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Donatello (c. 1386-1466 CE), full name Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, was an Italian Renaissance artist best known for his sculptures such as the striking bronze figure of David now in the Bargello museum of his native Florence. Donatello was influential in popularising the classicizing style where Renaissance artists looked to the surviving works of antiquity for inspiration. The sculptor was particularly interested in giving his art a sense of perspective. Other works by Donatello which influenced later artists include his marble Saint Mark for the Orsanmichele in Florence, the shallow bronze relief panels for both the baptistery of Sienna and the altar of Sant' Antonio Basilica in Padua, and the Gattamelata equestrian statue in Padua.

Early Life

Donatello was born around 1386 CE in Florence, the son of a wool-carder. Not a great deal of his youth is known except that he was involved in a fight with a German and hit him on the head with a club. This inglorious beginning happened in Pistoia in 1401 CE. Very little else about Donatello's private affairs for the rest of his life is known and, like many other great Renaissance artists, we must come to know the man through his works.

Donatello was particularly interested in both Classical sculpture & linear perspective, & both of these approaches influenced other artists.

The young artist is known to have studied surviving examples of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, both full figures and relief panels such as those commonly carved on Roman sarcophagi. Donatello first appears in the artistic record of the Renaissance between 1404 and 1407 CE as an apprentice or assistant to Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455 CE) who famously produced the bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence.

Donatello was soon working in his own right and was commissioned to create sculptures for the exterior of Florence's cathedral. The sculptor was given space for his workshop in one of the Duomo's chapels for that purpose. Figures carved for this project, which continued on and off for over 15 years, included Jeremiah and an unnamed prophet, both of whom were so realistically portrayed that they were considered actual portraits in later periods. Another of these figures represented St. John the Evangelist (1408 CE) while, always eager to explore new media and techniques, the sculptor made a giant terracotta statue of Joshua for the cathedral c. 1412 CE, but this, unfortunately, has now been lost.

Donatello's celebrated marble figure of Saint Mark, in contrast, was sculpted between 1408 and 1413 CE for Florence's Orsanmichele hall. The larger-than-life-size figure is given a sense of movement by having the torso twist away from the lower body (contrapposto) while the folds of St. Mark's right leg are carved in such straight perpendicular lines that they remind of a classical column. Another work of this period is a marble statue of Saint George, completed c. 1415 CE (see below). Next came four marble statues of prophets for the city's campanile and then a gilt-bronze figure of Saint Louis of Toulouse for the refectory of the San Croce church in Florence (1422-25 CE). The latter's heavy gilding was perhaps intended to create the illusion that the figure was cast from solid gold.

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Donatello was by now well-established as one of the foremost sculptors in Italy and was commissioned in 1418 CE to produce a sandstone sculpture of the Florentine lion - the Marzocco - for the stairs of the papal apartments in the Santa Maria Novella monastery. Another prestigious project was the group of bronze statuettes for the facade of the cathedral in Sienna. The same city's baptistry received a bronze relief panel, The Feast of Herod, and several statuettes of angels between 1425 and 1429 CE.

Michelozzo Partnership

Donatello moved to Rome around 1430 CE and spent the next two years studying more examples of ancient sculpture. This did not mean he left artistic projects elsewhere as from 1425 to 1434 CE Donatello shared a workshop with the architect, sculptor, and goldsmith Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396-1472 CE) in Pisa and Florence. The two artists saved funds by sharing two boats and a mule for the transportation of marble. Not having much cash despite his talents, Donatello (at least in his tax returns) indicated that he had to share a house and maintain his aged mother, widowed sister, and crippled nephew. The artist claimed he owned nothing except materials and tools needed for sculpting. Donatello and Michelozzo frequently worked together on pieces, notably the tomb of the anti-Pope John XXIII, Baldassare Cossa. This gilded and marble memorial was created between 1421 and 1428 CE and is to be found in the baptistery of Florence. The works attributed to the two artists can be difficult to positively identify in terms of who did what but suggestions that Michelozzo was a mere accountant in the partnership is put in doubt by the surviving records of his frequent poor management of debts and the numerous related court cases brought against him.

The Influential Sculptures

In the early 1440s CE (according to some art historians), Donatello was commissioned to produce a statue of the Biblical hero David, slayer of the giant Goliath, by the Medici family in Florence. It is now considered amongst his greatest works (see below).

Donatello's figure sculptures were famous for their lively & twisting bodies which invite the viewer to explore different views of the work.

The sculptor moved to Padua around 1443 CE and there produced an impressive equestrian statue known as the Gattamelata ('honeycat'), the title by which the mercenary leader (condottiere) Erasmo da Narni (1370-1443 CE) was known. The bronze statue is 3.4 metres (11 ft.) tall and is the first known example of its type to be produced since antiquity. The piece strongly reminds of the statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill of Rome. As was a common practice with artists when working on monumental metal sculptures, Donatello had a team of experts to do the initial casting from the terracotta or wooden model pieces. Completed c. 1453 CE, work was interrupted several times because of disputes over the artist's final fee, and this despite Erasmo da Narni having left in his will a sum for just such a commemorative project. The Gattamelata statue stands in the Piazza di San Antonio of Padua, the town which Erasmo served in when it was under the control of Venice.

Remaining in Padua until 1453 CE, Donatello produced a sculpted altarpiece (now dismantled) composed of various saints around the Virgin and Child. This work, which took a decade to complete, was composed of almost life-size and free-standing bronze figures all under a single architectural canopy. The idea of such a group influenced painters and became known as the 'Sacra Conversazione'. Some of the artist's best work employing precise perspective using only shallow relief was produced in his silver and gilt bronze panels for the high altar of the Basilica Sant' Antonio in Padua. The Miracle of the Mule, for example, was created between 1446 and 1453 CE and shows a crowd before an altar and three arched alcoves which give the illusion of real depth to the scene. One of a group of panels Donatello created for the altar, it measures 123 x 57 cm (48 x 22 inches) and tells the story of a mule recognising that Christ was indeed present in a consecrated host (the doctrine of Transubstantiation).

Donatello spent the remainder of his career working in either Florence or Sienna. Works produced included St. Mary Magdalene, which is a wooden figure then gessoed, painted, and gilded. Sienna cathedral received a figure of St. John the Baptist, while a gilded bronze representation of Judith and Holofernes (although this may be an earlier work) once stood in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence but is now in the Palazzo Vecchio. The sculpture, meant to be admired from any angle, captures Judith about to decapitate the Assyrian general Holofernes with a wicked-looking scimitar and so save the Jewish people. The statue's pedestal once carried an inscription which included the line 'Kingdoms fall through luxury, cities rise through virtues' which reminds that art had a political purpose as well as an aesthetic one.

Finally, one of Donatello's last and finest works, commissioned by Cosimo de Medici il Vecchio, was the group of bronze relief panels for the two matching pulpits of the San Lorenzo church in Florence. The panels appear on two matching pulpits and narrate, amongst other New Testament episodes, the Passion of Christ but were still unfinished when Donatello died in 1466 CE. The panels have figures bursting out of the overall scene by placing some behind and others in front of the architectural columns which act as the work's frames. The panels are an indicator that the great sculptor, even at the very end, was still striving to achieve new effects in his work and challenge the viewer to decide where and when a work of art really began and ended.

Reputation & Legacy

Donatello was particularly interested in both classical sculpture and linear perspective and both of these approaches influenced other Florentine artists in the 15th century CE during the opening phase of the Renaissance known as the quattrocento. Technically accomplished and innovative, Donatello's work was particularly admired in his own lifetime. His relief panels were praised for their use of perspective even if they were carved with a shallow depth, a technique known as 'flattened relief' or rilievo schiacciato. Additionally, by moving between Rome, Florence, and Padua, Donatello spread new ideas on perspective construction to fellow artists such as Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506 CE). Meanwhile, Donatello's figure sculptures were famous for their lively and twisting bodies (figura serpentinata) which invite the viewer to explore different views of the work by walking around it. Another strength of the master sculptor was the expressiveness of his statues' faces. These features of Donatello's work and his passion for reinventing classical imagery would influence later Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo (1475-1564 CE) and Raphael (1483-1520 CE).


Saint George

Donatello's marble statue of St. George was commissioned by the guild of armourers and swordsmiths and completed c. 1415 CE for the Orsanmichele in Florence. The figure, standing 209 cm (82 inches) tall, wears a cloak and grasps a large shield which rests at his feet. Donatello's skill has ensured George seems just about to step off the plinth with his tensed rear leg pushing back and his tightened right fist (perhaps once holding a sword) also making him seem poised for battle with the dragon. The work is now in the Bargello, Florence.

Saint George & the Dragon

St. George killing the dragon is a marble relief produced by Donatello c. 1415 CE and an excellent example of the artist's mastery of scientific perspective. Originally placed on the plinth below the statue of the saint mentioned above, the panel measures 120 x 39 cm (47 x 15 inches). Showing a mounted St. George spearing the dragon while a princess looks on, it is a classic example of Donatello's search for realising accurate perspective in stone or metal, as here summarised by the art historian K.W. Woods:

This was probably Donatello's first venture in what has come to be known as rilievo schiacciato (squashed relief), in which he relied not so much on a contrast between high and low relief to create the illusion of spatial recession but on a far more complicated use of undercutting, textures, incised lines and limited variations of depth carving in what was essentially an extremely low relief. The principal figures appear flattened rather than conventionally modelled. It gives an unprecedented impression of spatial depth, turning a relief into a sort of carved picture. This form of relief carving is probably Donatello's most celebrated technical innovation. (116)


The bronze David by Donatello (or could he really be Hermes/Mercury?) was created while the artist was in Rome, sometime in either the 1420s or 1440s CE (art historians can not agree). The piece was commissioned by the powerful Medici family to stand in the very centre of the courtyard of their new palazzo in via Larga in Florence. Donatello's celebrated bronze figure, which measures 158 cm (62 inches) in height, has the appearance of a Greek youth (ephebe) from classical sculpture, although its erotic overtones remind, too, of ancient figures of Eros/Cupid. In contrast, David's posture is entirely modern with the nudity made yet more stark by the presence of an extravagant garlanded hat and knee-length boots. A second contrast is the languid stance of David while he nonchalantly has one foot on the severed head of the giant. Donatello has chosen to show David's weapon as a great sword rather than the more usual sling. Originally, the statue had gilded elements such as the hair and stood on a pedestal which carried the following inscription in Latin:

The Victor is whomever defends the fatherland.

All powerful God crushes the angry enemy.

Behold, a boy overcame the great tyrant.

Conquer, O citizens.

(Welch, 211)

Both the inscription and the subject, then, reminded the people that like David who defeated Goliath, Florence was nobly fighting a more powerful enemy, in this case, Milan. The figure is now in the Bargello, Florence.

Mary Magdalene

The c. 1456 CE Mary Magdalene shows an aged figure and is indicative of Donatello's preoccupation in his later years with capturing dynamic poses but leaving the sculpture with a rough finish. Carved from wood which was then hollowed out from behind and painted in subdued colours (now mostly lost), the figure seems surprisingly modern with its perfect combination of pleading gesture and ragged clothes. The work, which stands 188 cm (74 inches) tall, now resides in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence and it is a lasting testimony to what Donatello and other great artists of the Renaissance were now aspiring to; the sacrifice of technical perfection in order to achieve a powerful artistic effect.

Donatello - Biography and Legacy

It is common thought that Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (generally known as Donatello) was born in 1386 in Florence to Niccolo di Betto Bardi. However, the date is conjectural, based on a declaration of income submitted by the artist in 1433, stating his age at 47. He received his childhood education in the house of the Martelli family, one of Florence's richest families.

Donatello's father was part of the wool guild Arte della Lana, which was one of seven major guilds in 14 th century Florence. Florence's system of governance was nominally democratic, with the guilds playing an important role in the running of the city. The guild was headquartered in the Palazzo dell' Arte della Lana, which was linked by a gallery to the church of Orsanmichele, a former marketplace whose transformation into a church was paid for by the city's guilds. The church's exterior ornamentation would later provide Donatello one of his most important commissions.

Early Training and Work

Like other Florentine sculptors such as Lorenzo Ghiberti and Benvenuto Cellini, Donatello received his early artistic training in the workshop of a goldsmith. His first major exposure as an artist arrived when he competed for the famous 1401 competition for the design of the Baptistery doors in Florence. Afterwards, he worked for a brief period of time in the studio of Ghiberti, winner of the Baptistery door competition, whose influential workshop provided training for a number of young artists.

From 1402-1404, Donatello studied with his friend and colleague Brunelleschi. According to Brunelleschi's biographer Antonio Manetti (who wrote his account during the life of both artists), the pair travelled to Rome, where they excavated and studied the ancient ruins there. This time marked the beginning of the Humanist movement in Florence, which favored the classical art of ancient Greece and Rome over the stiff and formal style of the Medieval and Gothic periods. Donatello and Brunelleschi were the first to systematically study ancient ruins for inspiration. Donatello funded this time of artistic exploration by working as a goldsmith.

In his influential account of Renaissance Florence, Lives of the Artists (1550), Giorgio Vasari specifically highlights the friendship between Brunelleschi and Donatello. Although some historians now doubt the attribution of dates, Vasari tells the story of Donatello carving a wooden crucifix for the Santa Croce church (now dated to c.1412-13). The lifelike and moving work depicted Christ as a real rather than idealized figure, with an emotionality and expression in direct opposition to the customary flat iconography of the time. This was revolutionary and would become a key characteristic of Early Renaissance artists. This led Brunelleschi to say that Donatello had carved a peasant. In an attempt to do better, he carved his own wooden crucifix (now dated to c.1410) and invited Donatello over for dinner, casually leaving his work displayed "in a good light." When Donatello came in, he dropped the food he was carrying, causing Brunelleschi to ask, "What are you about, Donatello? How are we to dine when you have dropped all the things?" "I," said Donatello, "have had enough. If you want anything, take it. To you it is given to do Christs, and to me peasants."

The first clear historical reference to Donatello is found in 1406, when he received a payment for a work of sculpture. Between 1406 and 1408, Donatello also assisted Ghiberti with statues for the north door of the Florence Baptistery. He was then commissioned to execute the large-scale figure of Saint John the Evangelist, which he worked on between 1409 and 1411, a work which significantly marked the transition in art from the late Gothic to the Early Renaissance.

After the success of this work, Donatello began to receive more significant commissions, including two important sculptures for the guild church of Orsanmichele, which had been a noted part of his childhood. He became known as the first sculptor during this period to utilize the new concepts and techniques derived from the Early Renaissance period's incorporation of mathematics, science, and architecture into art including one point perspective, anatomical accuracy, and even created a signature form of bas-relief for his carvings to emphasize depth and three-dimensionality. He also collaborated with other artists, including Michelozzo with whom he worked on a funerary monument, once again in Florence's Baptistery.

Mature Period

Around 1430, Donatello found himself under the patronage of Cosimo de' Medici, the head of the most powerful family in Florence which was known to be a great patron of the arts. Cosimo commissioned the artist to produce a bronze sculpture of David (a symbolic figure for the city of Florence), which resulted in the first free-standing nude statue made since antiquity.

Some critics have speculated, because of the perceived homoerotic elements in Donatello's David, that Donatello himself may have been gay. Very little is known about Donatello's personal life, but he never married or had children. Anecdotes attributed to Angelo Poliziano in 1480, sometime after Donatello's death, infer that Donatello had eroticized relationships with his apprentices, claiming that he employed only beautiful young men and "stained" them so that no one else would want them.

In 1433, Cosimo de'Medici was imprisoned and then exiled from Florence by a faction of rival families. In the absence of his patron, Donatello travelled to Rome and reinforced the classical influence on his work. He returned to his home city the following year, along with Cosimo, and began work on projects for Florence's Duomo and the cathedral in nearby Prato. This marked a period of significant maturity and success for the artist. As Vasari recalled, "He was most liberal and courteous, and kinder to his friends than himself nor did he care for money, keeping it in a basket hanging from the ceiling, where his workmen and friends could help themselves without saying anything to him."

Late Period

Although he had worked in Florence for most of his life, in 1443 Donatello was summoned to Padua in order to sculpt a funerary monument for the condottiero Erasmo da Narni, who was known as Gattamelata (honey-cat). His equestrian statue was the first of its kind since antiquity. Although the work was well received in Padua, Donatello insisted on returning to Florence.

He spent the rest of his years there, setting up a workshop with apprentices, where he continued to receive financial support from Cosimo de' Medici. According to Vasari, when Cosimo died, he asked his son Piero to continue to care for Donatello, and Piero accordingly gave Donatello a farm in Cafaggiuolo. However, although the artist was initially pleased, he found the rural life too domestic for him, so he returned the land and received a monetary allowance instead, and "passed all the rest of his life as friend and servant of the Medici without trouble or care."

The Legacy of Donatello

Donatello and his innovations in perspective and sculpture during the Early Renaissance contributed greatly to the overall foundation of what would become the flourishing Italian Renaissance. This included the earliest recognized works of Renaissance sculpture, which moved firmly away from the late Gothic style that had predominated before. His revolutionary work, particularly in his representation of the human body, would go on to inspire the early Italian Renaissance painters, including Masaccio, whose paintings in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence in particular mark a turning point for pictorial art in Europe. Donatello also made a significant mark in Padua, where he worked briefly, particularly on Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), who was an important figure in the development of the Venetian Renaissance. He influenced and taught a number of sculptors, including Nanni di Banco.

Donatello's place in history was affirmed by Vasari in particular, who claimed, "He may be said to have been the first to illustrate the art of sculpture among the moderns." His appeal has been long lasting, even making its way into contemporary popular culture. For example, as the namesake to one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles alongside other Renaissance stars Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael.

When and where was Donatello born?

Donatello was born somewhere in 1386 in Florence, Italy. His full name is Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. In actual sense, “Donatello” was not his real name. It was a nickname that he acquired growing up in the city of Florence.

Donatello’s father was Niccolo di Betto Bardi. Niccolo was a very vocal member of the Wool Combers Guild in Florence.

Growing up, Donatello had a very rugged lifestyle. The records show that on January 1401, Donatello was involved in a heated exchange with a mate of his. The exchange resulted in his mate getting a cut, Donatello was the perpetrator.

It is believed that his toughness came from his father. Niccolo di Betto Bardi could be very temperamental and sometimes explosive in nature. He was part of the workers who revolted in the early 1400s. For some period, he had to commit himself to exile because there was murder allegation against him.

3. His Apprenticeship Placed Some Of His Work On The Florence Baptistery

In 1403, after leaving the goldsmith’s workshop, Donatello apprenticed in the studio of artist Lorenzo Ghiberti. There he learned both traditional gothic techniques and the hints of early Renaissance development. By the age of seventeen, he was already taking independent commissions. Due to his relationship with Ghiberti, Donatello assisted in creating the north doors of the famous Baptistery of Florence.

North doors (panel detail) of Florence Baptistry by Lorenza Ghiberti, Museo deli’Opera del Duomo

Private life

Donatello did not marry, choosing instead to live with other artists and his many young workshop assistants. According to some historians, Donatello made no secret of his homosexuality, and his behavior was tolerated by his friends. Ώ] Donatello's bronze life-sized David, which he produced for Cosimo de' Medici, was one of the most overtly homosexual works of its era. Its sensuous nudity is emphasized by the young David's calf-length ornamented leather boots and curly tresses.

Frequently, violent outbursts would result from Donatello's passionate entanglements. For example, when one of his assistants ran away, Donatello is said to have chased him as far as Ferrara with the intention of killing him. ΐ] However, little detail is known with certainty about his private life. No accusation against him has been found in the Florentine archives. Α]

Donatello’s David

Perhaps Donatello’s landmark work – and one of the greatest sculptural works of the early Renaissance – was his bronze statue of David. This work signals the return of the nude sculpture in the round figure, and because it was the first such work like this in over a thousand years, it is one of the most important works in the history of western art.

The work was commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici for the Palazzo Medici, but we do not know when during the mid-fifteenth century Donatello cast it. It was originally placed on top of a pedestal in the center of the courtyard in the Palazzo Medici, so the viewer would be looking up at it from below (unlike the view we typically get of it in photographs).

David is shown at a triumphal moment within the biblical storyline of his battle with the Philistine, Goliath. According to the account, after David struck Goliath with the stone from his slingshot, he cut off his head with Goliath’s sword. Here, we see the aftermath of this event as David stands in a contemplative pose with one foot atop his enemy’s severed head. David wears nothing but boots and a shepherd’s hat with laurel leaves on top of it, which may allude to his victory or to his role as a poet and musician.

Before Donatello’s work, David was typically depicted as a king, given his status in the Old Testament. Here, however, we have a stark change in the way David is depicted. Not only is he shown in the nude, but he’s also a youth. In Middle Ages, nudity was not used in art except in certain moral contexts, such as the depiction of Adam and Eve, or the sending of souls off to hell. In the classical world, nudity was often used in a different, majestic context, such as with figures who were gods, heroes, or athletes. Here, Donatello seems to be calling to mind the type of heroic nudity of antiquity, since David is depicted at triumphal point in the biblical narrative of his victory over Goliath.

As for David’s youthfulness, Donatello has gone back to the early life of the biblical David to depict him, rather than to his later life as a king. It seems that Donatello is trying to associate David’s youth with an innocent and virtuous life. David looks young here – so young, in fact, that his muscles have barely developed enough to hold the large sword – that his victory over his foe is all the more improbable. Could David’s victory have been gained without divine intervention? Donatello’s work seems to imply that the answer is “no” – the victory was God’s rather than man’s.

In any case, Donatello’s David is a classic work of Renaissance sculpture, given its Judaeo-Christian subject matter modeled on a classical sculptural type. It was revolutionary for its day – so much so that it did not get copied right away. The idea of the life-sized nude sculpture-in-the-round evidently took some time to sink in and become an acceptable statue type.

Donatello Artworks

The precise date for this early work by Donatello is not known, but between 1408-1415 the artist worked on this large-scale marble figurative sculpture depicting Saint John the Evangelist. Typically depicted as a young man, Donatello decided to portray the apostle as an aging prophet, holding the Bible, which was a departure from legend toward a more humanizing rendition. While the top half of the sculpture still represents an idealized point of view, the subject's facial expression is carefully considered, and the sculpting of the legs and hands points to a more realistic figuration. Donatello pays attention to the anatomy of the saint's legs, even though they are hidden under his robes, demonstrating a new preoccupation with representing the body with accuracy and naturalism. The work was displayed in a niche in the façade of the Duomo Cathedral in Florence, a project that brought together works by some of the city's most important artists over the course of two centuries.

This sculpture is seen as an important step away from the Gothic style that predominated in Florentine (and European) art at this point. Moreover, Donatello shows a new understanding of the requirements of perspective, compensating for the fact that viewers would see the sculpture from below and therefore making the body disproportionately longer than the legs. As the curator and art historian Daniel M. Zolli points out, Donatello was aware that the base of the sculpture would be set approximately four feet above human height: "Not only are John's proportions far closer to nature when observed from this angle, but his presence is much more formidable: the fabric of his raiment hangs heavily from the frame of his body, and the whole composition organizes itself into a stable pyramid."

Marble - Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

St George

Donatello was commissioned by the swordmakers' and armorers' guild to carve this sculpture of their patron saint, St. George, for a niche on the exterior of the church of Orsanmichele in Florence. The work is a life-sized depiction of the saint standing atop a marble panel which is carved to illustrate the famous mythical moment when George slayed the dragon. Although the work was meant to reflect the Florentine spirit of holding strong against all adversaries, Donatello's meticulous rendering of the emotionality of the face also betrays a distinct vulnerability and softness. This expertise in portraying emotion, as is also seen in his equestrian statue of condottiero Erasmo da Narni, was a signature technique of the artist toward humanizing subjects that would traditionally be presented in a more idealized fashion.

The work marks an important moment in the development of sculpture because Donatello brought back the ideals of classical sculpture and married them with a new realism, departing boldly from the prior Gothic mannerism. The marble panel at the base is also an important work of art in its own right. It is a key early example of a bas-relief made using the principles of linear perspective, which was infiltrating painting at the time. The shift from empirical perspective to linear perspective is one of the key discoveries that contributed to the development of Renaissance art. Donatello would have been familiar with the experiments with perspective drawn by his friend Brunelleschi, and his skill was to apply them to the challenging medium of bas-relief carving.

Marble - Bargello Museum, Florence

Bust of Niccolo da Uzzano

Niccolo da Uzzano was an important figure in Florentine politics in the early decades of the 15th century, who acted as a respected intermediary figure between the city's powerful rival families. Donatello produced the bust (although its authorship is sometimes contested) soon after Uzzano's death in 1433. It was the first half-bust of a private citizen produced since antiquity.

Donatello's use of carefully molded terracotta clay, the unusual facial expression, and the choice of polychrome paint all suggest that this was intended to be an accurate portrait of an individual, rather than an idealized image representing an abstract concept of leadership or virtue. Donatello's craft emphasizes Uzzano's humanity and personality in a way that had not previously been seen, or felt credible in art. Yet alongside the Humanist movement in Florence at the time, artists were transitioning to a more authentic rendition of people, whether royal or plebian, that emphasized genuine expression.

The Florentine Renaissance expert Irving Lavin argues that presenting the figure as a half-bust is key to its power and highlights Donatello's revolutionary approach. By cutting off the figure at the bust and avoiding traditional presentation on an elaborate plinth, Donatello suggests that this is a true portrait, and a mimetic representation of a real human being: "The arbitrary amputation specifically suggests that what is visible is part of a larger whole, that there is more than meets the eye. By focusing on the upper part of the body but deliberately emphasizing that it is only a fragment, the Renaissance bust evokes the complete individual - that sum total of physical and psychological characteristics that make up the "whole man"."

Painted terracotta - Bargello Museum, Florence


In the early 1430s, Donatello's friend and peer, Brunelleschi, was finalizing his ambitious design for the dome of Florence Cathedral. The Opera del Duomo, which was the body responsible for decorating and maintaining the building, turned its attention to interior decoration. They commissioned Luca della Robbia to design one of the internal organ lofts, and then, in 1433 when Donatello returned from Rome, they immediately commissioned him for the other.

Donatello's project contrasted greatly with della Robbia's. Whereas della Robbia's divided the cantoria's panels into separate scenes illustrating the different verses of Psalm 150, Donatello's consisted of a continuous narrative that flowed around the three visible sides of the loft. This resulted in a sense of animation and movement for the viewer. What also made his work innovative was its inspiration taken directly from the classical friezes and ancient sarcophagi he had encountered in Rome.

The work also reflects Donatello's mastery of sculpture and his signature techniques, cultivated to manipulate the viewing experience. As the art historian Timothy Verdon notes, "the sculptor's design took carefully into account his cantoria's principle light source: mere feet below the work was a group of torches and candles elaborately ordered atop an architrave". Instead of polishing the marble to a customary sheen, Donatello left parts rough so that when hit by the candlelight coming up from below, various shadows, textures, and points of luminosity would add another element to the overall composition. It is interesting that Donatello took such pains over the materiality of marble in this work, as it was the last major commission that he completed in this medium.

Marble - Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence


This small but exquisite bronze is one of Donatello's most famous works. It is a five foot, freestanding bronze sculpture of David, from the classic story David and Goliath. He stands in contrapposto, a traditional classical stance of bearing more weight on one leg than the other. Instead of being depicted as a powerful man, he is presented as a young, nude boy wearing an unusual hat wreathed with laurels (a motif of victory), and a pair of elaborately gilded boots. This unconventional arrangement, combined with the figure's long hair, delicate features, and slim figure make the work a provocative, coquettish and effeminate piece. Another strange factor is that one wing of Goliath's helmet is considerably longer than the other, and points up the figure's leg to the groin. The work has been a key touch-point for arguments over Donatello's sexuality.

These speculations aside, Donatello's David is important both in technical terms and in terms of the artist's treatment of his subject matter. It was the first free-standing male nude sculpture produced since antiquity, and controversial for a non-pagan, biblical figure. Beyond the bold reintroduction of the nude in art, art historian Dr. Beth Harriet also pointed out about this Early Renaissance period, "sculpted figures have finally been detached from architecture and are once again independent in the way that they were in ancient Greece and Rome. And because he's freestanding, he's more human, more real. He seems able to move in the world, and of course the contrapposto does that too. It's easy to imagine this figure in the Medici palace garden, surrounded by the ancient Greek and Roman sculpture that they were also collecting." Indeed, due to its small stature and location, the statue was designed to evoke an intimate experience for visitors of the family.

Bronze - Bargello Museum, Florence

Magdalene Penitent

Donatello's life-size depiction of Mary Magdalene wandering through the desert in penitence is one of his most moving works. The level of realism and emotionality achieved by the artist was unprecedented. Like with many of his works, Donatello veered from legend and preconceived notions about his subject and depicted Magdalene as an old, starving woman rather than the more common young and beautiful nude fed by angels. He cloaked her in either her own hair or a hair shirt, emphasizing her complete renouncement of her former life as a prostitute. Even though, art historian Bess Bradfield points out, "The bare flesh of the saint is exposed as much as it is hidden by this hair. "

In this work, Donatello emphasizes the humanity of biblical characters, presenting Mary Magdalene as a relatable figure to be pitied and admired on a human level as a well as idolized on a saintly level. The use of wood demonstrates Donatello's facility with multiple materials, and in this stunning choice, the grain of the wood helps to create the agonized texture of the saint's skin. The work was also painted, adding an unprecedented level of detail and realism, especially seen in the whites of the eyes and the pupils.

The 16 th century biographer Giorgio Vasari saw this work when it was situated in Florence's Baptistery, and he commented: "a statue from Donatello's own hand can be seen, a wooden Saint Mary Magdalene in Penitence which is very beautiful and well executed, for she has wasted away by fasting and abstinence to such an extent that every part of her body reflects a perfect and complete understanding of human anatomy."


Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (most people just called him Donatello) (1386 – December 13, 1466) was an Italian artist during the Renaissance. He lived in Florence and was very famous because he was one of the best sculptors of his times. He used special sort of sculpture technique, or way of doing things, called 'shallow relief', which made his work look very real.

He was the son of Niccolo di Betto Bardi, and was born in Florence. His mother's name is not known. When Donatello was older, he studied with Filippo Brunelleschi the architect. He also helped the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to make statues for the Battistero di San Giovanni. Some of Donatello's most famous works are statues of Mary Magdalene and a life-size statue of David.

Donatello was one of the greatest Italian Renaissance artists. He influenced the renaissance by his new and improved way of international gothic sculpture. “International gothic, a style of graceful, softly curved lines strongly influenced by northern European art” He was serious at his work which has worked successfully through the decades. Donatello accomplished his work because of the detail he would put into every piece.

“For Donatello made his figures in such a way that in the room where he worked they did look half as well as when they were put in their places”. He always put effort and his sculptures were magnificent. He inspired a lot of artists like “Doum” and his art increased in popularity. Most of his work was inspired by ancient sculptures. He was the first sculptor of his time to celebrate the human body, an idea that had died since Greek and Roman times.

Donatello was a very unique and talented person. He inspired many upcoming artists during the renaissance. “Donatello early works was still partly gothic in sculpture”. He was a very intelligent and clear. He knew a lot about medieval times, and would try to convert his knowledge into sculpture. “Here, for the first time since classical antiquity and in striking contrast to medieval art”. Most of his work was fancy and marvelous he would usually sculpture for mid-class and higher citizens.

He was a detailed and wide ranging knowledge, “Donatello was a master of sculpture in both marble and bronze, one of the greatest of all Italian renaissance artist they had". His work was inspired by ancient visual sculpture examples. He increased in the form of ancient art.He was also a realist which was an artist whose work was characterized by realism. “Though he was a traditionally viewed as a realist later research indicates he was much more”. He would support the measure of artist freedom, in the renaissance. “Donatello seemingly demanded a measure of artist freedom”. His way of international gothic influenced European art.

Donatello is a talented and all-round artist Florence. He influenced the Renaissance by his Gothic style. Most of his art was elegant and stylish. He would softly and gently curve the sculptors which had a great turning effect. He was an impressive artist and one of the greatest who influenced Europe in the renaissance.

Later Works

Much of Donatello's later work manifests his understanding of classical art, for example, the bronze David in the Bargello, a preadolescent boy clothed only in boots and a pointed hat. This enigmatic figure is in all probability the earliest existing freestanding nude since antiquity.

From 1443 to 1453 Donatello was in Padua, where he created the colossal bronze equestrian monument to the Venetian condottiere called Gattamelata in the Piazza del Santo. It was the first important sculptural repetition of the 2d-century equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. Donatello portrayed Gattamelata as the ideal man of the Renaissance. Another major commission in Padua was the high altar of S. Antonio, decorated with four large narrative reliefs representing the life of St. Anthony, smaller reliefs, and seven life-sized statues in bronze, including a seated Madonna and Child and a bronze Crucifixion. Donatello had earlier made remarkable experiments with illusionistic space in his large stucco medallions for the Old Sacristy of S. Lorenzo in Florence now his major bronze Paduan reliefs present an explosive conception of space with sketchy figures and a very excited continuous surface. The influence of these scenes on painters in northern Italy was to prove enormous and long lasting.

Back in Florence, the aged Donatello carved a haunting, emaciated Mary Magdalen from poplar wood for the Baptistery (1454-1455). Romantically distorted in extreme ugliness, the figure of the penitent saint in the wilderness originally had sun-tanned skin and gilding on her monstrous hair. In 1456 Donatello made an equally disturbing group in bronze of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. Now in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence, it was originally commissioned, apparently as a fountain, for the courtyard of the Medici Palace.

At his death on Dec. 13, 1466, Donatello left two unfinished bronze pulpits in S. Lorenzo, Florence. On one are relief panels, showing the torture and murder of Christ by means of distorted forms and wildly emotional actions. Finished by his pupil Bertoldo di Giovanni, the pulpit scenes reveal the great master's insight into human suffering and his pioneering exploration of the dark realms of man's experience.

Donatello - History

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