The dapper Don: 'Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance' opens at the V&A in London

Supported by Rocco Forte Hotels, this is the first major UK exhibition to explore the exceptional talents of the Renaissance master.
The dapper Don: 'Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance' opens at the V&A in London

"There would be no Michelangelo without Donatello," exclaimed V&A director Tristram Hunt, during a special press preview of the latest exhibition to open at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London. And in many ways, there would also not be much of our modern aesthetic or sense of style without the dapper Donatello.

As the press release for Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance aptly points out about this comprehensive look at the early Renaissance artist, it "offers a fresh vision of the artist and his impact on both the cultural and artistic development of this crucial time in the history of art. Featuring many works that have never been on display in the UK, the exhibition will explore Donatello’s innovations, collaborations and inspirations within the vibrant artistic and cultural context of fifteenth-century Italy, and his influence on subsequent generations of artists."

'Head of a Prophet', by Donatello

Donatello, to those who don't know him well, was and arguably is the greatest sculptor of all time. Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi was born in Florence around 1386 and died there in 1466. In between, Donatello gave his native city, and beyond, what can only be described as some of the most beautifully designed, perfectly executed statues, bronzes, and rilievi schiacciati, a special kind of "squashed relief" which he invented. Honing his craft as a goldsmith, as most of his artists contemporaries and working in the full range of sculptural materials and techniques, including marble, bronze, wood, terracotta and stucco, Donatello contributed to major commissions of church and state; was an intimate of the Medici family and their circle in Florence, and was highly sought after in other Italian centers.

The exhibition at the V&A, which will run until June 11th, 2023 and is supported by Rocco Forte Hotels, showcases works never seen before in the UK. These include Donatello’s early marble David and bronze Attis-Amorino from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, as well as the spectacular reliquary bust of San Rossore from the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa, and bronzes from the High Altar of the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua. For the first time, the V&A’s exquisitely carved shallow relief of the Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter is displayed alongside the Madonna of the Clouds from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Desiderio da Settignano’s Panciatichi Madonna from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, providing an exclusive opportunity to see these works together. Through these and other exceptional loans, the exhibition will offer visitors a unique vision of Donatello’s genius and central role at this critical time in European culture. Focusing primarily on Donatello’s lifetime and immediate followers, the exhibition combines a thematic approach with chronology, encompassing the inter-relationship between sculpture, paintings, drawings and goldsmiths’ work. Donatello’s innovative technique and his ability to combine ideas from both classical and medieval sculpture to create works that were novel, yet with an element of the traditional, are expressed throughout the exhibition.

Donatello's 'Attis-Amorino', courtesy of the V&A

But for us, the greatest aspect of Donatello's genius is his mastery as a sculptor, a man who could turn a cold slab of marble into the glorious David, famous the world over as the symbol of Renaissance Italy. One simply has to look at the stitching details, or the curls in the hair of the busts, or even the draping of the cloth on the Madonnas, to realize that Donatello taught us about style, elegance and the simplicity of beauty -- true beauty.

An early marble 'David 'by Donatello

And there is even a dapper angel, all draped in what looks like chaps, worthy of an American western. We personally loved the interactive part of the exhibition, which allowed us to touch reproductions of Donatello's reliefs.

Peta Motture, Exhibition Lead Curator of Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance said: “Donatello was a driving force behind the Italian Renaissance and an inspiration to artists across the centuries. The exceptional opportunity to collaborate with our partners in Florence and Berlin, together with the generosity of all lenders, has made it possible for the V&A to present a remarkable insight into the artist’s training, relationships and legacy. Bringing together objects and narratives never seen before in the UK, the exhibition provides a unique moment to experience, enjoy and –- for those less familiar with his work –- discover Donatello’s astonishing talents and his wide-ranging impact on Renaissance and later art.”

'San Rossore', bronze by Donatello

The V&A’s Italian Renaissance sculpture collection, the most extensive outside Italy, forms part of the Museum’s diverse world-class holdings of decorative art and design.Together with the spectacular Cast Courts which display our renowned nineteenth century plaster cast collection, these collections provide an unrivalled resource in the UK for the study of medieval and Renaissance sculpture.

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance has been developed in collaboration with Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. To book tickets or to find out more, check out the V&A website.

All photos provided by the V&A are used with permission.

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