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Donatello was quoted saying “I was the first--a revolutionary. I was creating a new kind of sculpture before the others were even born” (www.reniassancesculpture.com). Donatello was wise beyond his years. Little did he know that he was so right. He had many of breakthroughs in marble, bronze, and wood sculpture, including the first male nude since the Romans and the very first equestrian (horse and rider) statue. Donatello can be considered a genius. He rediscovered the classical past and at the same time he took sculpting to a whole new level.
Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (Donatello) was born in Florence, Italy, in 1436. He came from a very humble background. His father was a wool carder. Donatello grew up like any normal boy in that period, getting into occasional trouble. Then in 1404 he worked in the workshop of a renown goldsmith and sculptor named Ghiberti. While working with Ghiberti, he was hired to do small statues of prophets for the Porta della Mandorla. In about 1407 Donatello left Ghiberti and started working on his own. A year later he created his first major work, a marble David. From 1408 until about 1422 he did miscellaneous statues for churches, including the great statues of St. George and St. Mark. Over the next eight to ten years, he started working with his long time friend Michelozzo on many different projects including the tomb of Pope John Paul XXIII, the tomb of Cardinal Brancacci in Naples, and the exterior pulpit of the Prato Cathedral. Between 1432 and 1438 he finished the exterior pulpit that he started at the Prato Cathedral. At the same time he was doing other projects as well. For example, he worked on the decoration of the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo and the Cantoria for the Duomo in Florence. Later on he was hired to create the bronze doors for the two Cathedral sacristies, but they were never made. From 1444 to 1453 he lived in Padua. He made this move because of the commission from the statue Gattamelata. He completed the statue a few years later and it was unveiled to the public three years later. He returned to Florence after the completion of Gattamelata. There he did many works until his death. Two important works were Mary Magdalane and the Judith and Holoferenes. In 1457 he left for Siena where he made a statue of St. John the Baptist for the cathedral. Soon after he was back in Florence where he would stay. On his return he was hired to do his last statues. They were two bronze pulpits for San Lorenzo. He started them but died before they were completed (Two of his students completed them). He died on December 13, 1466.
Donatello had many influences in his life but the prominent ones are the study of Leon Battista Alberti’s theories and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s teachings to him as a young man. Alberti’s theories were concerning ideal proportions for the portrayal of the human figure. Donatello followed these rules strictly to create one of his most famous works, the marble David. Someone once said “The proportions of this David (marble) coincide almost exactly with Alberti’s rules...” (Poeschke, 1349).
His other great influence in his life was the teachings of Lorenzo Ghiberti. This great sculptor showed Donatello “the ropes.” He taught Donatello everything he knew. “Donatello had learned the technique of bronze sculpture as a youth by working under Ghiberti...” (Poeschke, 385). He taught Donatello so much that Donatello and Ghiberti became great rivals in the sculpting industry. They shared the some of the same techniques. Particularly in the creation of the bronze panelsm, The Feast of Herod (Donatello) and The Story of Jacob and Esau (Ghiberti), are very similar. In both of the panels, it is as though the viewer is looking through a window into a room and viewing the scene. Both Donatello and Ghiberti share the same technique that made them extremely competent and successful relief sculptors.
Donatello is classified as a Renaissance sculptor. According to Smith and Masters in their art line of art history, a Renaissance sculptor is classified as using the following characteristics in their art. The artist\'s work was paid for by guilds and private patrons to make sure that the artists were remembered
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Donatello, David, Erasmo of Narni, Lorenzo Ghiberti, The Feast of Herod, Equestrian statue of Gattamelata, Sculpture, Equestrian statue, Siena Cathedral, Saint Mark, Equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, Renaissance art
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