In This Article Donatello

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Early Works and Training
  • Sculpture for Ecclesiastical and Public Sites in Florence
  • Donatello and Relief Sculpture
  • Significance of Materials and Technique
  • Donatello and Other Artists
  • The Influence of Ancient and Medieval Art on Donatello
  • Patronage: Overview and Non-Medici Commissions
  • Medici Commissions: Overview and San Lorenzo
  • Medici Commissions: The Bronze David and Judith and Holofernes
  • Projects in Siena
  • Projects in Padua
  • Collections of Essays
  • Major Exhibition Catalogues
  • Notable Restoration and Technical Reports
  • Specialized Studies
  • Legacy and Later Influence

Renaissance and Reformation Donatello
by
Amy R. Bloch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0436

Introduction

Donatello, born Donato di Niccolò di Betto di Bardo (b. c. 1386–d. 1466) in Florence, was one of the most gifted and versatile sculptors working on the Italian peninsula during the Quattrocento. Reflecting his career, the scholarship on Donatello is vast and varied, and nearly all aspects of his life and works have received sustained attention. Though he trained in bronze casting and, apparently, in goldsmithery, his first documented works were in marble. From c. 1406 to 1440 he carved marble sculptures for Florence Cathedral and its Campanile. During the first three decades of the fifteenth century he fashioned statues for the exterior of the Florentine guild church of Orsanmichele (Sts. Mark, George, and Louis of Toulouse), as well as a variety of sculptures elsewhere. In the 1420s and 1430s he worked in Siena, carrying out a relief and statues for the font of the Baptistery and a tomb slab for Giovanni Pecci (Cathedral). Alongside Michelozzo, with whom he maintained a legal partnership (c. 1425–1434), he completed in the 1420s other tombs—one for Baldassare Cossa (the antipope John XXIII) in the Florence Baptistery and another for Rainaldo Brancacci in Sant’Angelo a Nilo in Naples—and, in the 1430s, a pulpit for Prato Cathedral. He spent two years in Rome—1432–1433—and made a number of sculptures there; he also worked for patrons in Mantua, Ferrara, and Modena. Though inspired by ancient and medieval art, Donatello was a relentlessly innovative sculptor whose approach was often experimental. He invented the schiacciato relief, demonstrating painterly effects in sculpture; he participated in the reinvention of the bronze statuette; and he was one of the first to fashion, after Antiquity, life-sized, freestanding statues. Examples include his extensively studied bronze David and Judith and Holofernes, both of which, along with relief sculptures at the church of San Lorenzo, he made for the Medici family, his enthusiastic patrons. From c. 1443 to 1453 he resided in Padua, where he made sculptures for the interior of the Basilica of Sant’Antonio, as well as the equestrian portrait of Gattamelata. He worked in Siena from 1457 to 1459 before returning to Florence, where he died. He utilized a wide range of media: stone of all types, metal (gilded and ungilded bronze), glass, fiber, wax, ceramic, polychromed wood (e.g., the St. John the Baptist in Venice; his haunting Mary Magdelene), terracotta, and stucco—the latter two used to craft inventive reliefs of the Virgin and Christ Child. He was especially attentive to the treatment of surface and often painted, carved, or scratched materials so they resembled other substances. Near-contemporary sources describe him as sarcastic, witty, and clever.

General Overviews

Early monographs, such as Semper 1875, Schmarsow 1886, Bode 1908, and Kauffmann 1935, helped establish, through careful visual and documentary analysis, the corpus of works attributed to Donatello, though scholars still debate the authorship of many of his sculptures, especially his undocumented reliefs. Kauffmann perhaps stands out among the early monographs for his perceptive discussion of Donatello’s sources and his subtle interpretations of artworks. These early monographs laid the groundwork for Janson 1957, which contains systematic, detailed discussions of individual sculptures and projects, each treated in an individual entry that meticulously reviews pertinent visual and documentary evidence. Janson 1957 remains the standard catalogue raisonné of Donatello’s works and is relevant for the study of every aspect of the sculptor’s life and work. Subsequent books, for example Rosenauer 1993, have aimed for a similar comprehensiveness. Other volumes that treat Donatello’s entire career, including Pope-Hennessy 1958 and Pope-Hennessy 1993 and the insightful and comprehensive Bennett and Wilkins 1984, tend to blend a chronological and thematic approach. For example, both of these sources explore, in single chapters, Donatello’s evolving approach to relief sculpture over the course of his career. A number of overviews foreground Donatello’s technical virtuosity through the inclusion of elaborate programs of illustrations, e.g., Pope-Hennessy 1993.

  • Bennett, Bonnie, and David Wilkins. Donatello. London and Mt. Kisco, NY: Phaidon and Moyer Bell, Ltd., 1984.

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    A wide-ranging introduction to Donatello that covers the sculptor thematically. Chapters explore his life, his use of materials, his approach to the relief and the statue, the influence of ancient and medieval art on Donatello, the civic dimensions of his art, and the links between his works and their viewers. Especially detailed on the political and intellectual context of Donatello’s life and work.

  • Bode, Wilhelm von. Florentine Sculptors of the Renaissance. Translated by Jessie Haynes. London: Methuen, 1908.

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    This fundamental text, a translation from the German (originally published 1902), contains chapters on Donatello’s representations of architectural and ornamental forms, on his Madonna and Christ Child reliefs (and on copies made of them by his followers), and on his role in the development of the representation of the putto. Approach is generally stylistic.

  • Janson, H. W. The Sculpture of Donatello. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.

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    Published first in 1957 and then in 2nd and 3rd editions in 1963 and 1980, Janson’s book, comprising a volume of illustrations and another of text, remains the standard catalogue raisonné of Donatello’s works. Each of Donatello’s major works or projects receives an individual entry that lists relevant primary sources and outlines the work’s chronology, iconography, and historiography. A list of rejected attributions follows the entries on accepted works. To be consulted in connection with any Donatello-related topic.

  • Kauffmann, Hans. Donatello: Eine Einführung in sein Bilden und Denken. Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1935.

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    An insightful survey of Donatello’s works that investigates the influence of earlier art (especially medieval but also ancient), Donatello’s style, his use of perspective, his evolving approach to relief (especially rilievo schiacciato), the intellectual context of his art, and the novelty and significance of his works’ iconography. Deals also with reconstructions of monuments (e.g., the Santo altar), attribution, and dating (considering, e.g., the bronze David as a late, post-Padua work).

  • Pope-Hennessy, John. Donatello: Sculptor. New York: Abbeville, 1993.

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    A richly illustrated survey that combines chronological and thematic approaches in exploring Donatello’s life and career, from his youthful period in Florence to his late works, including the Judith and Holofernes (dated c. 1455), the Siena St. John the Baptist, and the San Lorenzo pulpits. Includes as well thematic chapters on Donatello’s partnership with Michelozzo, his Madonna reliefs, and his development of the schiacciato relief.

  • Pope-Hennessy, John. Italian Renaissance Sculpture. London: Phaidon, 1958.

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    Part of a three-book overview of Italian sculpture (covering the period c. 1250–1600), this volume examines part of the 15th century and considers Donatello the central figure. Chapters cover his reliefs and his approach to fashioning statues as well as his significant contributions to the development of the tomb and equestrian portrait. Published in a 4th edition in 1996.

  • Rosenauer, Artur. Donatello. Milan: Electa, 1993.

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    A detailed, chronologically arranged examination of Donatello’s life and works. Also contains entries on individual works of art that list essential bibliography, cite relevant documentation, and provide transcriptions of inscriptions.

  • Schmarsow, August. Donatello: Eine Studie über den Entwicklungsgang des Künstlers und die Reihenfolge seiner Werke. Breslau, Germany: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1886.

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    Brief but comprehensive examination of Donatello’s life and career. Organized chronologically.

  • Semper, Hans. Donatello: Seine Zeit und Schule; Eine Reihenfolge von Abhandlungen. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1875.

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    Early monograph containing an outline of Donatello’s life, era, and career. Opens with a valuable discussion of art in the Florence of Donatello’s youth and proceeds to analyze Donatello’s works while also exploring individual themes (e.g., Donatello’s use of paint). Focuses on the sculptures for Florence Cathedral, its Campanile, and Orsanmichele. Includes German translations of Vasari’s life of Donatello and of Francesco Bocchi’s essay on Donatello’s St. George, plus extensive notes. Reprinted in 1970.

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