Until 11 June 2023, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is hosting the first major UK exhibition to explore the exceptional talents of the Renaissance master Donatello, arguably the greatest Italian sculptor of all time.
Curators explain how he revolutionised sculpture both through his “inventive treatment of imagery” and his mastery of an extraordinary range of materials.
He sculpted in marble, stone, bronze, wood, terracotta, and stucco, as well as unusual mixed media, and rarely repeated himself - his work shows a constant desire to innovate and experiment.
It is not just what he sculpted and in what material that makes him special, but how he depicts emotion and action. His figures can seem frozen in moments of pain, like silent elegies. Feelings flow from the cast, lightly but vivaciously, as if the event depicted in the piece is still happening.
A life less ordinary
Appropriately named ‘Sculpting the Renaissance’, the exhibition highlights stages in Donatello’s life, from his early training in gold smithing, to his rise under the wing of the wealthy Medici family as it came to power and prominence in Florence.
The V&A describes Donatello as “combining ideas from classical and medieval sculpture to create innovative sculptural forms.” Indeed, his art rose to prominence between 1409 and 1466, during the early days of the Renaissance.
A rival to the title of greatest sculptor, Michelangelo, came later, between 1494 and 1555, during the ‘golden age’ of the Renaissance, and most critics acknowledge that his works were influenced by Donatello’s to a great extent.