Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi or “Donatello” was a very famous artist and sculptor during the early period of the Renaissance. A good deal is known about Donatello’s life and career, but little is known about his character and personality, and what is known is not wholly reliable. He never married and he seems to have been a man of simple tastes. Donatello was the son of Niccolo di Betto Bardi, and was born in Florence, most likely in 1386. Donatello was educated in the house of the Martelli family. He received his early artistic training in a goldsmith shop and thereafter worked under the wing of Lorenzo Ghiberti (Kren & Marx, 2009).
While undertaking study and excavations with Filippo Brunelleschi in Rome work that gained the two men the reputation of treasure seekers, Donatello made a living by working at goldsmiths’ shops. Their Roman sojourn was decisive for the entire development of Italian art in the 15th century, for it was during this period that Brunelleschi undertook his measurements of the Pantheon dome and of other Roman buildings. Brunelleschi’s buildings and Donatello’s sculptures are both considered supreme expressions of the spirit of this era in architecture and sculpture, and they exercised a potent influence upon the painters of the age.
Donatello did not marry, choosing instead to live with other artists and his many young workshop assistants. According to some historians, Donatello made no secret of his homosexuality, and his behaviour was tolerated by his friends (Strathern, 2003). However, little detail is known with certainty about his private life. No accusation against him has been found in the Florentine archives, which albeit during his lifetime are very incomplete(Crompton, 2003).
Donatello’s bronze life-sized David that he produced for Cosimo was one of the most overtly homosexual works of its era, its sensuous nudity emphasised by the young David’s calf-length ornamented leather boots and curly tresses(Strathern, 2003). His main works include St. Mark in Florence, St. George Tabernacle in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Prophet Habacuc, The Feast of Herod, David also in Museo Nazionale del Bargello, the Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata in Padua, Mary Magdalene in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Virgin and Child with Four Angels or Chellini Madonna.
Donatello left behind him so much work through the world that it may rightly be asserted that no artist worked as hard as he did. It is also true that Donatello was an all-round sculptor; he was equally at home in low relief and figures in the round, in wood as well as marble and bronze. With him, in Florence, the art of sculpture was born anew. His figures ranged from the martial St. George to Mary Magdalene consumed by fastings and abstinence, the arresting expressiveness of the latter being due in part at least, writes Vasari, “to his thorough knowledge of anatomy.
” With Donatello, a new era in sculpture dawned at the beginning of the 15th century. During such period he produced diverse masterpieces whose expressive power pointed the way for generstions of later sculptors. And, despite his receptiveness to classical models, his work displays a spiritualized sense of reality derived for the actual appearance of living things. Clearly, Donatello is one of the greatest sculptors to have ever lived as his works continue to influences of today’s modern artists.
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