Donatello

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

A leading figure of the early Renaissance in Italy was the sculptor Donatello. He was one of the first artists to study the art of ancient Greece and Rome, which had been largely ignored during the Middle Ages. Combining the forms of classical art with his own ideas, Donatello created sculptures that influenced artists for generations.

Donatello was born in Florence about 1386. The son of a wool comber, his real name was Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. His first training was in a goldsmith's shop, but at age 17 he became an apprentice to the famous sculptor Ghiberti. In 1407 he began work at Florence Cathedral, where he carved a series of biblical figures. These statues were much more lifelike than the stiff sculptures of the Middle Ages. Donatello received many commissions from churches and private patrons. He decorated tombs and pulpits and made portrait busts and monuments. He also carved many reliefs--carvings raised from a flat surface. Using his knowledge of the new science of perspective, Donatello gave the illusion of depth to these reliefs.

Donatello was greatly influenced by the ancient works of art that he saw during two trips to Rome, in about 1409 and 1432-33. This influence can be seen in his elegant and graceful bronze life-size statue of David. Another important bronze is in Padua. Known as Gattamelata, it is a statue of a Roman general on horseback.

Donatello died on December 13, 1466.

Reviewed by Howard Hibbard
Columbia University

 

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