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Donatello (dŏnətĕlˈō, Ital. dōnätĕlˈlō), c.1386–1466, Italian sculptor, major innovator in Renaissance art, b. Florence. His full name was Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. In his formative years he assisted Ghiberti in Florence with the bronze doors for the baptistery. By 1406 he had begun to work on the cathedral. His marble David (Bargello, Florence) still echoed the Gothic form, but his St. Mark (Orsanmichele, Florence) and St. John the Evangelist (cathedral mus., Florence) mark a turning point toward a new humanistic expression. His St. George (now in the Bargello) is a striking portrayal of ideal youth. Even more important is the accompanying scene, St. George and the Dragon (c.1416), a pioneering attempt to work out a system of perspective.

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), in which he ingeniously achieved effects of spatial depth. During that period he carved several prophets for the Florentine Campanile, including the Zuccone (Baldhead), a vibrant characterization. In 1430–32, he went to Rome with Brunelleschi and became one of the first Renaissance artists interested in ancient monuments. Reflections of classical putti (male infants) can be found in his rendering of the lively cherubs in the Singing Gallery (1433–38, cathedral mus.) and in the pulpit at Prato. Classical influence is also evident in his bronze David (c.1432, Bargello), one of the earliest freestanding nude figures of the Renaissance.

In demand throughout Italy, Donatello was invited to Padua in 1443, where he stayed for 10 years as the head of an enormous workshop. He designed the equestrian statue of Gattamelata (1447–53) and the high altar for Sant' Antonio (1446–50). Upon his return to Florence, he carved the acutely expressive Magdalen (c.1460?, baptistery), which was greatly damaged by the flood of 1966. In his last years he worked on the pulpits of San Lorenzo, creating a magnificent series of reliefs. He was one of the most influential painters and sculptors of his time. Most of his works have remained in Florence, but a good representation can be seen in London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Two examples of his work can be found in American collections, an unfinished David (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.) and the Shaw Madonna (Boston Mus.).


See studies by F. Hartt with photographs by D. Finn (1973) and by J. Pope-Hennessy (1994); Donatello and His World (1994) by J. Poeschke.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Donate di Niccolò di Betto Bardi). Born circa 1386, in Florence; died there Dec. 13, 1466. Italian sculptor. One of the early Renaissance sculptors in Italy.

From 1404 to 1407, Donatello worked in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s workshop, and from 1425 to 1438 he shared a workshop with the architect Michelozzo. He worked mainly in Florence, as well as in Siena (1423-34 and 1457-61), Rome (1430-33), and Padua (1444-53). In 1451 he visited Mantua, Venice, and Ferrara. Donatello’s creative work, which had absorbed the democratic traditions of 14th-century Florentine culture, is one of the peaks of development of the art of the Florentine quattrocento. It embodies a number of characteristics of Renaissance art, such as the quest for new, realistic means of representing reality and a deep concern for man and his spiritual world. In Donatello’s creative work a profound interest in reality and all the diversity of its individual, specific manifestations coexists with an aspiration to achieve lofty generalizations and create heroic types. Donatello was one of the first to interpret artistically the experience of ancient art and to arrive at the creation of the classical forms and types of Renaissance sculpture (freestanding statues, funerary relief panels, equestrian monuments, and pictorial reliefs).

The first works of Donatello known to us (statues of prophets for the side portal of the Cathedral of Florence, 1406-08) still contain elements of Gothic undifferentiatedness and rigidity of forms and a fragmentary linear rhythm. However, the marble statue of St. Mark, which was executed between 1411 and 1413 for the facade of the Orsanmichele, already had the qualities of Renaissance sculpture. The structural tectonics of the figure are clear, and the statue gives an impression of calm majesty and strength. In the statue of St. George (created for the same church; marble, c-. 1416, National Museum in Florence), Donatello embodied the Renaissance ideal of a heroic warrior by endowing the figure with an inner concentration and tension and patriotic civic feeling. Between 1416 and 1435, Donatello and his assistants created statues of prophets for the Campanile of the Cathedral of Florence (marble, the Cathedral Museum, Florence). The group of sculptures is a gallery of sharply individual figures permeated with harsh truth.

In the 1420’s, furthering the ideas of F. Brunelleschi, Donatello developed the so-called pictorial type of relief, creating the impression of spatial depth with the aid of linear perspective, the precise delimitation of planes, and a gradual reduction in the height of the figures (The Feast of Herod, on the bronze font of the Baptistery in Siena, 1423-27). He and the architect Michelozzo created the Renaissance funerary niche-monument with the ancient form of sarcophagus, on which the figure of the deceased rested. This type of Renaissance sculpture was characterized by allegorical figures framed with majestic classical orders (the tombstone of Pope John XXIII, marble and bronze, 1425-27, the Baptistery, Florence).

Donatello’s sojourn in Rome in the early 1430’s intensified his interest in the classical heritage. His impressions of classical art are embodied in the festive quality and delicacy of the Annunciation relief, with its splendid ornamentation inspired by antiquity (the so-called Cavalcanti altar, terracotta and slightly painted and gilded limestone, c. 1428-33, Church of Santa Croce, Florence). The influence of classical art on the artist is also evident in the choir loft of the Cathedral of Florence, with its putti, imbued with exultant, joyous motion (marble with mosaic and gilt, 1433-39, the Cathedral Museum, Florence). The bronze statue of David created by Donatello in the 1430’s (National Museum, Florence)—the first nude statue in Renaissance sculpture— is also a Renaissance interpretation of classical forms. The perfection of soft, generalized plasticity, the youthful flexibility and angularity of lines, and an air of lyric dreaminess are combined in the statue with an inner complexity and a multiplicity of characteristics that are not usual for classical art.

Between 1434 and 1443, Donatello designed the interior of the Old Sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, where he and Brunelleschi executed a new type of artistic synthesis in which equal importance was given to architectural and sculptural forms. Donatello reached the peak of his creativity during the Padua period. In Padua he created the first secular monument of the Renaissance—an equestrian statue of Condottiere Gattamelata (bronze, marble, and limestone, 1447-53), which is distinguished by majestic simplicity of construction, tranquillity, and a manly resoluteness. Between 1446 and 1450 the artist created one of the largest sculptured altars of the Renaissance for the Church of San Antonio in Padua, consisting of statues and reliefs framed with severe orders. The altar reliefs contain scenes of many figures, lifelike and dramatic and masterfully distributed in an illusory space.

Donatello’s later works, which were created in an atmosphere of growing crisis for the democratic traditions of the trecento and early quattrocento, are full of intensified expression and spiritual anguish (The Magdalen, painted wood, 1450’s, the Baptistery, Florence; the group Judith and Holofernes, bronze, c. 1456-57, Piazza della Signoria, Florence; and the reliefs of the two pulpits of the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence, bronze, 1460’s, completed by Donatello’s pupils). The development of Italian Renaissance art was greatly influenced by Donatello’s work. His achievements were an inspiration to many quattrocento sculptors as well as to such painters as Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, and Andrea Mantegna. Michelangelo and Raphael studied Donatello’s works.


Libman, M. la. Donatello. Moscow, 1962.
Planiscig, L. Donatello. Florence, 1947.
Janson, H. W. The Sculpture of Donatello, vols. 1-2. Princeton, 1957.
Grassi, L. Tutta la scultura di Donatello. Milan, 1958.
Castelfranco, G. Donatello. Milan, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Miriam’s ardent friend ever ready to defend her. [Am. Lit.: The Marble Faun]


throws Miriam’s persecutor over cliff to death. [Am. Lit.: The Marble Faun]
See: Murder
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


real name Donato di Betto Bardi. 1386--1466, Florentine sculptor, regarded as the greatest sculptor of the quattrocento, who was greatly influenced by classical sculpture and contemporary humanist theories. His marble relief of St George Killing the Dragon (1416--17) shows his innovative use of perspective. Other outstanding works are the classic bronze David, and the bronze equestrian monument to Gattamelatta, which became the model of subsequent equestrian sculpture
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005