summary of donatello
Donatello would be known as the most important sculptor to resurrect classical sculpture from its tomb in antiquity, through a reinvigorated style that departed from the flat iconography of the Gothic period. led the way by introducing a new aesthetic in line with the burgeoning movement of the time towards Renaissance humanism, a movement that emphasized a departure from medieval scholasticism and favored a deep immersion in the humanities, resulting in an art that was no longer focused only in the secular realm. of religion, but explored man’s place in the natural world. Donatello’s realistic and highly emotive works would establish him as one of the most influential artists in 15th-century Italy and an early forefather of the Italian Renaissance.
- Donatello’s work was greatly influenced by the revival of interest in science, mathematics, and architecture that was taking place in Florence. this included the use of one-point perspective to create a new type of bas-relief for architectural works and a precise anatomical correction for the figures of it.
- The figure was a central point of mastery for the artist and, in fact, he was the first to reintroduce nude sculpture. By adding realistic proportions, emotionality, and expression to his subjects, whether they be mythical, historical, or everyday people, he created works that conveyed genuine reality over the idealized images of yesteryear.
- Donatello was a prolific master of many media, including stone, bronze, wood, stucco, clay, and wax. he was the first to illustrate the art of sculpture among modern artists. his versatility and ingenuity would lay the foundation for many future sculptors seeking to discover new possibilities in materiality.
the life of donatello
important art of donatello
biography of donatello
it is common to think 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 an income statement filed by the artist in 1433, which puts his age at 47. He received his childhood education from him in the house of the Martelli family, one of the richest families in Florence.
donatello’s father was part of the arte della lana wool guild, which was one of the seven most important guilds in 14th century florence. Florence’s system of government was nominally democratic, and guilds played an important role in the running of the city. the guild had its headquarters in the palazzo dell’arte della lana, which was linked by a gallery to the church of orsanmichele, an old market whose transformation into a church was paid for by the city’s guilds. The exterior ornamentation of the church would later provide Donatello with 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 a goldsmith’s workshop. His first major exposure as an artist came when he entered the famous 1401 competition for the design of the doors of the Baptistery in Florence. He then worked for a brief period in the studio of Ghiberti, winner of the Baptistery Door competition, whose influential workshop provided training to several young artists.
Between 1402 and 1404, Donatello studied with his friend and colleague Brunelleschi. According to Brunelleschi’s biographer Antonio Manetti (who wrote the account of him during both artists’ lifetimes), the couple traveled to Rome, where they excavated and studied the ancient ruins there. This era marked the beginning of the Humanist movement in Florence, which favored the classical art of Ancient Greece and Rome over the rigid, formal style of the Medieval and Gothic periods. Donatello and Brunelleschi were the first to systematically study ancient ruins for inspiration. Donatello financed 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 singled out the friendship between brunelleschi and donatello. Although some historians now doubt the dating, Vasari tells the story of Donatello carving a wooden crucifix for the Church of Santa Croce (now dated c.1412-13). The moving, realistic work depicted Christ as a real rather than an idealized figure, with an emotionality and expression in direct opposition to the usual flat iconography of the time. this was revolutionary and would become a key feature 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 c. 1410) and invited Donatello to dinner, casually leaving his work displayed “in good light.” When Donatello walked in, he dropped the food he was carrying, prompting Brunelleschi to ask, “What are you doing, Donatello? How are we going to have dinner when you’ve dropped all your stuff?” “I,” said Donatello, “have had enough. If you want something, take it. It is given to you to make Christs, and to me peasants.”
The first clear historical reference to Donatello is found in 1406, when he received payment for a piece 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-format figure of Saint John the Evangelist, which he worked between 1409 and 1411, a work that significantly marked the transition in art from the late Gothic to the early Renaissance.
After the success of this work, Donatello began receiving more significant commissions, including two major sculptures for the Orsanmichele Guild Church, which had been a prominent part of his childhood. became known as the first sculptor during this period to use the new concepts and techniques derived from the incorporation of mathematics, science, and architecture into art in the early Renaissance period, including one-point perspective, anatomical precision, and he even created a signature form. bas-relief carvings on him to emphasize depth and three-dimensionality. He also collaborated with other artists, including Michelozzo with whom he worked on a funerary monument, once again at the Florence Baptistery.
period of maturity
around 1430, donatello found himself under the patronage of cosimo de’ medici, the head of florence’s most powerful family who 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, due to 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, shortly after Donatello’s death, infer that Donatello had eroticized relationships with his apprentices, claiming that he employed only beautiful young men and “tarnished” 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 traveled to Rome and reinforced the classical influence on his work. he returned to his hometown the following year, along with cosimo, and began working on projects for the florence duomo and the cathedral in nearby prato. this marked a period of great maturity and success for the artist. As Vasari recalled, “He was extremely liberal and courteous, and kinder to his friends than himself; he didn’t care about money either, keeping it in a basket hanging from the ceiling, where his workers and friends could help themselves without saying anything to him.” “
although he had worked in florence most of his life, in 1443 donatello was called to padua to sculpt a funerary monument for the condottiero erasmo da narni, known as gattamelata (honey-cat). the equestrian statue of him was the first of its kind since ancient times. 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 taking care of donatello, and piero gave donatello a farm in cafaggiuolo. however, although the artist was initially pleased, he found rural life too domestic for him, so he returned the land and received a monetary allowance in its place, and “spent the rest of his life as a friend and servant of the Medici without problems”. or attention.”
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 burgeoning italian renaissance. this included the first recognized works of Renaissance sculpture, which were a strong departure from the Late Gothic style that had predominated before. His revolutionary work, particularly in its depiction of the human body, would inspire 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 left a significant mark on 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 several sculptors, including nanni di banco.
Donatello’s place in history was affirmed by Vasari in particular, who stated that he “was arguably the first to illustrate the art of sculpture among the moderns.” The appeal of him has been enduring, even making its way into contemporary popular culture. For example, as the namesake of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles along with other renaissance stars Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael.