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 Or San Michele). 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.
Donatello, Feast of Herod, 1423-1427, gilded bronze, 60 x 60 cm, Siena, Baptistery di San Giovanni, part of baptismal font
By this time, Donatello was gaining a reputation for creating imposing, larger-than-life figures using innovative techniques and extraordinary skills. His style incorporated the new science of perspective, which allowed the sculptor to create figures that occupied measurable space. Before this time, European sculptors used a flat background upon which figures were placed. Donatello also drew heavily from reality for inspiration in his sculptures, accurately showing suffering, joy and sorrow in his figures’ faces and body positions.
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.
Donatello was the son of Niccolò di Betto Bardi, who was a member of the Florentine Arte della Lana, and was born in Florence, probably in the year 1386. Donatello was educated in the house of the Martelli family.  He apparently received his early artistic training in a goldsmith’s workshop, and then worked briefly in the studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Donatello’s return to Florence almost coincided with Cosimo’s. In May 1434, he signed a contract for the marble pulpit on the facade of Prato cathedral, the last project executed in collaboration with Michelozzo. This work, a passionate, pagan, rhythmically conceived bacchanalian dance of half-nude putti, was the forerunner of the great Cantoria, or singing tribune, at the Duomo in Florence on which Donatello worked intermittently from 1433 to 1440 and was inspired by ancient sarcophagi and Byzantine ivory chests. In 1435, he executed the Annunciation for the Cavalcanti altar in Santa Croce, inspired by 14th-century iconography, and in 1437–1443, he worked in the Old Sacristy of the San Lorenzo in Florence, on two doors and lunettes portraying saints, as well as eight stucco tondoes. From 1438 is the wooden statue of St. John the Baptist for Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. Around 1440, he executed a bust of a Young Man with a Cameo now in the Bargello, the first example of a lay bust portrait since the classical era.
The work also reflects Donatello’s mastery of sculpture and his signature techniques, cultivated to manipulate the viewing experience. As the art historian Timothy Verdon notes, “the sculptor’s design took carefully into account his cantoria’s principle light source: mere feet below the work was a group of torches and candles elaborately ordered atop an architrave”. Instead of polishing the marble to a customary sheen, Donatello left parts rough so that when hit by the candlelight coming up from below, various shadows, textures, and points of luminosity would add another element to the overall composition. It is interesting that Donatello took such pains over the materiality of marble in this work, as it was the last major commission that he completed in this medium.
Marble – Bargello Museum, Florence
Type: Marble Statue
Donatello’s abnormally weak and emaciated depiction of Mary Magdalene was in stark contrast to other depictions of her which usually showed a beautiful young woman in perfect health. Magdalene is said to have spent thirty years in the desert repenting for her sins which is what Donatello represents in this marvelous work. He thus ignored the Western legends by which Mary was daily fed by angels in the desert. Penitent Magdalene was received with awed admiration for its unprecedented realism and exquisite details. It remains one of Donatello’s most renowned works and is considered his greatest masterpiece in wood.