieval Bronze Doors

Martin Fera, Novetus GmbH, Wien:

Image-based Metric and Semantic Modelling of Medieval Bronze Doors

Thomas Kaffenberger, Département d’histoire de l’art et d’archéologie, Université de Fribourg:

Artistic Creativity and Cultural Emulation: The Medieval Church Doors of Svaneti, Georgia

Technical and iconographic similarities point to a very close connection between the 27 today still-preserved bronze doors from the 11th-12th century in Europe. Within the international project “Gates to Paradise” funded by Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (P 34477-G), we aim to trace these networks through interdisciplinary approaches, comprising material analyses, art history, archaeology, and visualise them through high-resolution documentation of all doors. We will not only reveal connections between doors, workshops, artists and the materials used but also entanglements between the object and the viewer and/or believer: doors were closely integrated into the performance of the liminal space through their localisation at the portal.

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