- (ca. 1386-1466)Popular name of the Florentine sculptor who is generally regarded as the first and greatest figure of early Renaissance sculpture. Born Donato di Niccolö di Betto di Bardi, he is first documented in 1401 as an assistant to the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti during work on the first of Ghiberti's two famous sets of bronze doors for the baptistery at Florence. By 1408 he seems to have been working independently.From an early point in his career (for example, his marble free-standing St. Mark, executed in 1411-1414), Donatello demonstrated a mastery of the classical technique of contrapposto that gave his figures an air of movement and life unequalled since the antiquity. He also executed important work in low relief such as The Feast of Herod, produced at Siena about 1425, that demonstrated mastery of the principles of single-point perspective discovered by his friend Filippo Brunelleschi. Donatello also mastered sculpture in bronze, of which his most striking example was the nude David (1425-1430), a startling expression of his consciousness of the anatomical structure concealed under the clothing of earlier subjects such as the St. Mark and the statue for Florence cathedral known as II Zuccone (1423-1425). Later in his career, Donatello spent 12 years working at Padua, but he then returned to Florence. His ability to create attention-catching figures infused with personality and a sense of life survived throughout his career. His last works, such as the emaciated St. Mary Magdalene (1445-1455) executed for the Florentine baptistery, demonstrate that he retained his ability to portray deep emotion and to create dramatic effect. Donatello was famous in his own lifetime, and his works did much to shape sculpture by later Renaissance artists.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.