Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, also known as Donatello, was a sculptor of the Italian Renaissance. Born in Florence circa 1386, he studied classical sculpture and developed a unique Renaissance style. He worked in stone, bronze, wood, clay, stucco and wax, and had several assistants. Though his best-known works were mostly statues in the round, he developed a new, shallow type of bas-relief, and much of his work was architectural relief.
He received his early artistic training in a goldsmith’s workshop, and then worked briefly in the studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti.
In Pistoia in 1401, Donatello met the older Filippo Brunelleschi. They went to Rome together around 1403 to study the architectural ruins. Brunelleschi informally tutored Donatello in goldsmithing and sculpture. The duo’s works are considered prime examples of Renaissance architecture and sculpture, and they profoundly influenced other artists of the age.
In Florence, Donatello assisted Lorenzo Ghiberti with the statues of prophets for the north door of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral. In 1409–1411 he finished the colossal seated figure of Saint John the Evangelist, which until 1588 occupied a niche of the old cathedral façade, and now stands in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. This work marks a step forward from late Gothic Mannerism toward naturalism and the rendering of human feelings. The face, the shoulders and the bust are still idealized, while the hands and the fold of cloth over the legs are more realistic.
In 1411–1413, Donatello worked on a statue of St. Mark for the guild church of Orsanmichele. In 1417 he completed the Saint George for the confraternity of armor-makers. From 1423 he sculpted frame and the statue of Saint Louis of Toulouse for the Orsanmichele, now in the Museum of the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Donatello created five statues for the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, also known as the Duomo. These works are the Beardless Prophet; Bearded Prophet (both from 1415); the Sacrifice of Isaac (1421); Habbakuk (1423–25); and Jeremiah (1423–26). In 1425, he carved a Crucifix for Santa Croce, which portrays Christ in His agony.
From 1425 to 1427, Donatello worked on some funeral monuments. He also produced The Feast of Herod in bas-relief, one of the first examples of one-point perspective in sculpture.
Donatello also restored antique sculptures for the Palazzo Medici.
Donatello’s bronze David, now in the Bargello museum, is Donatello’s most famous work, and the first known free-standing nude statue produced since antiquity. Conceived fully in the round, independent of any architectural surroundings, it is the first major work of Renaissance sculpture. It was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the courtyard of his Palazzo Medici. It is most often dated to the 1440s.
In 1443, Donatello was called to Padua by the heirs of the famous mercenary Erasmo da Narni (better known as the Gattamelata, or “Honey-Cat”), to create a posthumous likeness of him. Completed in 1450 and placed in the square facing the Basilica of St. Anthony, his Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata was the first such monument since ancient times. (Other equestrian statues from the 14th century had not been executed in bronze and had been placed over tombs rather than erected independently, in a public place.) This work became the prototype for other equestrian monuments executed in Italy and Europe in the following centuries.
Donatello was one of Michelangelo’s influences.
He died in Florence in 1466.