Donatello (1386-1466) was a master of sculpture in bronze and marble and was considered one of the greatest Italian Renaissance artists of his time. There is much more to know about him, though then the name alone. He has created some of the greatest works of art, not only in the Italian renaissance, but human history as well.
A lot is known about his life and career but little is known about his character and personality. Donatello never married and seems to be a man of simple tastes. Patrons often found him hard to deal with and he demanded a lot of artistic freedom.
Donatello, born Donato di Niccol di Betto Bardi, was the son of Niccolo di Betto Bardi, a Florentine wool carder. It is not known how he started his career but probably learned stone carving from one of the sculptors working for the cathedral of Florence about 1400. Some time between 1404 and 1407 he became a member of the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti who was a sculptor in bronze. Donatello’s earliest work was a marble statue of David. The “David” was originally made for the cathedral but was moved in 1416 to the Palazzo Vecchio, a city hall where it long stood as a civic-patriotic symbol. From the sixteenth century on, the gigantic David of Michelangelo, which served the same purpose, eclipsed it. More of Donatello’s early works which were still partly Gothic are the impressive seated marble figure of St. John the Evangelist for the cathedral and a wooden crucifix in the church of Sta. Croce.
The full power of Donatello first appeared in two marble statues, “St. Mark” and “St. George” which were completed in 1415. “St. George” has been replaced and is now in the Bargello. For the first time, the human body is rendered as a functional organism. The same qualities came in the series of five prophet statues that Donatello did beginning in 1416. The statues were of beardless and bearded prophets as well as a group of Abraham and Isaac in 1416-1421 and also the “Zuccone” and “Jeremiah”. “Zuccone” is famous as the finest of the campanile statues and one of the artist’s masterpieces.
Donatello invented his own bold new mode of relief in his marble panel ” St. George Killing The Dragon” (1416-1417). The technique involved shallow carving throughout, which created a more striking effect than in his earlier works. He no longer modeled his shapes but he seemed to “paint” them with his chisel.
Donatello continued to explore the possibilities of the new technique he would use in his marble reliefs of the 1420’s and early 1430’s. The best of these were “The Ascension, with Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter,” the ” Feast of Herod” (1433-1435), the large stucco roundels with scenes from the life of St. John the Evangelist (1434-1437), and the dome of the old sacristy of S. Lorenzo shows the same technique but with color added.
Donatello had also become a major sculptor in bronze. His earliest work of this was the more than life size statue of St. Louis (1423), which was replaced half a century later. Donatello in partnership with Michelozzo helped with fine bronze effigy on the tomb of the pope John XXIII in the baptistery, the “Assumption of the Virgin” on the Brancacci tomb and the dancing angels on the outdoor pulpit of the Prato Cathedral (1433-1438). His departure from the standards of Brunelleschi did not go to well between the two old friends and was never repaired. Brunelleschi even made epigrams against Donatello.
During his partnership with Michelozzo, Donatello made works of pure sculpture, including several works of bronze. The earliest and most important of these was the “Feast of Herod” (1423-1427). He also made two statuettes of Virtues and then three nude child angels (one which was stolen and is now in the Berlin museum). These statues prepared the way for the bronze statue of David, the first large scale, and freestanding nude statue of the Renaissance. It was the most classical of Donatello’s works and was done for a private patron. Its recorded history begins with the wedding of Lorenzo the magnificent in 1469, when it