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 Donatello (1386-1466)

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PostSubject: Donatello (1386-1466)   Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:07 am

Donatello (1386-1466)

The Florentine artist Donatello (full name, Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi) was unquestionably the greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance. He reinvented the art of sculpture just as other contemporaries were reinventing fine art painting.

He is best known for his work in basso rilievo, a form of shallow relief sculpture, and worked in bronze, stone, wood and terracotta. He was able to bring sculpture to life by infusing it with narrative, and by combining realism with powerful emotion. His sculptures are full of energy and thought, ready to spring into action.

His most famous works include David (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence), one of the most iconic figures in Renaissance religious art; St Mark, 1411 (San Michele, Florence); St.George, c.1415 (Museo Nazionale del Bargello) and Zuccone, c.1436 (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence), Feast of Herod, 1439 (Musee des Beaux Arts, Lille) and the equestrian statue of Gattamelata [Erasmo da Narni], 1444-53 (Piazza del Santo, Padua).

Born in Florence, Donatello received early training, as far as we know at a goldsmith's workshop and then briefly at the studio of the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455).

He assisted Ghilberti in the completion of several statues before turning to a solo-career. In 1411 he created the statue of St Mark and a few years later the statue of St George. This statue was executed in bas-relief (basso rilievo), or low relief - which meant that it is not free-standing but rather has a background from which the main elements of the composition protrude. The advantage of this method is that it allows the work to be viewed from various angles without distortion of the figures themselves. St George is also one of the first examples of central-point perspective in sculpture. Between 1415 and 1426, Donatello created five statues for the Campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, also known as the Duomo. Other important early works include Virgin and Child, 1430 (Santa Croce, Florence); Herod's Banquet, 1439 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille); Pazzi Madonna, 1420 (Staatliche Museen, Berlin).

As Donatello's reputation increased, so did his commissions. Around 1430, Cosimo de'Medici commissioned a bronze of David for his palace. This is Donatello's most famous statue and was a move away from traditional religious imagery. One of the first nude statues of Renaissance art, many Florentines were shocked by the realism of the nudity. Although David stands with the head of the dead Goliath at his feet, the slender almost feminine form seems far too slight to inflict deadly force on such an opponent. Indeed, the boy's countenance and pose denotes dreamy contemplation. Allegedly homosexual, Donatello was noted for his choice of good looking boys as models and studio apprentices. Even so, he was generous in sharing fame with his assistants, and was considered to be very open and live a simple life. He took such pride in his work that he would destroy a masterpiece if a buyer tried to haggle over the price. He became good friends with Pope John XXIII, and when the Pope died, Donatello designed his tomb.

Donatello's other popular works include: Annunciation, 1435 (Santa Croce, Florence); Allegoric Figure of a Boy, c.1430 (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence); Candelabra Angels, c.1430 (Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris); St John the Baptist, 1438 (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice); Mary Magdalene, 1457 (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence); Judith and Holofernes, 1455 (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence) and Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1456 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

His equestrian statue of Gattamelata, 1445 (Piazza del Santo, Padua) would influence equestrian monuments for centuries to come.

After several years away, Donatello returned to Florence, only to discover that a new generation of early Renaissance artists had taken over the Florentine art scene. They were producing popular marble works and Donatello’s style had become eclipsed. But he went on to receive commissions from outside Florence and worked until his death in 1466. He was buried at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, next to Cosimo de' Medici the Elder.

He is considered one of the greatest Old Masters in the history of art and one of most influential sculptors of all time. He influenced generations of later artists, including Michelangelo Buonarroti and Giovanni Bernini.

Sculptures by Donatello can be seen in art museums across Europe.
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Donatello (1386-1466)
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