Donatello: life, facts, curiosities and art

Read his story and find out where to enjoy his art in Tuscany

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, best known as Donatello is one of the most important Italian sculptors of all time and one of the fathers of the Florentine Renaissance. Born in Florence in 1389 he invented the stiacciato technique and created the first known free-standing nude statue produced since ancient times. 

His story
Donatello
Donatello

Donatello was born in 1386 (most likely) in Florence. His father, a restless man with a tumultuous life, was a member of the Wool Combers’ Guild. His artistic training probably started in a goldsmith's workshop and it continued in the studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti. The first works of art by Donatello, in Florence, are related to the two largest shipyards of sculptural decoration of the time - the Cathedral and the niches of Orsanmichele - for which, between 1409 and 1417, he produced:

- the seated St. John the Evangelist, one of the works that marks the transition from an art that idealized the human figure to a more realistic one (look at the hands, the folds of the dress and the legs)

- St. Mark, about which Vasari tells us that Michelangelo said he had "never seen a figure with such an air of a good man";

- St. Peter, in collaboration with Brunelleschi;

- St. George, an absolute masterpiece, with the figure that looks ready to move at any moment. The elegant St. George frees the Princess or St. George and the Dragon relief on the statue's base (today in the Bargello Museum) is the very first example of the stiacciato technique - a very low bas-relief that provides the viewer with an illusion of depth - and one of the first examples of central-point perspective in sculpture

David by Donatello

Between 1415 and 1426, Donatello created five statues for the cathedral bell-tower.

Around 1430, Cosimo de' Medici commissioned from Donatello what is now his most famous work: the bronze David for the court of his Palazzo Medici (now it is in the Bargello Museum). This is considered the first major work of Renaissance sculpture and the first known free-standing nude statue produced since ancient times, designed to be seen from all points, regardless of all architectural surroundings.

When Cosimo was exiled from Florence, Donatello went to Rome, staying there until 1433 and returning to Florence almost at the same time as Cosimo. In May 1434, he signed a contract for the marble pulpit on the facade of Prato Cathedral, the last project executed in collaboration with Michelozzo.

For Donatello, the period of the apotheosis of his artistic career then began, with works of art such as: - the great Cantoria, or singing tribune, at the Duomo in Florence on which Donatello worked intermittently from 1433 to 1440, inspired by ancient sarcophagi and Byzantine ivory chests; - the Annunciation for the Cavalcanti altar in Santa Croce; - the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence, the private funeral chapel of the Medici family, built by Brunelleschi and decorated by Donatello; - a bust of a Young Man with a Cameo now in the Bargello, the first example of a lay bust portrait since the classical era. Donatello died in Florence in 1466 and was buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, next to Cosimo de' Medici the Elder. Andrea della Robbia was among the ones carrying the coffin.

Top works of art

FLORENCE

Bargello museum statues and bas-reliefs
David, bronze statue; St George, marble statue (a copy is on the outside of Orsanmichele); St. George frees the princess, marble bas-relief (a copy is on the outside of Orsanmichele); Marzocco, sandstone statue (a copy is in Piazza della Signoria); Cherub dancing, bronze statue; Amorino Attis, bronze statue with traces of gilding; San Giovannino Martelli, polychrome wood statue; CIrucifixion, bronze bas-relief with gilding.

Opera del Duomo museum
Creation of Eve, glazed earthenware bas-relief; Profetino, marble statue;
St. John the Evangelist, marble statue; Bearded Prophet, beardless Prophet, Abraham and Isaac, Abacuc, Jeremiah, marble statues (originally on the Giotto’s Bell Tower); Cantoria, marble high relief; Mary Magdalene, wood with traces of polychrome statue.

Dome
Coronation of the Virgin, design for stained glass

Baptistery
Tomb of the Antipope John XXIII, architectural complex with statues, colored marble and gilt bronze.

Santa Croce church and museum
Crucifix, statue, painted wood; St. Louis of Toulouse, gilded bronze statue, 
Cavalcanti Annunciation, stone with gold platingrelief.

Orsanmichele
St. Mark, marble statue (a copy is on the outside)

Palazzo Vecchio
Judith and Holofernes, statue, bronze

Bardini museum
Madonna della Mela, terracotta statue (uncertain attribution)

SIENA

San Giovanni Baptistery
Feast of Herod, bas-relief, gilded bronze; Baptismal font, various statues in gilded bronze

Dome
Tombstone of Giovanni Pecci, bronze bas relief; Saint John the Baptist, bronze statue

Opera del Duomo museum
Madonna del Perdono, bas-relief, marble and glass inlays

PRATO, Opera del Duomo museum
Reliefs for the pulpit of the Cathedral, bas-reliefs, marble and mosaic (copies of the bas-reliefs are on the facade of the Cathedral)

PISA, San Matteo national museum
Reliquary of San Rossore, statue, gilded bronze

LUCCA, Villa Guinigi national museum
Madonna and Child, relief, tile

AREZZO, Dome
Baptism of Christ (baptismal font), marble bas-relief

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