Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance at the V&A

Earlier this month, London’s V&A museum opened its doors to the first major UK exhibition to explore Donatello’s exceptional talents, offering 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.

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Painting of landscape

Earlier this month, London’s V&A museum opened its doors to the first major UK exhibition to explore Donatello’s exceptional talents, offering 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. 

Florence-born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c.1386-1466), universally known as Donatello, was arguably the greatest sculptor of all time through his powerful sculpture creations that continue to live on to this day. The artist was in the vanguard of a revolution in sculptural practice in the early Renaissance. 

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 centres.

A first of its kind

Featuring works that have never been seen before in the UK, the exhibition includes Donatello’s early marble David and bronze Attis-Amorino from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 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 Bargello, providing an exclusive opportunity to see these works together. 

Exhibition highlights

Donatello produced his first sculptures in marble for the Opera del Duomo, such as the David, and gained experience of working in wax, clay and bronze in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s workshop. The friendships, rivalries and collaborations are drawn out through these early experiences, including the inter-relationship with painters such as Masaccio. The artist’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, combining a thematic approach with chronology, encompassing the inter-relationship between sculpture, paintings, drawings and goldsmiths’ work.

Comprising around 130 objects, the exhibition incorporates a significant number of objects from the V&A’s own collections – including the most extensive holdings of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy – notably from the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Although no goldsmiths’ work by Donatello survives, a sense of its importance in his sculptural practice is provided throughout by fundamental works from the medieval and Renaissance period, such as the head of God the Father by Beltramino de Zuttis. 

The impact of his early experience manifests in Donatello’s partnership with Michelozzo from c.1425-34, explored here through their Catasto declarations for tax assessment, as well as sculpture created in their joint workshops, including marble and mosaic panels and a bronze capital showing dancing spiritelli from the exterior pulpit of Prato Cathedral (from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Prato).

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. 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.” 

As a proud Corporate Patron of the V&A, we encourage you to experience this unique exhibition.

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance is now open at the V&A South Kensington until 11 June 2023. For more information and to book tickets, click here. 

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