Biography of Donatello (1386-1466)

Italian sculptor, named Niccolò di Betto Bardi, born in Florence in 1386 and died in 1466. Friend of Brunelleschi, enters the Quattrocento sculpture the rational method of perspective combining it with the knowledge of popular elements. Formed in Gothic workshops and then in the circle of Ghiberti, he worked with him at the finish of the first door of the Baptistery. Soon abandons certain traditional influences in his work to study avidly the legacy of classical antiquity. In 1407 he made, together with Nanni di Banco, a series of statues for the Cathedral of Florence representing the first attempts of renovation of the Gothic language. In the David of marble, 1409 Gothic ripple acquires a naturalistic vigor and raises the problem of the plastic form freely in space. In these first years of the century made the first trip to Rome, together his friend Brunelleschi, where his study of Roman ruins mark deep influences of the art and culture of antiquity.

Between 1411 and 1412 performs San Marcos and San Pedro for Orsanmichele and made 1413-1415 the San Juan Evangelista, currently at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

Since 1416 works at the statue of San Jorge, for one of the niches of the Orsanmichele, sample the figure of a boy of the street within a prototypical Christian Knight armor, his expression reflects the virtu of the citizen, its moral category, the statue becomes symbol of the heroic man, own of the Quattrocento vision, and artistically must its strength to the perfect positioning of the solid volume in a space providedconceived within the canons of the perspective of Brunelleschi. One of its characteristics, already expressed in this work, will be what has been called the dramatic realism, which manages to combine the classical gravity with the observable and empirical data that will draw the faces and gestures of the people on the street. On the pedestal of the sculpture is the relief of San Jorge slaying the Dragon where to enter a precise study of perspective.

For the Orsanmichele niche performs also the San Luis de Toulouse and the Group of the bell tower where is represented the sacrifice of Isaac. Between 1425 and 1433 shares workshop with Michelozzo and collaboration with him will be the tombs of the antipope Juan XXIII, of the baptistery of Florence, and that of Cardinal Brancacci, aimed at the Sant'Angelo a Nilo in Naples. In this last work, in the relief of the Assunta, Donatello carried out masterly technique of very low relief, of the schiacciato.

Between 1423 and 1427, he made bronze panel for the baptismal font of Siena represents where the feast of Herod. It is the work which offers the more rigorous application of the construction of the space according to the principles of perspective, getting by the successive decrease of planes that accentuate the dramatic sense, together with a strained expression in figures.

For the Bell Tower of the Cathedral of Florence, it performs a series of statues which include the Jeremiah from 1423 to 1425 where the realism of the head is achieved by mixing a popular model with the realism of Roman portraits, and the Habakkuk or Zuccone where the same dramatic tension reaches peaks of visionary rawness.

Between 1432 and 1433 is back in Rome where, probably next to Michelozzo, performs the Tabernacle of the sacrament in San Pedro and the slab for the tomb of Crivelli in the Aracoelli.

Back to Florence performs one of his best works the David of bronze, interrelation between the evocation of the old and the restless modeling with a continuous modulation of light and shadow. With it, Donatello, presents the first nude in bronze since antiquity. David does not interpret as a self-confident hero but that, following the line of the San Jorge, represents the figure of a teenager. It offers a classical reflection in the manner of Ghiberti, which will contrast with the profound drama of many of his later works.

Inspiration from the works of Donatello in this period is very varied, from moderation and lyricism of the Annunciation in 1435, in Santa Corce into the frenzy of the dance of the puttis in the pulpit outside of the Cathedral of Prato, designed by Michelozzo between 1429 and 1439, precursor of the dance of the Cantoria of Florence, where Donatello, breaking with the tradition of partitioning of space, as at the same time presents it Lucca della Robbia, offers a unique continuous scene in which the Angel sharks are dancing in honor of God. The violent rhythm of the puttis and the choice of the theme of naked children, typical of Roman sarcophagi, has been interpreted as a representation of a real pagan scene, inspired by the Greek dances. Faced with this expression of the Apostles and martyrs of the doors of the sacristy of San Lorenzo of Vecchia bronze is dramatic.

In 1443 he was called to Padua for the equestrian monument of the captain of the Fortune Erasmo of Narni, called Gattamelata, whose introduction was delayed several years. Waiting for decisions concerning the monument, he works at the basilica of San Antonio in the city where he made a bronze crucified and in 1446 a monumental altar, carried out with the collaboration of Bellano and Riccio local artists, the altar was dismantled and rebuilt arbitrarily in the last century. Of it are the bronze statues of the Virgin and the Saints, reliefs of miracles of San Antonio and in stone the deposition, but all stresses no doubt the Virgin with child, with a central and stationary position that expresses a great contained tension. Between 1446 and 1450 he made El Condottiero Gattamelata, is the first large equestrian statue from Marco Aurelio in Rome, and is inspired by it. The influence of this work will be decisive. He is considered that Donatello has interpreted the classical antiquity surpassing it, all equestrian statuary will inspire in the Gattamelata, to the point that in the 16th century Gaurico recommends forget this work and return to the ancient sources.

The stay of Donatello in Padua was fundamental since it introduces its dramatic and original interpretation of reality with a taste for the language of the Florentine Renaissance in an environment that is still linked to the traditions of the Gothic. The painting of Mantegna was deeply influenced by the works of Donatello in Padua.

His latest works are focused in Florence and Siena. In Florence, between 1455 and 1460, carried out the Group of Judith and Holofernes to one of the sources of the villa Medicis, was subsequently placed in front of the Palacio public, as a symbol of freedom citizen. Between 1460 and 1466 he made the bronze pulpits of San Lorenzo, where it is possible to work his disciple Berthold and sculptor Bellano. Located in Siena until 1461, where performs a San Juan to the Cathedral and a few designs for doors of the same currently missing. One of his last works is Magdalena, in polychrome wood, where you create an image almost spectral, deeply tragic, interpreted as the symbol of the crisis of the ideals of the early 15th century.

Donatello. Santa Cecilia.

Donatello. San Jorge.


BUSIGNANIA.: Donatello in Padua. Granada, 1966.

CECHI, e.: The sculpture Florentine where. Mexico, 1961.