Study Of Art – Donatello – (Donato Di Niccolo Di Betto Bardi.)

Donatello, the diminutive form of whose name reveals the affection in which he was held by his fellows, was a man of simple, unassuming nature, for whom money and fine raiment had small attraction. Little is known of his life except as it is connected with his work, which is of great volume and variety. He is believed to have visited Rome with Brunelleschi before 1406. For the next ten years he was employed on work for the Cathedral, of which a seated St. John, a figure of great dignity, is an example; the four statues for Or San Michele belong to this period. With 1416 begins his work on the five figures for the Campanile, the first examples of the realism which reached its extreme form later in the Magdalen of the Baptistery and the St. John of Siena, a revolt, we must believe, against the prettiness of some of the art of the time. In 1426 began his collaboration with Michelozzo, extending over several years. During the year of Cosimo de’ Medici’s exile from Florence, 1433, Donatello again visited Rome, returning to Florence to execute for the Medici the David and Cupid with their classical suggestions, and later the medallions copied from antique cameos for the court of the new palace. The pulpit in Prato and the famous Singing Gallery belong to this period, as do the decorations and the bronze doors of the old sacristy of San Lorenzo.

In 1443 Donatello began his varied work in Padua, which continued with slight interruption until the completion of the Gattemalata in 1453.

Many relief plaques of the Madonna and Child have in late years been attributed to Donatello, but without complete confirmation. A statue of Judith and the Marcozzo, the heraldic lion of Florence, are probably late work. His reliefs for the pulpits of San Lorenzo were still unfinished at his death. It is in this church of the Medici that he is buried near his great patron Cosimo.


No. 432. Annunciation.

S. Croce, Florence.

Relief in soft gray sandstone, details picked out with gold. Executed for the Cavalcanti family. Generally considered an early work, though the character of the architecture may suggest a later date.

Compare the architecture with that of the niche on Or San Michele built for Donatello’s St. Louis in 1423, and now occupied by Verocchio’s Doubting Thomas, 494. Study carefully, noting the new use of classic ornament, the sculptured masks on the capitals.

One of the few examples in Donatello’s art of a full length figure of the Madonna, and one of the most beautiful figures in all his art. The surprise of Mary, shown in her attitude, yet her dignity, the reverence of the angel, are expressed with the sculptor’s perfect understanding of form and drapery.

No. 433. St. Mark.

Or San Michele, Florence.

Marble statue, heroic size, made in 1411 for the Guild of Linen Drapers. Michelangelo said of it, ” no one could disbelieve the Gospel preached by so honest a man,” which well expresses the straight-forward quality so characteristic of Donatello’s work. There is still a suggestion of the sweeping curve (Cf. 425), but the virile face and head, and the straight line of the right side take away all impression of weakness. Note where the center of gravity falls and the vigorous though awkward impression resulting. Cf. 434, 437.

No. 434. St. George.

No. 435. Head of St. George.

Bargello, Florence.

Marble statue, made in 1416 for the Guild of Armorers. It stood in its niche on Or San Michele until 1886, when it was removed to the National Museum in the Bargello, its place on the church being filled by a bronze copy.

Below this figure is still the original bas-relief of St. George rescuing the princess from the dragon. More than any work of art that we possess, this figure of St. George illustrates not only the virility of Donatello’s own genius but the freshness and vigor of the art of the early Renaissance.

Notice the form expressed even beneath the armor, the preservation of ” lithic form,” even in the knotting of the mantle. Study the attitude, the pose of the head, and the expression. Read the story of St. George as Donatello tells it.

No. 436. Feast of Herod.

S. Giovanni, Siena.

Bronze relief of 1427 for the font of Jacopo della Quercia, 413.

Compare with the other panels, 414, 427, studying the characteristics of each artist. This is the first example of Donatello’s dramatic power shown later in the work at Padua, and in scenes from the Passion.

No. 437. David. Bargello, Florence.

Made soon after 1433 for the Medici palace. It is the earliest Renaissance attempt to model the nude in the round to be seen on all sides. It is interesting to consider the artist’s problem in such a task, as contrasted with bas-relief or a figure to be placed in a niche.

There is strong suggestion of classic influence in this beautifully wrought bronze, yet no Greek artist would have made it thus. Compare with A 123, 194, 273.

No. 438. King David (Il Zuccone).

Campanile del Duomo, Florence.

Marble statue of colossal size. Executed about 1425 or 1430. According to Vasari we have here a portrait of a contemporary Florentine. It is in a niche on the third story of the Campanile, formerly occupied by a figure of King David, the base of which, with the inscription, still remains. The name Zuccone (pumpkin) is the Florentine epithet for ” baldhead ” and was used by Donatello himself, who prized this work especially, one of his favorite affirmations being, ” By the faith that I place in my Zuccone.”

It is one of the most remarkable of Donatello’s studies of actuality. It was intended to be seen at a height of fifty-five feet, and the features and folds of the drapery are treated accordingly, to secure the proper effect of light and shade.

No. 431. St. John. Bargello, Florence.

This statue in marble of the Baptist dates probably from the middle period of Donatello’s work. John is represented as walking slowly, intent upon his reading.

The type of the ascetic, utterly absorbed, is here admirably realized. Note the emaciated form, the contrast between the texture of the flesh and the goat skin garment, the low relief of the hair. It is not only a work of technical excellence, but realizes to the beholder the character of this messenger. It is a subject often repeated by Donatello.

No. 439. Singing Gallery.

No. 440, 441. Details. Cathedral Museum, Florence.

This cantoria, to be placed above the Sacristy door in the Cathedral, was begun by Donatello in 1433, and completed in 1440. It remained in position until 1688, when it was taken down on the occasion of a royal wedding, and the parts scattered. The reliefs were for some time in the Bargello, until in comparatively recent years the architectural parts were discovered and the whole carefully reconstructed (1883). A similar gallery, but without the figures of the children, is in S. Lorenzo. .

Study the architectural character of the gallery, the ornamentation. (The background and columns are set with glass.)

Study the figures of the children, the wonderful sense of motion expressed by the draperies as well as by the bodies themselves, the effect of light and shade. Contrast with the groups in the pulpit in Prato, where the space is circumscribed; in the wide portico suggested by the columns there is ample room for this abandon of joyous movement. The ” putto ” or child in art was a favorite theme with Donatello, but never treated with so much of sculptural skill as here.

No. 442. Pulpit.

Façade of Cathedral, Prato.

Constructed in 1434-1438, the architectural portion by Michelozzo. Compare both architectural and sculptural work with the Singing Gallery.

No. 443. Youthful St. John.

Bargello, Florence.

Bas-relief in gray sandstone (pietra serena).

Note the delicacy of treatment of the hair, the drapery, the refinement of modeling of face and figure, the sensitiveness of the character portrayed. This is a masterpiece of low relief.

No. 445. Putti.

S. Antonio, Padua.

From the high altar executed by Donatello and his assistants 1444-1449. The work is in bronze, and includes seven statues of saints, four large reliefs with miracles of St. Anthony, a Crucifix, an Entombment (in stone), an Ecce Homo, symbols of the Four Evangelists, and twelve Putti playing on musical instruments.

Compare with the children of the pulpit, 442, and the Singing Gallery, 439-441. Study the bronze technique. Notice the naturalistic touches.

No. 444. Gattemalata.

Piazza del Santo, Padua.

Erected 1443-1453, to Erasmo da Narni, Condottiere of the Venetian Republic. It is noteworthy as being the first equestrian statue of the Renaissance. Donatello had undoubtedly seen the statue of Marcus Aurelius in his visits to Rome. Cf. A 428.

Consider the excellence of Donatello’s work and the magnitude of his task. Compare with 493 and note Donatello’s greater “integrity of mass,” a constant quality of the master’s work. The situation of the statue is shown in the print of S. Antonio, in Series G.

No. 446. St. Lawrence.

Sacristy, S. Lorenzo, Florence.

Terra-cotta bust, probably executed 1433-1443. An admirable example of Donatello’s straightforward art and character.

No. 447. Cherub.

Sacristy, Cathedral, Florence.

Probably not by Donatello, but a very beautiful example of Florentine art as influenced by him. Study the delicacy of modeling, the treatment of the hair.

No. 448. North Pulpit (left).

No. 449. South Pulpit (right).

S. Lorenzo, Florence.

These pulpits belong to the latest period of Donatello’s art. They were completed, undoubtedly according to his sketches and models in clay, by Bertoldo and other pupils. The scenes represented are: 448. The Flagellation, Christ in the Garden, St. John (in wood of later date); 449. Descent of Christ into Limbo, Ascension, Resurrection (these three by Donatello’s own hand).

Study the decorative detail, noting the way in which classic ornament is used, its joyous spirit. Study the deep tragedy of the reliefs, the emphasis upon old age.

Michelozzo Michelozzi. 1391-1473.

Bertoldo di Giovanni. d. 1491.

Michelozzo was employed by Ghiberti in 1422 on the first doors, then nearing completion. In 1426 began his cooperation with Donatello, on the tombs of Pope John XXIII in Florence, Cardinal Brancacci in Naples, and Aragazzi in Montepulciano, and on the pulpit of Prato. He was employed as architect by the Medici, building their palace in Florence (Series G), and their country houses. He planned for them the reconstruction of San Marco. The present court of the Palazzo Vecchio was designed by him. He shared the exile of Cosimo in 1433, and built the library of S. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. In Milan he reconstructed the Vismara palace.

Bertoldo, chief of Donatello’s later pupils, assisted him with the pulpits of S. Lorenzo, and completed them. He was appointed by Lorenzo de’ Medici director of the collection of antique sculpture and of the school which he had established in the gardens of S. Marco, where Michelangelo began his study of sculpture in 1489.


No. 450. Portal of the Palazzo Vismara.

Castello, Milan.

In 1456 Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, presented to Cosimo de’ Medici a palace in that city, which Michelozzo was commissioned to enlarge and decorate. This doorway, now in the museum of the Castello, is practically all that remains of Michelozzo’s work.

Consider this doorway as architecture; the value of the sculptural details.

No. 451. Tomb of Baldassare Coscia, Pope John XXIII. Baptistery, Florence.

John XXIII, anti-pope, 1410-1415, was deposed by the Council of Constance, and after three years imprisonment in Germany returned to Florence, where he died in 1419. The tomb, begun by Donatello and Michelozzo in 1426, served as a model for many later ones. Vasari attributes two of the Virtues, Hope and Charity, of this lower portion to Donatello, who made the bronze figure of the Pope above.

Note the beauty and simplicity of the architectural design. Study the three figures, comparing with each other and with Donatello’s figures; form an individual opinion of their authorship.

No. 452. Battle Scene: bronze panel.

Bargello, Florence.

A close copy of a Roman sarcophagus in the Campo Santo, Pisa. It is almost the only authentic independent work by Bertoldo, and belongs to his later years.

The Roman tendency to arrange figures in rows is still to be seen, though the artist is endeavoring to adopt a more centered composition, without, however, securing any central point of interest. C 439, by Michelangelo, had such a work as this for its model.