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Donatello Bardi

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Donatello Bardi: 1386-1466...Italy

If we think of the greatest sculptors of all time, one must include Donatello Bardi into our thoughts. He is one of the greatest sculptors of the Renaissance and all time. He was born in Florence, Italy as the son of Niccolò di Betto Bardi, who was a wool carder. It is unknown who taught young Donatello stone carving, but it is thought that he learned from a sculptor working on the Cathedral of Florence in about 1400.


The Donatello’s first truly formal instruction was under Lorenzo Ghiberti. He was twenty when he began in Ghiberti’s studio. Ghiberti was a sculptor that is best known for his creation of a second set of doors that was to go with the ones designed by Andrea Pisano for the Baptistery in Florence, Italy. He also learns from Ghiberti’s rival, Filippo Brunelleschi: this is where he learned the practical use of one point perspective, for the creation of a three-dimensional effect on a two-dimensional surface. Donatello also had a vast knowledge of ancient sculpture. He was more knowledgeable of this topic that virtually any other artist due to his research and direct inspiration from these ancient examples. He, along with Brunelleschi, even had studied the ancient ruins in Rome for two years.

Donatello was also the first major sculptor of his generation to work in the bronze media. For a time, in large projects, he worked with sculptor and architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo. We see a style change in Donatello that contrasts his Brunelleschi training. This causes some serious conflicts between the master and his former student. One of the crown jewels of Donatello’s bronze sculptural achievement was his 1430 creation, David. In this work, Donatello creates the first large-scale, free standing nude since classic times (the times of the Greeks and Romans). Truely a rebirth of old ideas. The young and slightly feminine David is one of Donatello’s most technically classic. This work also gives a reappearance of contrapostto, or a natural weight shift in a standing human. Who the sculpture was made for is unknown, but it was likely a de' Medici commissioned work. It first appeared at a de' Medici palace in the courtyard at Lorenzo de' Medici’s wedding in 1469. Shortly after creating David, Donatello became employed by the de' Medici family for ten years (from 1433 through 1443).

David
1430. Bronze. 62 inches tall. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

Donatello is also noted for having pushed relief sculpture to a higher quality it had been in centuries. His first major work in relief, or schiacciato, was his marble panel St. George Killing the Dragon. Schiacciato means to be flattened out. He would continue to explore new relief technique through the 1420s and early 1430s.

St. George Killing the Dragon
1416. Marble. 15X47 inches. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

Donatello was a prolific sculptor that could work in virtually any media. He is known, as most sculptors of the time are, for his marble and bronze works, but one of my personal favorites was rendered in wood. After suffering some unknown illness while working in Padua, one of the two works he created between 1450 and 1455 was Mary Magdalen. This is not a Biblical Magdalen, but a post-Biblical. She was rumored to have gone to live a life of repentance in the desert. We see her without fine cloths or beauty. This extremely psychological Mary is tense with feeling. The sculpture was sent back to Florence to be placed in the Florentine baptistery.

Mary Magdalen
1455. Wood. 75 inches tall. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy.

As for Donatello the man, little is known about his character and personality. He was described as a man of simple tastes. It is said that Donatello demanded a large degree of artistic freedom from his clients. It is fair to say that he was devoted to his work. He did not marry and had no children, so his works of art became his only offspring. In 1466, he died at the age of 80.

donatello.jpg
David

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063