Donatello

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Donatello

Donatello (dŏnətĕl´ō, Ital. dōnätĕl´lō), c.1386–1466, Italian sculptor, major innovator in Renaissance art, b. Florence. His full name was Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. In his formative years he assisted Ghiberti in Florence with the bronze doors for the baptistery. By 1406 he had begun to work on the cathedral. His marble David (Bargello, Florence) still echoed the Gothic form, but his St. Mark (Orsanmichele, Florence) and St. John the Evangelist (cathedral mus., Florence) mark a turning point toward a new humanistic expression. His St. George (now in the Bargello) is a striking portrayal of ideal youth. Even more important is the accompanying scene, St. George and the Dragon (c.1416), a pioneering attempt to work out a system of perspective.

During the next decade, he worked on the famous scene Salome for the Siena baptistery, which he completed in 1427. He invented a technique known as schiacciato (shallow relief), in which he ingeniously achieved effects of spatial depth. During that period he carved several prophets for the Florentine Campanile, including the Zuccone (Baldhead), a vibrant characterization. In 1430–32, he went to Rome with Brunelleschi and became one of the first Renaissance artists interested in ancient monuments. Reflections of classical putti (male infants) can be found in his rendering of the lively cherubs in the Singing Gallery (1433–38, cathedral mus.) and in the pulpit at Prato. Classical influence is also evident in his bronze David (c.1432, Bargello), one of the earliest freestanding nude figures of the Renaissance.

In demand throughout Italy, Donatello was invited to Padua in 1443, where he stayed for 10 years as the head of an enormous workshop. He designed the equestrian statue of Gattamelata (1447–53) and the high altar for Sant' Antonio (1446–50). Upon his return to Florence, he carved the acutely expressive Magdalen (c.1460?, baptistery), which was greatly damaged by the flood of 1966. In his last years he worked on the pulpits of San Lorenzo, creating a magnificent series of reliefs. He was one of the most influential painters and sculptors of his time. Most of his works have remained in Florence, but a good representation can be seen in London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Two examples of his work can be found in American collections, an unfinished David (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.) and the Shaw Madonna (Boston Mus.).

See studies by F. Hartt with photographs by D. Finn (1973) and by J. Pope-Hennessy (1994); Donatello and His World (1994) by J. Poeschke.

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