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Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi

Donatello, a master sculptor, was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance. He was born circa 1386 in Florence. The artist learned stone carving from one of the sculptors who worked for the Florence Cathedral around 1400. From 1404 to 1407, Donatello was part of the workshop of sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. The traces of Gothic style in his early works, like the marble statue of David (1408-1409), can be attributed to Ghiberti’s influence. The marble David was originally intended for a cathedral, but in 1416 it was moved to Florence’s city hall, Palazzo Vecchio. In its new surrounding, the statue became a patriotic symbol: David’s triumph over Goliath represented the triumph of Florence over its enemies. Between 1415 and 1426, Donatello worked on five prophet statues, out of which the most well-known is Zuccone (Statue of the Prophet Habakkuk) (1425). The statue, nicknamed ‘zuccone’ (pumpkin) because of the figure’s bald head, stood out for its realistic style and highly individualistic facial features.

Many of Donatello’s greatest masterpieces were done in bronze. One of his early independent commissions was his first bronze relief, The Feast of Herod (1427), which was created for the baptistery of San Giovanni in the Siena Cathedral. The relief portrays the dramatic moment in which Herod is stunned by the severed head of Saint John the Baptist. The figures in the relief express intense emotional responses that help build up the tension of the dramatic scene. By adding architectural elements to the composition, Donatello demonstrated his knowledge and command of a linear perspective.

One of Donatello’s long-standing relationships was with the Medici family: from 1433 to 1443, he made decorations for San Lorenzo, the Medici Church. This commission included ten large reliefs in colored stucco and two sets of small bronze doors. In this period, he also created the bronze statue of David (ca. 1440), the first large scale free-standing nude statue of the Renaissance. Documents show that the statue was placed at the center of the Medici Palace courtyard in 1496.

In 1443, Donatello was offered a prestigious and essential commission in Padua, to create an equestrian statue for condottiere Erasmo da Narmi, known by the name Gattamelata. The project was an immense undertaking: the artist set up a studio in Padua and completed most of the work between 1447 and 1450. The statue was erected in 1453, and even before its public unveiling, the king of Naples wanted Donatello to execute a similar monument for him. In the Equestrian statue of Gattamelata (1453), Donatello weaved a series of symbols and references to classical antiquity, which showed the artist’s extensive knowledge and understanding of ancient art. In the mid-1450s, he returned to Florence. During this period, he undertook a commission for a bronze statue of Saint John the Baptist (1457) for the Siena Cathedral. In his final years, Donatello worked for the Medici designing twin bronze pulpits for the San Lorenzo church. He died in 1466 in Florence, leaving the pulpits, his last work, unfinished. Eventually, the pulpits were completed by Donatello’s assistants, and are considered an important work of early Renaissance narrative sculpture.

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Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c. 1386 – 13 December 1466), better known as Donatello (Italian: [donaˈtɛllo]), was an Italian Renaissance sculptor from Florence. He studied classical sculpture and used this to develop a complete Renaissance style in sculpture, whose periods in Rome, Padua and Siena introduced to other parts of Italy a long and productive career. He worked with stone, bronze, wood, clay, stucco and wax, and had several assistants, with four perhaps being a typical number. Though his best-known works were mostly statues in the round, he developed a new, very shallow, type of bas-relief for small works, and a good deal of his output was larger architectural reliefs.

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.

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.

In Florence, Donatello assisted Lorenzo Ghiberti with the statues of prophets for the north door of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, for which he received payment in November 1406 and early 1408. In 1409–1411 he executed the colossal seated figure of Saint John the Evangelist, which until 1588 occupied a niche of the old cathedral façade, and is now placed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. This work marks a decisive step forward from late Gothic Mannerism in the search for naturalism and the rendering of human feelings. The face, the shoulders and the bust are still idealized, while the hands and the fold of cloth over the legs are more realistic.

In 1411–13, Donatello worked on a statue of St. Mark for the guild church of Orsanmichele. In 1417 he completed the Saint George for the Confraternity of the Cuirass-makers. The elegant St. George and the Dragon relief on the statue's base, executed in schiacciato (a very low bas-relief) is one of the first examples of central-point perspective in sculpture. From 1423 is the Saint Louis of Toulouse for the Orsanmichele, now in the Museum of the Basilica di Santa Croce. Donatello had also sculpted the classical frame for this work, which remains, while the statue was moved in 1460 and replaced by Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Verrocchio.

Between 1415 and 1426, Donatello created five statues for the campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, also known as the Duomo. These works are the Beardless Prophet; Bearded Prophet (both from 1415); the Sacrifice of Isaac (1421); Habbakuk (1423–25); and Jeremiah (1423–26); which follow the classical models for orators and are characterized by strong portrait details. From the late teens is the Pazzi Madonna relief in Berlin. In 1425, he executed the notable Crucifix for Santa Croce; this work portrays Christ in a moment of the agony, eyes and mouth partially opened, the body contracted in an ungraceful posture.

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Donatello Artworks
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