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Spotlight Artist: Donatello

September 13, 2019

 

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c. 1386 – 13 December 1466), better known as Donatello (Italian: [donaˈtɛllo]), was an Italian Renaissance sculptor from Florence. He studied classical sculpture and used this to develop a complete Renaissance style in sculpture, whose periods in Rome, Padua and Siena introduced to other parts of Italy a long and productive career. He worked with stone, bronze, wood, clay, stucco and wax, and had several assistants. Though his best-known works were mostly statues in the round, he developed a new, very shallow, type of bas-relief for small works, and a good deal of his output was larger architectural reliefs.

 

While undertaking study and excavations with Filippo Brunelleschi in Rome (1404–1407), work that gained the two men the reputation of treasure seekers, Donatello made a living by working at goldsmiths' shops.[2] Their Roman sojourn was decisive for the entire development of Italian art in the 15th century, for it was during this period that Brunelleschi undertook his measurements of the Pantheon dome and of other Roman buildings. Brunelleschi's buildings and Donatello's sculptures are both considered supreme expressions of the spirit of this era in architecture and sculpture, and they exercised a potent influence upon the artists of the age.

 

In Florence, Donatello assisted Lorenzo Ghiberti with the statues of prophets for the north door of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, for which he received payment in November 1406 and early 1408. In 1409–1411 he executed the colossal seated figure of Saint John the Evangelist, which until 1588 occupied a niche of the old cathedral façade, and is now placed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. This work marks a decisive step forward from late Gothic Mannerism in the search for naturalism and the rendering of human feelings.[3] The face, the shoulders and the bust are still idealized, while the hands and the fold of cloth over the legs are more realistic.

 

Around 1430, Cosimo de' Medici, the foremost art patron of his era, commissioned from Donatello the bronze David (now in the Bargello) for the court of his Palazzo Medici. This is now Donatello's most famous work, and the first known free-standing nude statue produced since antiquity. Conceived fully in the round, independent of any architectural surroundings, and largely representing an allegory of the civic virtues triumphing over brutality and irrationality, it is arguably the first major work of Renaissance sculpture. Also from this period is the disquietingly small Love-Atys, housed in the Bargello.

Statue of St. George in Orsanmichele, Florence

Some have perceived the David as having homo-erotic qualities, and have argued that this reflected the artist's own orientation.[4] The historian Paul Strathern makes the claim that Donatello made no secret of his homosexuality, and that his behaviour was tolerated by his friends.[5] The main evidence comes from anecdotes by Angelo Poliziano in his "Detti piacevoli".[6] This may not be surprising in the context of attitudes prevailing in the 15th- and 16th-century Florentine republic. However, little detail is known with certainty about his private life, and no mention of his sexuality has been found in the Florentine archives (in terms of denunciations)[7] albeit which during this period are incomplete.[8] Actual details of Donatello's relationships therefore remain speculative.

(excerpt from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatello)

 

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Essential Questions

  • Why is his work particularly significant?

  • He worked in a variety of media.   How do artists choose tools, techniques, and materials to express their ideas?

  • To what extent can we learn Renaissance culture and/or society based on their artwork?

 

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