Guest Post by Michael Fletcher
Sixteenth-century portrait of Donatello
Did you know that “Donatello” was actually the nickname given to the famous sculptor by family and friends? His full name was, in fact, Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, and he was born in Florence, Italy in the year 1386. While we don’t know the exact day he was born, we do know that Donatello passed away on the 13th of December, 1466, leaving behind a vast body of work that would ultimately solidify him as one of the greatest sculptors of the early Italian Renaissance. He likely owes his ultimate career path to the status of his father as a craftsman in the Florentine Wool Combers Guild. It is believed that he learned metallurgy and honed the skills to work with metals and more while being educated at the home of the Martelli's - a Florentine family of bankers and art patrons.
Donatello never married or had any children, and he lived his entire life in Florence, Italy - though he would travel to Rome and Padua at various points in order to conduct research and to work. In fact, that very stint in Padua nearly killed the man, as he was inactive for a period of time and is actually quoted as saying that he almost died of an illness “among those frogs in Padua.”
Donatello’s famously-known Gothic style is attributed, in part, to his association and friendship with fellow artist Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 - 15 April 1446). Though the Gothic style of Donatello’s early works were likely influenced by Brunelleschi, eventually he would shift away from these standards and in doing so damage their friendship - a rift that would remain for the rest of their lives.
Speaking of Donatello’s works, you can find several famous casts of his in the Caproni Collection, here. One standout piece is St. George, a sculpture originally created for a niche (a recess in a wall especially for a statue) outside of Orsanmichele, the church of Florentine guilds. We’re sure it’d look great filling any niche in your own home, and we also offer a space-saving St. George bust as well! Other notable pieces in our collection include a bust of St. John and Madonna and Child. In fact, did you know that one of his many reliefs of the Madonna is the only relief by Donatello that exists in the United States? It can be found in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts - a stone’s throw from our gallery in Woburn, Massachusetts!
Donatello’s most famous work, however, is surely his bronze sculpture of the biblical hero David from the story of David and Goliath, which is believed to have been created for the Medici family around 1440. Besides being an absolutely masterful work of art in its own right, it’s also notable as being the first large-scale, free-standing nude statue of the Renaissance. It is now housed in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, Italy.
Donatello’s David, bronze, c. 1440
I hope you enjoyed this brief look back at the life of Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (yeah, definitely sticking with “Donatello”). Even after his death, he would continue to inspire Italian sculptors such as Michelangelo for centuries to come, and his contributions to the artistic community are pretty hard to miss! Though today it may be somewhat difficult to see his original works here in the United States, just remember - we’ve got a cast for that!
Biography.com Editors. "Donatello Biography." The Biography.com website, A&E Television Networks, 2 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/artist/donatello.
Draper, James David. “Donatello (ca. 1386–1466).” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2002, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dona/hd_dona.htm.
Janson, H.W. "Donatello." Encyclopædia Britannica, 23 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Donatello.
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