(Donato di Niccolô Bardi; 1386-1466)
   The most innovative sculptor of the 15th century. Donatello was the son of Niccoló di Betto Bardi, a Florentine wool carder. He is docu-mented in 1404-1407 in Lorenzo Ghiberti's workshop, assisting in the execution of the east doors (1403-1424) of the Baptistery of Florence. Donatello was Filippo Brunelleschi 's friend, and the two traveled together to Rome to study the remains of the ancients—a visit that would affect both masters deeply. The knowledge Donatello gained allowed him to render his St. Mark at Orsanmichele (1411-1413) for the Arte dei Linaiuoli e Rigattieri, the Florentine Guild of Linen Drapers and Peddlers, as a powerful ancient philosopher type in contrappostoa natural, believable stance. To compensate for the fact that the statue would be viewed from below and at a distance, Donatello elongated the figure's proportions and exaggerated its anatomical features, the earliest Renaissance master to do so. The St. George (1415-1417), also for Orsanmichele, he executed for the Arte dei Corazzai e Spadai, the Guild of Armorers and Swordmakers. Appropriately, the figure once wore a helmet and held a sword. Shown moments before the confrontation with the dragon, the saint's anticipation is read plainly in his anxious expression. At the base of the statue, St. George is shown slaying the dragon, a relief Donatello rendered in the relievo schiacciato technique he invented.
   From 1415 until 1435, Donatello also worked on a series of prophets for the niches at the top of the Campanile of the Cathedral of Florence, each made to interact with viewers 30 feet below. His Zuccone (1423-1425; Florence, Museo dell' Opera del Duomo) is one among them. Instead of the conventional bearded old prophet, this figure relies on ancient Roman orator types with toga and opened mouth as if speaking. Donatello's figure is emaciated, as if caught in a moment of revelation, his features deeply carved so his expression may be perceived clearly from a distance. Also expressive are Donatello's Cantoria (1430s-1340s) for the Cathedral of Florence (Florence, Museo dell' Opera del Duomo), the bronze David (c. 1446-1460; Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello), the Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata (c. 1445-1453; Padua, Piazza del Santo), and the scenes in the high altar of San Antonio in Padua (1444-1449).
   Donatello eventually abandoned his reliance on classical principles to further explore the psychological depth of his subjects. His Mary Magdalen (1430s-1450s; Florence, Museo dell' Opera del Duomo) is an emaciated, toothless figure with sunken cheeks — a vivid portrayal of the woman who lived in the wilderness for four decades and engaged in prayer and penance. His Judith (c. 1446-1460; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio) seems in a trance as she decapitates Holofernes out of duty. Donatello's technical abilities and mastery at conveying meaning provided inspiration for Michelangelo, who, like his predecessor, understood the value of considering the physical and psychological interaction between art and observer.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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  • Donatello — [dō̂΄nä tel′lō̂; ] E [ dän΄ə tel′ō] (born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi) 1386? 1466; It. sculptor …   English World dictionary

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