Donatello - Master of Renaissance Sculpture

Master of Renaissance Sculpture

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Giotto's Campanile. Detail. Overview of the four prophets. From the left the Beardless Prophet, the Bearded Prophet, Abraham and Isaac and the Thinker.
The Four Prophets of the east side of the Giotto's Campanile (I Quattro profeti del lato est del Campanile di Giotto), by Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi known as Donatello, Nanni di Bartolo, 1408 - 1421, 15th Century, marble. Mondadori via Getty Images / Getty Images

Donatello was also known as:

Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi

Donatello's Accomplishments

Donatello was noted for his superb command of sculpture. One of the foremost sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, Donatello was a master of both marble and bronze and had an extensive knowledge of ancient sculpture. Donatello also developed his own style of relief known as schiacciato ("flattened out"). This technique involved extremely shallow carving and utilized light and shadow to create the full pictorial scene.


Artist, Sculptor & Artistic Innovator

Places of Residence and Influence:

Italy: Florence

Important Dates:

Born: c. 1386, Genoa
Died: Dec. 13, 1466, Rome

About Donatello:

The son of Niccolò di Betto Bardi, a Florentine wool carder, Donatello became a member of Lorenzo Ghiberti's workshop by the time he was 21. Ghiberti had won the commission to make the bronze doors of the Baptistery of the cathedral in Florence in 1402, and Donatello very likely assisted him on this project. The earliest work that can definitely be attributed to him, a marble statue of David, shows the clear artistic influence of Ghiberti and the "International Gothic" style, but he soon developed a powerful style of his own.

By 1423, Donatello had mastered the art of sculpting in bronze. Sometime around 1430, he was commissioned to create a bronze statue of David, although who his patron may have been is up for debate. The David is the first large-scale, free-standing nude statue of the Renaissance.

In 1443, Donatello went to Padua to construct a bronze equestrian statue of a famous, recently-deceased Venetian condottiere, Erasmo da Narmi. The pose and the powerful style of the piece would influence equestrian monuments for centuries to come. Upon returning to Florence, Donatello discovered that a new generation of sculptors had overtaken the Florentine art scene with excellent marble works. His heroic style had been eclipsed in his home city, but he still received commissions from outside Florence, and he remained fairly productive until he died at about aged eighty. 

Although scholars know a good deal about Donatello's life and career, his character is difficult to assess. He never got married, but he had many friends in the arts. He did not receive a formal higher education, but he acquired considerable knowledge of ancient sculpture. At a time when an artist's work was regulated by guilds, he had the temerity to demand a certain amount of freedom of interpretation. Donatello was greatly inspired by ancient art, and much of his work would embody the spirit of classical Greece and Rome, but he was spiritual as well as innovative, and he took his art to a level that would see few rivals besides Michelangelo.

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Snell, Melissa. "Donatello - Master of Renaissance Sculpture." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Snell, Melissa. (2020, August 26). Donatello - Master of Renaissance Sculpture. Retrieved from Snell, Melissa. "Donatello - Master of Renaissance Sculpture." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).