donatello the artist
7. Despite being a celebrated artist of his day, Donatello was not generally well-liked as a person. He was known to destroy a sculpture sooner than allowing someone he didn’t approve of to buy it. He highly valued his artistic freedom, and he earned a reputation in society for being abrasive. Under the protection of the Medici family, the artist did not have to worry about the repercussions of his antisocial behavior.
Around 1415 Donatello’s full range as an artist began to emerge in two marble statues completed in the same year. His statues of St. Mark and St. George show immense confidence and personality in everything from their attire to their facial expression. Both statues were carved from marble and also informed a series of statues of prophets that would later surround the bell tower of the Duomo. All of these depictions of the prophets are strikingly unique from medieval and ancient portraits of the prophets, with Zuccone being considered the finest and most masterful of the collection.
Donatello, David, about 1440s, bronze, height: 158 cm, Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargelo
Saint John the Baptist (1547) This is a late work, made in Florence in 1457 and brought to Siena once it was finished. It is very similar in style and feeling to the Mary Magdalene now in the Opera del Duomo museum in Florence. The thin figure of Saint John exudes drama with his haggard face, sunken eyes, protruding veins, and bristly hair and beard. His half-open mouth and stunned, fixed stare give evidence of his deep suffering.
From 1425 to 1427, Donatello collaborated with Michelozzo on the funerary monument of the Antipope John XXIII for the Battistero in Florence. Donatello made the recumbent bronze figure of the deceased, under a shell. In 1427, he completed in Pisa a marble relief for the funerary monument of Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci at the church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo in Naples. In the same period, he executed the relief of the Feast of Herod and the statues of Faith and Hope for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Siena. The relief is mostly in stiacciato, with the foreground figures are done in bas-relief.
When Cosimo was exiled from Florence, Donatello went to Rome, remaining until 1433. The two works that testify to his presence in this city, the Tomb of Giovanni Crivelli at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and the Ciborium at St. Peter’s Basilica, bear a strong stamp of classical influence.
Born in Florence, Italy, around 1386, sculptor Donatello apprenticed early with well-known sculptors and quickly learned the Gothic style. Before he was 20, he was receiving commissions for his work. Over his career he developed a style of lifelike, highly emotional sculptures and a reputation second only to Michelangelo’s.
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.
The cause of Donatello’s death is not widely written about, but it is known that the last years of his life were spent designing twin bronze pulpits for San Lorenzo. He died at the age of 79 or 80.
Donatello (diminutive of Donato) was the son of Niccolò di Betto Bardi, a Florentine wool carder. It is not known how he began his career, but it seems likely that he learned stone carving from one of the sculptors working for the cathedral of Florence (the Duomo) about 1400. Sometime between 1404 and 1407 he became a member of the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti, a sculptor in bronze who in 1402 had won the competition for the doors of the Baptistery. Donatello’s earliest work of which there is certain knowledge, a marble statue of David, shows an artistic debt to Ghiberti, who was then the leading Florentine exponent of International Gothic, a style of graceful, softly curved lines strongly influenced by northern European art. The David, originally intended for the cathedral, was moved in 1416 to the Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall, where it long stood as a civic-patriotic symbol, although from the 16th century on it was eclipsed by the gigantic David of Michelangelo, which served the same purpose. Still partly Gothic in style, other early works of Donatello are the impressive seated marble figure of St. John the Evangelist (1408–15) for the Florence cathedral facade and a wooden crucifix (1406–08) in the church of Santa Croce. The latter, according to an unproved anecdote, was made in friendly competition with Filippo Brunelleschi, a sculptor and a noted architect.