The Artist Donatello

Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, or Donatello, was a sculptor of Florence’s Early Renaissance in art. He was born around 1386 in Florence, Italy, the son of a professional wool crafter. One of the earliest records of his artist career was his work as the assistant of Lorenzo Ghiberti. They worked on the first bronze doors of Florence’s Baptistery. At the time, Ghiberti was a leader of the art movement, International Gothic.

During the early Renaissance, works of art, architecture, and sculpture were paid for in part by newly rich, middle class families gaining power in Italian cities. For example, the Medici family rose to power in Florence and contributed two Popes in the Renaissance period. Many of Donatello’s works were financed by commissions from families like the Medici clan.

Donatello later completed more works for the area where the Florence Baptistery is located. This center was important to Roman Catholicism in Florence. Donatello completed five statues for Il Duomo’s campanile, or belltower. Il Duomo is situated directly across from the Baptistery.

Two of Donatello’s early works were statues of St. Mark and St. George finished around 1413. St. Mark is a statue occupying one of two niches outside the Orsanmichele church in Florence. The other statue is St. George, which was eventually replaced by a copy in the Orsanmichele church. The original of St. George now resides in Italy’s Museo Nazionale de Barge. Donatello also completed a statue of St. Louis of Toulouse for the same church.

In keeping with the power and spirit of the Italian Renaissance, Donatello developed relationships with the Medici family. For example, Cosimo di Medici nominated Donatello to produce a tomb for Pope Baldassare Cossa, for inclusion in the Baptistery. The funding for this project was provided by Cosimo and his father. For the top of the tomb, Donatello composed a bronze version of the dead Pope.

Later in his career, Donatello created the Equestrian Monument to Gattamelata (1445-1450) in Padua. This monument is another example of naturalism. In making people and animals that were true to life, Donatello broke from the Gothic style of Mannerism. One of his final projects was a statue of the penitent Mary Magdalene, also for the Baptistery.

In his lifetime, Donatello sculpted friezes such as the Lamentation over the Dead Christ in bronze, a Roman Catholic theme more interpretative than sculptures of saints or dead Popes. The principal work for this project was completed by his assistant, Bertoldo di Giovanni (c. 1430-1491). Donatello died in Florence in 1466. In all of his works, the artist demonstrated how he could sculpt just about anything and achieve the effects of realism and emotion.