Donatello (Part II)

Almost simultaneously with his works for the Orsanmichele, between 1415 and 1426 Donatello produced five statues for the campanile of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. These set of statues of Prophets constitutes the most important work of Donatello’s youth and are currently deposited in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. They include the sculptures of the Beardless Prophet (also known as “Prophet with a Scroll”) and the Bearded Prophet (both from between 1418-1420); the Sacrifice of Isaac (ca. 1418); Habbakuk (also known as Lo Zuccone, 1423-1426); and Jeremiah (1423–1426). Donatello’s vision of a “Prophet” was all valid in biblical terms, religiously significant and figuratively stimulating. In effect, Donatello’s model of a “Prophet” represented not only a man predestined by God to become “His voice” during certain moments in the history of Israel, but also represented a man of his time who participated with his particular personality in the history of his people for which he was individually and physically committed. In this sense, Donatello’s placed his prophets in the infinity of times, and at the same time in their own time. From this artistic concept derived the new demand for an individual expression, we would almost say, a necessity of an imaginary “portrait”. Thus, in his Bearded Prophet, we can envision the sadness of ancient pessimism, of the “Vanity of Vanities” described in Ecclesiastes. This is also evident in the figure of Jeremiah, his expression of contempt (almost of rejection) of the idolatrous mobs, impregnates his old body. In these figures of his Apostles, Donatello almost reflected the types of the ancient Classical portraiture, especially those from the end of the Republic and from the beginning of the Empire. For Donatello, the Roman portraiture represented an inexhaustible repertoire of human types and anatomical details, which also he saw were reflected in the contemporary men that surrounded him. The fundamental difference was that, in the Roman portrait, the man appeared representing a documentary effigy, almost balanced with his vital aspects; instead, in Donatello’s images, he wanted to reflect the mark the anguish of life and the search for faith had left on their faces as time went by. In these Prophets, we can see a spontaneous and univocal will to participate in life and history.

The Prophets Donatello carved for the east side of Florence Campanile date from between 1415 and 1436. Pictured above, the Beardless Prophet (left) and the Bearded Prophet (right). The Beardless Prophet (marble, ca. 1418, 1.95 m height, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence) was probably a portrait of Donatello’s friend, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Here, the prophet pierces the scroll with his finger while looking down. The Bearded Prophet (marble, ca. 1419-1420, 1.94 m height, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence) represents a milestone in realism, including a study in human thoughts and character. His attitude conveys thinking: the right hand under the chin and his slightly forward position seem to emphasize a contemplative attitude. The Florentines called this statue the Pensieroso (the Thinker).
The Sacrifice of Isaac, marble, by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo, ca. 1418, 1.91 m height (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence). This group, made in collaboration with Nanni di Bartolo, was originally located inside a narrow alcove at the east side of the Florence Campanile, posing an enormous limitation for the design of a sculpture group with two figures. Donatello and di Bartolo found the solution to this problem by placing the two figures one in front of the other. The sculpture represents the dramatic moment when Abraham was prepared to obey God’s command, to kill his own son in sacrifice. Isaac is depicted turning his head to the left in the precise moment God commands him to spare his son’s life. This group shows Donatello’s willing to forward advance in the conquest of vertical space, which here is not divided up but broken into several points of view.
Prophet Habakkuk, marble, by Donatello, 1423-1426, 1.96 m height (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence). This statue was originally located on the north side of the Campanile. The rendering of realism reached one of its highest points in Donatello’s Habakkuk (also known as Lo Zuccone – “pumpkin-head”). Habakkuk’s figure appears skinny and bony under his rough robe that resembles a toga; his hands clutches convulsively at the strap and the rolled top of a scroll; his bald head is curved, left intentionally rough. This masterpiece by Donatello while intended to represent a tormented and emaciated prophet, it is probably a portrait of Giovanni Chiericini, an enemy of the Medicis. This statue was Donatello’s favorite, and in his writings Vasari claimed that the artist used to swear by his sculpture: “by the faith I place in my Zuccone…” Donatello is also said to have shouted “speak, damn you, speak, or get the plague!!” at the marble as he was carving it. This sculpture has been recognized as one of the most important marble sculptures of the 15th century.
Prophet Jeremiah, marble, by Donatello, 1423-1426, 1.91 m height (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence). The prophet Jeremiah is wrapped in a heavy robe that falls, like a Roman toga, in voluminous folds around his seemingly naked body. Like Habakkuk, this statue was intended for the north side of the Campanile. It is thought that it portrays Francesco Soderini, another enemy of the Medicis. In this sculpture, Donatello shows a higher level of mastery and maturity in his carving. He included more psychological inspection and more of the human body is visible, like part of the chest, the right arm, and some of the left leg. The script in the left hand is not legible to the viewer, but it is legible to the prophet.

From ca. between 1425-1430 is the Pazzi Madonna relief in the Bode-Museum in Berlin, and from ca. 1408-1409 comes the notable Crucifix for Santa Croce. In this work, Donatello portrayed Christ in a moment of agony, with his eyes and mouth partially opened, and his body contracted in an ungraceful posture. Between 1422 to 1428, Donatello collaborated with Michelozzo to produce the funerary monument of the Antipope John XXIII for the Baptistery in Florence focusing on the recumbent bronze figure of the deceased placed under a lunette. In 1427, he finished a marble relief for the funerary monument of Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci for the church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo in Naples, and by the same period, he executed the relief of the Feast of Herod and the statues of Faith and Hope for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Siena. The relief showing scenes of the Feast of Herod (1423-1427) represents Donatello’s first great example of low relief where we can appreciate an extremely effective perspective, from the representation of the architectural forms among which the scene unfolds (three successive atriums with arches and pilasters in a late-Roman style) placed among figures of a provocative voluptuousness, down to the type of thick and dense relief of the figures in the foreground that, little by little, end up being resolved in the faint figures of the background. From the low relief of the tabernacle of Saint George onward, Donatello committed to the exclusive use of the schiacciato technique in his reliefs and reaching higher levels of mastery and accuracy in its use, which allowed him not only to emulate real perspective in a reduced space, but to emulate plasticity and movement. In order to achieve this, Donatello made the profile lines to stand out with greater clarity, as seen in the mentioned Madonna Pazzi relief of the Berlin Museum and in the Assumption of the Virgin of the Brancacci Monument, in Naples. In the Madonna Pazzi, the Classical purity is evident in Donatello’s modeling (almost emulating the work of Phidias for the frieze of the Parthenon). Also notable are the vitality of the new composition, and the sweet naturalness observed in the placement of the Child inside the living space determined by the figure of his Mother, thus determining a semi-elliptical layout that will remain engraved for a long time on the eyes of the artists of the Renaissance.

Pazzi Madonna, relief in marble, by Donatello, 1425-1430 (Bode-Museum, Berlin). This schiacciato relief was probably commissioned for private devotion for the Palazzo Pazzi della Congiura in Florence. This work was extremely popular at the time and several copies are known. Here, Donatello showed us that he also could express tenderness and intimacy. The figure of the Virgin Mary is shown in three-quarter-view while holding the Christ Child in her arms and neither of them have halos. The child extends his arm to his mother, though both their expressions show melancholy, with the Virgin reflecting on her son’s future Passion and sacrificial death. Delicacy is further expressed by Donatello’s careful delineation of Mary’s silk garment. The air of melancholy and the idealized types are reminiscent of ancient Greek sculpture (like stelae). This relief is highly praised for its extraordinary virtuosity, see for example the three-dimensional hands, remarkably shallow in depth (actually a few millimetres thick), with the left represented in foreshortening. The sense of depth is accentuated by the frame shaped like a window, surrounding the scene, and which separates us from the intimate scene.
Crucifix, polychrome wood, by Donatello, ca. 1406-1408, 168 x 173 cm (Cappella Bardi di Vernio, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence). The intensely life-like face of the dead Christ reflects Donatello’s focus on representing reality, even though he was a young artist just returning back from Rome at the time he carved this work. Because of its “exaggerated” realism, the crucifix was criticized by Donatello’s friend Filippo Brunelleschi as he complained that Donatello had instead represented a crucified peasant. Donatello takes his concept of realism to the next level. In this Santa Croce crucifix he has depicted a suffering man, rather than a divine abstract. In doing so, Donatello’s intention was to trigger profound empathy among believers precisely by stressing the similarities between Jesus and themselves. This objective was further pursued by making the sculpture “movable” so it could be taken down from the cross and used during the celebration of Holy Week. This could be achieved by a spindle connecting the arm to the shoulder, allowing for both arms to fold at Christ’s sides and thus enabling him to be taken off the cross.
Funerary Monument to the Anti-pope John XXIII, gilded pietra serena, by Michelozzo and Donatello, 1422-1428, 7.13 x 2 x 2.13 m (Baptistery, Florence). Beginning in 1425, Donatello started a workshop partnership with Michelozzo and both worked together right into the 1430s on several extensive projects which included this funeral monument. The overall design of the monument is from Donatello, but for its execution he was heavily assisted by Michelozzo. The bronze effigy is certainly by Donatello, the marble reliefs of the Madonna with Child in the lunette and the Virtues at the base are by Michelozzo. The general monument’s layout (pictured above) is framed within two columns and includes figures of the three Virtues in niches at the base, the Anti-pope’s family coat of arms, a gilded bronze recumbent effigy laying above an inscription-bearing sarcophagus supported on corbel brackets, and above it a Madonna and Child in a half-lunette, covered by a canopy.
Above and below: On top of the sarcophagus of the funerary monument to the Anti-pope John XXIII (see previous picture), the bier of the effigy is supported by lions mimicking Trecento consoles. The bier appears tilted towards the viewer with the lion supporting the head being 2 cm (1 in) shorter, thus increasing the visibility of the effigy, especially the head (see picture below). The gilded-bronze, life-size effigy represents Baldassarre Cossa dressed in a cardinal’s costume. Before this funerary monument, there was no precedent for a three-dimensional gilded-bronze effigy on an Italian tomb monument.
The reclining statue of the anti-pope John XXIII was realistically rendered by Donatello, particularly in the facial details and the deep folds of the garments. The head of the deceased is leaning to one side, his figure is the only part of the funeral monument to have been produced in gilded bronze.
Funerary Monument of Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci, marble partly gilded and polychrome, by Donatello and Michelozzo, ca. 1426-1428 (Church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo, Naples). This tomb monument was also the work of Donatello and Michelozzo. Contrary to the monument of the anti-pope John XXIII in Florence (see pictures above), it is likely that Michelozzo, instead of Donatello, was mainly responsible for its design and construction. Only the relief of the Assumption of the Virgin on the sarcophagus (see picture below) can definitely be attributed to Donatello. Two composite columns flank the monument. They in turn support a round arch with side pendentives framed by double pilasters and tondo reliefs. The top, in Gothic style, includes a relief tondo at the center representing “Christ Redeemer” and two statues of puttos with trumpets. The tomb itself is enclosed by this architectural frame, and is supported by three caryatids. The front of the sarcophagus has two coat of arms at the sides framing a schiacciato relief of the “Assumption of the Virgin” executed by Donatello (see picture below). Above the sarcophagus lies the recumbent effigy of the cardinal flanked by two angels opening a stone drapery hanging from the arch. Behind and right above them is a lunette with a bas-relief of the “Madonna between Two Saints”.
Assumption of the Virgin, schiacciato relief in marble for the Funerary Monument of Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci, by Donatello, ca. 1427
(Church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo, Naples). As well as in his relief of the Madonna Pazzi (see pictures before), Donatello made a masterful use of the flattened (schiacciato) relief, pushing its expressive possibilities to the utmost limits, evident in the exceptional, almost graphic way in which the marble was treated, and in the atmospheric “mobile” quality of the space in which the scene unfolds.
The Baptismal font of the Baptistery of Siena, ca. 1417, was designed by Jacopo della Quercia and it’s whole is the result of a cooperation of the best contemporary sculptors. The polygonal basin with its bronze reliefs and the statues in the niches are the works of della Quercia, Donatello and Ghiberti. The bronze panels represent the Life of John the Baptist.
The Feast of Herod, bronze relief, by Donatello, ca. 1423-1427, 60 x 60 cm (Baptistery of the Siena Cathedral). This is Donatello’s first bronze relief and is remarkable in its use of perspective. The scene depicts the beheading of John the Baptist after Salome asks Herod Antipas for his head on a platter. In earlier depictions of this narrative, such as Andrea Pisano’s reliefs on the South Doors of the Florence Baptistery (1330–1336), Salome’s dance, the beheading of St. John, and the presentation of the head to King Herod, were separated into different scenes. In his interpretation of the scene, Donatello brings all these elements together, using continuous narrative and thus illustrating multiple scenes of a narrative within a single frame. In first plane to the left, we see an executioner presenting the severed head, while Herod reacts in shock. To the right appears the dancing figure of Salome influenced on classical types. The addition of architectural elements as a background allowed for the incorporation of linear perspective to the scene, which in turn directs the viewer’s attention to the important focal points and figures. For the layout of the Feast of Herod, Donatello employed Filippo Brunelleschi’s linear perspective by including orthogonals (diagonal lines that meet at a central vanishing point) and transversals (the lines crossing these orthogonals) which together draw the eye to the vanishing point and create an illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface.  Another way in which Donatello implies tri-dimensional space was through the use of high and low relief, including his rilievo schiacciato which he had used earlier in his image of St. George and the Dragon for the Orsanmichele. Donatello utilized this type of flattened relief to create atmospheric effect and to give the impression of greater depth. This low relief is evident in the architecture of the layered arches and in the background figures.
Of the six figures of the virtues that were commissioned for the corners of the baptismal font of the baptistery of Siena, Donatello executed between 1427 and 1429 two small statues: Faith (left) and Hope (right). The “Faith” (bronze, 1427-1429, 52 cm height) is represented by a woman who is dressed in a voluminous garment and holds in her left the cup which, in the Eucharist, symbolizes the forgiveness of sins. The “Hope” (bronze, 1427-1429, 52 cm height) was traditionally embodied in the form of a woman who is raising both hands and gazing upwards, towards God.
Madonna of the Clouds, marble relief, by Donatello, ca. 1425–1435, 33.1 x 32 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). As with his Madonna Pazzi relief (see picture before), Donatello again carved this work in flattened relief (rilievo schiacciato). The figure of the Madonna seemingly sits on the ground embracing the child Christ, to convey the idea of humility, but the group appears to be placed within clouds surrounded by angels and cherubs, reflecting her status as the Queen of Heaven.


5 thoughts on “Donatello (Part II)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s