Donatello was a sculptor from Florence, Italy, who became popular for his Renaissance art. Second to Michelangelo in terms of skills, he is known for his sculptures of David, Mary Magdalene, and the Gattamelata.
Donatello’s real name was Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi. Being the son of Niccolo di Betto Bardi, a member of the Florentine Wool Combers Guild, helped him start his career and gain status. He was educated at the home of Martellis, an influential family of bankers and art patrons who had close connections with the Medici family.
Donatello was also trained under a goldsmith, where he learned metallurgy and fabrication of metals and other substances. He became an apprentice with Lorenzo Ghiberti, a Florence metalsmith and sculptor. Donatello was Ghiberti’s assistant in creating the bronze doors for the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral.
In 1419, Donatello was nominated to sculpt a tomb for the Baptistery of Baldassare Cossa, a scandalous pope during that time. Donatello’s friend, Cosimo, and his father donated funds for the sculptor. Donatello came up with an amazing bronze sculpture of the pope, which helped his reputation as an artist.
Donatello’s early art works were between the years 1409 to 1417: St. John the Evangelist, a work of art that magnifies the human figure by making it realistic; St. Mark, where Michelangelo was found commenting he had “never seen a figure with such an air of a good man”; St. Peter, where he co-worked with Brunelleschi; St. George, a sculpture that looks so life-like that it would appear to be almost moving is an example of the first stiacciato technique. Stiacciato is a technique that provides the illusion of depth.
Donatello continued being a successful sculptor in his middle years, displaying exceptional skills in artworks such as Feast of Herod, Annunciation, and Singing Gallery. He met architect and sculptor Michelozzo and formed a partnership with him in 1425 and journeyed around Rome in 1429.
Some historians believed that Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi became friends and journeyed to Rome to study classical art. It was on that trip that probably the two had learned how to excavate the ruins of Rome. The said trip was vital in developing Donatello’s skills as an artist as he gained knowledge on ornamentation and classic form, which changed the course of Italian art in the 15th century.
Donatello carved two versions of David. The first version was the marble David made in 1408, which was one of his earliest works. The said sculpture lacked the edge and style that would later show as he matured as an artist. The marble David depicted a blank expression.
The bronze David was made in 1440 and was the first free-standing nude male sculpture. Unlike the marble David, this one shows a mysterious smile and his foot on Goliath’s severed head. Donatello’s work on this version of David was undocumented; however, historians said that it was commissioned by the Medici family to be placed in the Medici palace courtyard.
The statue underwent restoration from June, 2007, to October, 2008, using scalpels and lasers to remove surface buildup.
The Penitent Magdalene is a wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene made around 1453-1455, which was commissioned for the Baptistery of Florence. Giorgio Vasari, a Renaissance art historian, mentioned it as a work with no mistakes and a perfect anatomy. Donatello was already more than sixty years old when he created the sculpture after spending years in Padua.
Donatello’s skills in depicting realistic human emotions, movement, and depth in his sculpture and being the first artist to use bronze as his sculpting medium gained him followers and recognition from fellow artists during his time. Famous followers of Donatello were his students Bertoldo di Giovanni and Desiderio da Settignano and other sculptors such as Andrea del
During Donatello’s final years, he continued accepting work and payments from wealthy patrons. His close ties with the Medici family allowed him to have an allowance all throughout his retirement period. He died on December 13, 1446, from unknown causes and was buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, right next to Cosimo de’ Medici.