Donatello (1386?-1466), was an Italian Renaissance sculptor, who is generally considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time and the founder of modern sculpture.
Donatello was born in Florence, the son of a wool comber. When he was 17 years old, he assisted the noted sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti in constructing and decorating the famous bronze doors of the baptistery of San Giovanni, Florence. Later, Donatello was also an associate of the noted architect Filippo Brunelleschi, with whom he reputedly visited Rome in order to study the monuments of antiquity.
Donatellos career may be divided into three periods. The first and formative period comprised the years before 1425, when his work is marked by the influence of Gothic sculpture but also shows classical and realistic tendencies. Among his sculpture of this period are the statues St. Mark, St. George (Bergello, Florence), John the Evangelist (Opera del Duomo, Florence), and Joshua (campanile of the cathedral, Florence).
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It was in Florence, however, that he created the most noted work of this period-the bronze David (circa 1430-35, Bargello), the first nude statue of the Renaissance.
In his third and culminating period, Donatello broke away from classical influence and in his work emphasized realism and the portrayal of character and of dramatic action. Notable examples of his sculpture of this period are Miracles of St. Anthony, Gattamelata, the first bronze equestrian statue since ancient times, and Judith and Holofernes. The sculpture of Donatello influenced that of Florence and northern Italy in the 15th century. It was also a major stimulus on the development of realism in Italian painting, notably in the work of the great Paduan artist Andrea Mantegna. Donatello, who died on December 13, 1466, had many pupils, the most important of whom was Desiderio da Settignano.
The youthful period of Donatello is typified by his St George. This statue, executed around 1416, was placed in a niche on the north wall of Orsanmichele. The tensed expression of the young face shows its affinity with the ideal of David in the Bargello. The cloak gathered over the chest in a tight knot falls in folds whose spiral line retains an echo of the Gothic world, as does the position of the statue in its niche. But the problem of space has been overcome, and the St George, turning on the axis of the shield, moves with a great visionary force.
The base of the niche, with the bas-relief representing the saints combat with the dragon for the freeing of the Princess of Cappadocia, also assumes a role of great importance due to the artists use of the technique known as rilievo stiacciato, or flattened relief.
The positive appraisal of the St George in the 16th century is borne out by the writings of Vasari. In later centuries, when Donatellos works were generally ignored or mentioned only in local guides, the transfer (after 1677) of the statue of St George to the tabernacle of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali (made for the Madonna della Rosa), contributed to the diminishing of its beauty and therefore its fame. Donatello was rediscovered in the 19th century and St George, the masterpiece of Donatello was about to become the emblem of early Renaissance statuary.