Most people rush into Saint Peter's Basilica paying scant, if any, attention to the magnificent bronze door in the central portal. Apart from its intrinsic beauty, the door is one of the few works of art which links the new church with the old.
The door is the masterpiece of the Florentine goldsmith and architect, Antonio di Pietro Averlino (c. 1400-c. 1469), better known as il Filarete ('the lover of virtue'). It was commissioned by Pope Eugenius IV (r. 1431-47) and executed between 1433 and 1445.
Each of the door's two wings is divided into three panels. The six panels depict: Christ Enthroned (top left), the Virgin Enthroned (top right), Saint Paul, Pope Eugenius IV receiving the keys from Saint Peter, the Condemnation and Beheading of Saint Paul, the Condemnation and Crucifixion of Saint Peter.
Between the six panels are four horizontal strips depicting events during the papacy of Eugenius IV.
I particularly like the strips of foliated decoration, which make up the borders of each wing. Into the twisting garlands of flowers and leaves, Filarete adds tiny scenes from mythology.
At the back of the door (bottom right) there is a strip of bronze, which depicts Filarete leading his assistants in a sort of dance. The figures are flanked by a man on a donkey and a man on a dromedary. No one has yet come up with an explanation for their presence.
For a 'lover of virtue', Filarete left Rome under somewhat of a cloud. In 1448 he was expelled from the Eternal City for trying to steal the head of Saint John the Baptist!
In 1620, on the order of Pope Paul V, two panels of bronze were added at the top of Filarete's door, in order to bring its height into conformity with the size of the new portal.