April 17, 2021

How Did Donatello Influence the Early Renaissance Era?

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi is quite possibly one of the most underappreciated Renaissance Era figures. Donatello was a significant influence in early Italian art. He was born in 1386 in Florence, and he received his artistic training from Lorenzo Ghiberti. One of his first projects was to erect a statue of St. John the Baptist. Donatello’s work shifted the creative perspective at the time, transforming the style from Gothic Mannerist to something much more organic. Some may even go as far as to say that he humanised art, which gave birth to a movement that ended up transforming the world of art as we know it.

David – The Most Famous Work by Donatello

Donatello became an independent sculpture, and his most famous work was David. He wanted to focus on naturalism, not to mention that he wanted to showcase how beautiful the human figure was. In 1430, a famous artistic patron known as Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned the famous David. This was to be the first nude, free-standing sculpture to be made since the Roman Era. Some say that this sculpture is so natural that it must have been born from life itself. It startled critics for decades, and some say that it is the epitome of virtue and beauty triumphing over brutality.  The dreamy posture and effeminate physique broke down barriers and expressed humanism in a way that had not been explored for quite some time.

Donatello continued to work on carvings for palazzos and cathedrals after he moved from Florence to Padua. In 1443, he completed his work of a life-sized statue of Erasmo da Narni. This was a glorious monument, and work of this calibre had not been seen since the Classical Era. It was so mesmerising that it was given pride of place in the town plaza. Erasmo triggered a copycat movement across the country of Italy, and this pushed Donatello’s fame into a whole new light.  Shortly after, he went on to create work for the Basilica of St. Anthony and carved allegories that depicted the Garden of Eden.

Communicating Movement through Inanimate Stone

One interesting point to make about Donatello is that he was able to communicate motion through inanimate stone. This is called figura serpentinata in Italy. It’s similar to contrapposto, which is a pose frequently used by sculptures. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and subsequent masters would adopt this technique to breathe life into their work.

The Penitent Magdalene- A Carved Wooden Work of Art

Donatello did not confine himself to stone and stone alone. As mentioned earlier, he frequently used metal as a primary media for his work. He also went on to produce carved wooden status, including the Penitent Magdalene.  This was completed around 1450, and it was done so for the Baptistery of Florence. At the time, this statue was nothing short of ground-breaking. When you look at Renaissance Christian art, you will soon see that nothing contained as much realism as this, and it showed a unique perspective of Mary Magdalene. It showed her wasting away and fasting, as opposed to being healthy and beautiful. Again, this furthers the point that Donatello was much more focused on the humanism side of art, as opposed to focusing on perfection alone.

Donatello had a Passion for his Work Above All Else

It’s said that Donatello was not well-liked as a person. Even though he was a celebrated artist, some say that his passion for art did influence some of his behaviour. Donatello was known to destroy sculptures if he knew that someone he did not approve of was planning on buying them. He valued his freedom and creativity with art above all else, and at the time, this was seen by society as being abrasive. He gained the protection of the Medici family, and this meant that he did not have to concern himself with the outcome of his antisocial behaviour. The Medici family provided him with a lot of commissions and helped his journey to become the artist that he went on to be. This attitude helped him to be confident in his work, and again, plays a major role in the pieces he went on to create.

The Cradle of the Renaissance Era

Some say that there were three factors that influenced Donatello during his time as an artist. First of all, he was squarely situated in the cradle of the Renaissance. His hometown had plenty of wealthy merchants, and it was also a gathering place for artists. He did not have to go far to connect with people for techniques, subject matters and classical details.

Donatello and his Higher Understanding of Human Emotions

When Donatello finally returned to Florence, he was seen as a master of art. He continued to create work in his own intense style, and he also trained sculptures, including Bartolomeo Bellano. His final work would be the Christ before Pilate, which he purposely did not finish. This technique was popular during the Renaissance Era, as it left some room for emotional intensity. When Donatello passed in the year 1466, he was buried in an elevated tomb alongside the Cosimo de’ Medici. Unfortunately, Donatello’s work isn’t as widely celebrated when compared to other Italian artists. His influence on naturalism, emotional expression and humanism, however, did have a great impact on the Renaissance Era. He paid a great deal of attention to anatomic perfection and physical beauty, not to mention that he helped to ease the transition between medieval sculpting to perfection and class. He also greatly impacted the perception of interpretation, radically changing the way that art was not only created but also viewed. Even though he isn’t widely recognised as being the greatest of his time, it’s safe to say that art today would not be the same had it not been for his influence.

His impact on the Renaissance Era went on to inspire generations, and some would even go as far as to say that it does to this day.