Donatello | An Innovative Sculptor
In his early 20s, Donatello would work alongside Lorenzo Ghiberti as an apprentice and later helped him with his commission to create the Baptistry doors of the Florence Cathedral. The young apprentice and sculptor crafted the statues of the prophets for the Baptistry’s north door and he also accomplished the magnificent sculpture of Saint John the Evangelist which is now on display in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Donatello had a unique style to his craftsmanship which would stand out from the sculptures of his day. This style comes forth in his famous work of Saint George for the Orsanmichele (the original is now in the Bargello). The small marble relief of St. George and the Dragon at the bottom of the niche shows a new perspective that creates measurable space for the figures. This new style was a breakthrough for sculptors and artists of the time and was perhaps one of the earliest examples of this new science. Donatello’s low relief style had his figures emerging outward from the relief. It is believed that the architect, Brunelleschi, may have influenced Donatello’s contemporary style.
Donatello paved the way for other artists, like the painter Titian, to experiment with new techniques and styles. Titian, (c. 1488 – 1576) would play with application and color techniques in his work, makin
g him one of the most influential painters of his day.
Donatello Sculpted Masterpieces
Featured at the campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence are five of Donatello’s statues dating between 1415 and 1426. This well-known site, also referred to as the Duomo, displays the Beardless Prophet and Bearded Prophet, the Sacrifice of Isaac, Habbakuk, and Jeremiah. These statues represent the classical tradition of sculpture emphasizing dramatic portrait details. In 1425 he undertook a sculpture of Christ in which the body takes on a somewhat distorted posture as it represents the Crucifix for Santa Croce. Donatello’s amazing skills to produce feeling within his work comes across in Christ’s agonizing eyes and partially opened mouth.
Donatello’s most famous work, the bronze David, which is now on display in the Bargello, was commissioned by the renown Cosimo de’ Medici for his Palazzo Medici. It is thought that this work, executed in the round so that it is free from architectural supports, is known as the premier work of the Renaissance. Donatello’s David is an allegory showing how one’s corporeal virtues triumph over disillusionment and brutality.
Donatello was the most influential sculptor of his day. His unique style and amazing artistic abilities makes him one of the most influential sculptors of our day as well. The depth and complexity that went into his work give us a good idea of Donatello’s own depth of character and feelings for the pieces he created. Donatello’s influence affected those masters of art that would come after him, such as Titian and Michelangelo and his legacy continues to this day.