why did donatello art
Prato Cathedral, outside pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo
In 1423, Donatello received one of his first important commissions from outside Florence. He was asked to contribute to the work on the font in the Siena Baptistery, comprising a relief showing Herod’s Banquet. A total of six reliefs by different artists, including Lorenzo Ghiberti and Jacopo della Quercia, were to decorate the font. Donatello’s reliefs extremely effective. He demonstrates a masterly ability co draw his spectators into the events being portrayed. The border of the relief is extremely simple and acts as a passe-partout. There is nothing else separating the observer from the scene depicted, which is seen as if through a window. At first glance there is an impression of a perfect illusion of spatial depth. The scene aligned to a central vanishing point, and includes several masterly examples of foreshortening.
In 1443, Donatello was called to Padua by the heirs of the famous condottiero Erasmo da Narni (better known as the Gattamelata, or “Honey-Cat”), who had died that year. Completed in 1450 and placed in the square facing the Basilica of St. Anthony, his Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata was the first example of such a monument since ancient times. (Other equestrian statues, from the 14th century, had not been executed in bronze and had been placed over tombs rather than erected independently, in a public place.) This work became the prototype for other equestrian monuments executed in Italy and Europe in the following centuries.
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.  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.
Probably just after the trip to Rome, Donatello created the well-known gilded limestone Annunciation tabernacle (place of worship) in Sta Croce, Florence, enclosing the pair of Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. He was also commissioned to carve a Singing Gallery for the Cathedral to match the one already begun by Luca della Robbia (both now in the Museo dell’Opera). Using marble and mosaic, Donatello presented a classically inspired frieze (a decorative band) of wildly dancing putti. It was begun in 1433, completed six years later, and installed in 1450.
The Italian sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) was the greatest Florentine sculptor before Michelangelo and certainly the most influential individual artist of the 15th century in Italy. Nearly every later sculptor and numerous Florentine and Paduan painters were indebted to him.
The full power of Donatello first appeared in two marble statues, St. Mark and St. George (both completed c. 1415), for niches on the exterior of Orsanmichele, the church of Florentine guilds (St. George has been replaced by a copy; the original is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello). Here, for the first time since Classical antiquity and in striking contrast to medieval art, the human body is rendered as a self-activating functional organism, and the human personality is shown with a confidence in its own worth. The same qualities came increasingly to the fore in a series of five prophet statues that Donatello did beginning in 1416 for the niches of the campanile, the bell tower of the cathedral (all these figures, together with others by lesser masters, were later removed to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). The statues were of a beardless and a bearded prophet, as well as a group of Abraham and Isaac (1416–21) for the eastern niches; the so-called Zuccone (“Pumpkin,” because of its bald head); and the so-called Jeremiah (actually Habakkuk) for the western niches. The Zuccone is deservedly famous as the finest of the campanile statues and one of the artist’s masterpieces. In both the Zuccone and the Jeremiah (1427–35), their whole appearance, especially highly individual features inspired by ancient Roman portrait busts, suggests Classical orators of singular expressive force. The statues are so different from the traditional images of Old Testament prophets that by the end of the 15th century they could be mistaken for portrait statues.
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.
By 1408, Donatello was back in Florence at the workshops of the cathedral. That year, he completed the life-sized marble sculpture, David. The figure follows a Gothic style, popular at the time, with long graceful lines and an expressionless face. The work reflects the influences of sculptors of the time. Technically, it’s very well executed, but it lacks the emotional style and innovative technique that would mark Donatello’s later work. Originally, the sculpture was intended for placement in the cathedral. Instead, however, it was set up in the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) as an inspiring symbol of defiance of authority to Florentines, who were engaged in a struggle with the king of Naples at the time.
Around 1425, Donatello entered into a partnership with Italian sculptor and architect Michelozzo, who also studied with Lorenzo Ghiberti. Donatello and Michelozzo traveled to Rome, where they produced several architectural-sculptural tombs, including the tomb of Antipope John XXIII and the tomb of Cardinal Brancacci. These innovations in burial chambers would influence many later Florentine tombs.