The “transgressive” Donatello introduces modernity

The historical and unrepeatable exhibition Donatello, the Renaissance”, installed in Florence at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello, introduces us to the great Florentine sculptor as the architect of an artistic revolution, based on sixteenth-century geniuses who dared to experiment with new techniques and perspectives.

The noble, elegant and filigree features that made one of the most famous sculptors of all time, are described by his contemporaries with the concept of tenderness Donatello, characterized Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, who decisively distinguishes him from his restless father and his turbulent life. But even in finesse, his soul was imbued with an irresistible quest to subvert the institutional habits of art, to create something profoundly new and original. The talented artist (1386-1466) is in fact at the origin of the revolution of the idea of ​​sculpture and the Florentine exhibition itinerary (which we can admire until July 31st) effectively manifests him to the visitor and testifies to what is certainly an epochal turning point depicted, those of the Renaissance. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty, Donatello was already collaborating with Lorenzo Ghiberti on the construction of two spectacular bronze doors for the north door of the Florence Baptistery, proving that he was also trained as a goldsmith. And even at this early age, the fruitful dialogue with Ghiberti did not prevent him from revealing his unprecedented emotional temperament in his marble or wood sculptures.

Sara the bursting friendship with Filippo Brunelleschi (almost 10 years older than Donatello) to instill in him a passion for the classical world, model for “an organic and new naturalism”. Even if, according to Vasari, The Crucifix Created by the young sculptor “with extraordinary effort” for the Basilica of Santa Croce, it was struck down with a certain severity by his more mature friend, who felt as if he had “been crucifying a peasant”. In the exhibition, this realistic work is juxtaposed with crucifix by Filippo Brunelleschi, created two years later for Santa Maria Novella, certainly more harmonious and balanced than the expressive power of body and face of the Donatellian character. But the long collaboration between the two friends, despite the frequent quarrels, will bring significant results well beyond the challenge of the crucifixes, also because Brunelleschi’s architectural inventions profoundly influenced the sculptor Donatello, proposing absolutely innovative perspective solutions. Like almost all sculptors active in the Tuscan city at the beginning of the 15th century, Donatello also devoted himself to the most popular and widespread genre in the Florentine noble houses, the Great Madonnas polychrome half-figures in terracotta that attract the visitor’s attention by their sweetness, born of an increasingly lively and unscrupulous naturalism compared to the neo-Gothic grace of the context from which the master came.

When we get in front of them Madonna and Child the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or Detroit, the intense and spontaneous mutual affection of the mother for her young son fascinates us. In the first, the little one is literally clinging to his mother, in the second, smiling and boldly, he stands up and wraps himself in a hem of the veil of the Madonna youth, careful to keep his foot still lest he fall. Far removed from the influence of the Gothic forms of his teacher Lorenzo Ghiberti, we are introduced to the beauty of a very sensitive naturalism that describes the extraordinary relationship between mother and child. Donatello will translate it into continuous variations on the theme that will also influence numerous other contemporary artists. But it is precisely in his irrepressible naturalistic need, which is driven to the search for the third dimension even in the marble relief, that we understand the full genius and innovative power of the Florentine sculptor. The friendship between Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi did indeed lead to great results, and perhaps the most original was the transfer to the sculptural genre of the process developed by Filippo, to translate the spatial illusionism of the fourteenth-century Florentine pictorial tradition into a system of mathematical scales dominate. .

Staying at the heart of the magnificent Donatelic Madonnas, we can only be drawn in by the subtle, the wondrous Crazy Madonna (rightly chosen as the symbol of the Florentine exhibition), one of the most moving Madonnas and Child the entire Renaissance. In fact, we are enchanted by the sweet tenderness of the two faces side by side, with a veil of melancholy on the face of Mary, who mysteriously warns of the dramatic fate of Jesus’ death, and instead the almost unconscious smile of the child who opens his mouth showing his teeth, while he reaches for Mama’s veil. A very light bas-relief, framed in a kind of marble box, on which the foot of Bambinello rests, according to a perspective scheme derived from the teachings of Brunelleschi.

Also the gilded bronze tile Banquet of Herod is a scene constructed from Brunelleschi’s perspective, which allows Donatello to unfold the narrative on different levels, also thanks to his amazing ability to graduate the thickness from the figures almost in the round to a “stiacciato” relief. This last technique, typical of Donatello, the master par excellence, allows you to create a relief with minimal deviations in relation to the background, giving the viewer an illusion of depth. The other bronze works in the exhibition, linked to Donatello’s stay in Padua to decorate the Basilica of Sant’Antonio (The wonder of the mule or the very sad image of piety) or the works in marble and bronze from famous foreign museums such as the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the National Gallery in London, attest to the Renaissance sculptor’s extraordinary ability, both in bas-reliefs and in the most famous statues. , even those permanently housed in the same Bargello Museum (Victorious David e St George).

Finally, the comparison of the master’s works with contemporary artists throughout the exhibition is wonderful like Masaccio, Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, but also with the later ones like Raffael and Michelangelo (Madonna of the Stairs), to the sweetest Madonna and Child by Bronzino, who had studied the delicate marble well Madonna del Pugliese-Dudley by Donatello, a great artist, about whom Giorgio Vasari wrote: “Architects must recognize the greatness of art from him more than from anyone born in the modern age”.

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