donatello renaissance artwork
The head of Saint John the Evangelist, 1408-1415 which until 1588 occupied a niche of the old cathedral façade, and is now placed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c. 1386 – 13 December 1466), better known as Donatello ( English: / ˌ d ɒ n ə ˈ t ɛ l oʊ /  Italian: [donaˈtɛllo] ), was an Italian sculptor of the Renaissance. Born in 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, with four perhaps being a typical number. 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.
Donatello had nurtured a close and lucrative relationship with Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence. In 1430, the eminent art patron commissioned Donatello to do another statue of David, this time in bronze. This is probably Donatello’s most famous work. The sculpture is fully independent from any architectural surroundings that might support it. Standing a little over five feet tall, David represents an allegory of civic virtue triumphing over brutality and irrationality.
Rapidly maturing in his art, Donatello soon began to develop a style all his own, with figures much more dramatic and emotional. Between 1411 and 1413, he sculpted the marble figure St. Mark, placed in an exterior niche of the Orsanmichele Church, which also served as the chapel of Florence’s powerful craft and trade guilds. In 1415, Donatello completed the marble statue of a seated St. John the Evangelist for the cathedral in Florence. Both works show a decisive move away from the Gothic style and toward a more classical technique.
Donatello was one of greatest Italian Renaissance artists, noted especially for his sculptures in marble, bronze, and wood. His sculpted figures were some of the first since antiquity to represent anatomy correctly—though some late works were slightly exaggerated—and to suggest a sense of individuality.
A pictorial tendency in sculpture had begun with Ghiberti’s narrative relief panels for the north door of the Baptistery, in which he extended the apparent depth of the scene by placing boldly rounded foreground figures against more delicately modeled settings of landscape and architecture. Donatello invented his own bold new mode of relief in his marble panel St. George Killing the Dragon (1416–17, base of the St. George niche at Orsanmichele). Known as schiacciato (“flattened out”), the technique involved extremely shallow carving throughout, which created a far more-striking effect of atmospheric space than before. The sculptor no longer modeled his shapes in the usual way but rather seemed to “paint” them with his chisel. A blind man could “read” a Ghiberti relief with his fingertips; a schiacciato panel depends on visual rather than tactile perceptions and thus must be seen.
The figures of St George, St Mark and St Louis of Toulouse, were commissioned by the various wealthy Florentine guilds, to fill the niches around the church of Orsanmichele in Florence.
( I hope he wasn’t too disappointed when the statue failed to ‘speak’.)
Many of Donatello’s greatest masterpieces were done in bronze. One of his early independent commissions was his first bronze relief, The Feast of Herod (1427), which was created for the baptistery of San Giovanni in the Siena Cathedral. The relief portrays the dramatic moment in which Herod is stunned by the severed head of Saint John the Baptist. The figures in the relief express intense emotional responses that help build up the tension of the dramatic scene. By adding architectural elements to the composition, Donatello demonstrated his knowledge and command of a linear perspective.
In 1411–13, Donatello worked on a statue of St. Mark for the guild church of Orsanmichele. In 1417 he completed the Saint George for the Confraternity of the Cuirass-makers. The elegant St. George and the Dragon relief on the statue’s base, executed in schiacciato (a very low bas-relief) is one of the first examples of central-point perspective in sculpture. From 1423 is the Saint Louis of Toulouse for the Orsanmichele, now in the Museum of the Basilica di Santa Croce. Donatello had also sculpted the classical frame for this work, which remains, while the statue was moved in 1460 and replaced by Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Verrocchio.