www.whyville.net Dec 9, 1999 Weekly Issue


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     Have you noticed that the streets of Myville are all named after famous scientists and artists from the Renaissance? In case these folks aren't and get to know the person on whose street you're living. If the only Donatello you have heard of is a teenage mutant ninja turtle, read on... Donatello was an Italian Renaissance sculptor -- one of the greatest sculptors of all time and the founder of modern sculpture.

by Lois Lee
Times Staff

Donatello, whose full name was Donato di Nicolo di Beto Bardi, was born in Florence, Italy, in 1386. He was the son of Nicolò di Betto Bardi, a wool comber. Donatello was apprenticed to a goldsmith to learn metal working and design. When he was just 17 years old, he helped the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti construct and decorate the bronze doors of the famous baptistery of San Giovanni, in Florence.

Crucifix in Santa Croce
Web Gallery of Art

That same year, he and his friend, Filippo Brunelleschi (soon to be one of the most famous architects of all time), went to Rome, where together they practiced drawing and excavated antiques.

He soon returned to Florence to continue sculpting. At age 26, he carved the wooden crucifix in the Church of Santa Croce, which is generally acknowledged as his first major accomplishment.

Donatello's sculptures are not all in the same style. One of his early statues, David, was influenced by sculptures he had seen, in what is called Gothic style, a popular style of the 14th and 15th century that is distinguished by long, graceful forms and decorative details. David caused quite a stir, because it was the first statue in the Renaissance of a nude person.

His statues of St. Mark and St. John the Evangelist show a change in style. In these pieces he relied on models and studied the classical Roman sculptures he had excavated in Rome. From 1425 to 1435 Donatello worked with the Florentine sculptor and architect Michelozzo on a number of projects, including the Monument to Bartolomeo Aragazzi.

In his later pieces, Donatello style became more dramatic and emotional. One famous relief shows the battle of St. George and the Dragon. This piece was also Donatello's first attempt at portraying a three dimensional scene on a surface that is pretty much flat.

St George and the Dragon
Web Gallery of Art

During the next decade, he worked on the famous scene Salome for the Siena baptistery, which he completed in 1427. He invented a technique known as schiacciato (shallow relief). This technique gives the appearance of three dimensions on a flat surface. In demand throughout Italy, Donatello was invited to Padua in 1443, where he stayed for 10 years as the head of an enormous workshop.

Pope John XXIII's Tomb
Donatello always treated his workers and assistants well, and did not mind sharing his fame. He was considered to be very open and to live a simple life. He took great pride in his work which would lead him to destroy a masterpiece with one blow if his modest price was haggled over. He even became friends with Pope John XXIII. When the Pope died, Donatello designed the pope's tomb.

Donatello became bedridden in his latter years, and some of his works were completed by his students. Piero de' Medici, of the famous Medici family who ruled Florence, supported him. In his last years he worked on the pulpits of San Lorenzo, another famous church in Florence, creating a series of reliefs. He died on December 13, 1466, when he was 80 years old.

Donatello was one of the most influential sculptors of all times. Most of his sculpture is in Florence. In the United States, there are two statues: an unfinished David (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.) and the Shaw Madonna (Boston Mus.).

Click here to learn more about Donatello at
Web Gallery of Art (Hungary)
Thais (Italy)


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