Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Florence - Donatello

When our youngest son was 17, and doing his A level exam in History of Art he loved the Italian Renaissance. I decided to take him to Florence so that he could see the work of the artists he was so passionate about.
Unbeknown to us before hand, our arrival happily coincided with the city celebrating the 600th anniversary of Donatello’s birth. Sculpture by Donatello had been gathered from all over Italy and brought to Florence for the occasion.  A unique event was the erection of scaffolding and ladders in the old sacristy of San Lorenzo so that it was possible to climb up and see his large stucco roundels situated just below the dome. They show scenes done by Donatello around 1434 from the life of St. John the Evangelist.  It was amazing that we were able to be so near to work that few could have seen so closely since being executed in situ by Donatello. Donatello’s great skill was in being able to add three-dimensional depth to very shallow relief. His sculptural figures marked a decisive step forward in the search for naturalism and the rendering of human feelings from those of the late International Gothic style.  Of course, we had to do all of the Donatello exhibits, plus all of the art and architecture we had come to see anyway.  Every day was packed with visits, and trying to co-ordinate the times to fit in as much as possible.  The Italians have a very bad habit of shutting places up at ridiculous times of day, or even not opening at all.
Our son had me dashing up the hill to visit S. Miniato al Monte, back down to the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti and Brancacci Chapel with a final call at Santa Maria Novella where he gave me a lecture on Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. I am exaggerating if I say we did all of this in one day, but that was what each day felt like.
I was exhausted when we returned home after 5 days, but from then on became enthused by the Renaissance myself.  
courtesy wikipedia
One of the roundels we were able to see when we climbed up on the scaffolding in San Lorenzo - Donatello's Raising of Drusiana
Donatello - Feast of Herod, 1423 - 1427 - part of the baptismal font in The Baptistry, Siena.
This is a fine example of Donatello's skill at bringing three-dimension and use of linear perspective to shallow relief.  Donatello has depicted several events occurring in succession as if happening at the same time. In the rear arcade we see a soldier bearing the head of John the baptist, which is simultaneously being presented to a horrified Herod at the front.  A musician in the central arcade is a reference to the dance of Salome which she used to beguile her stepfather into having John the Baptist killed. Salome continues her dance on the front scene to the right of the table.

 image courtesy sailko via Wikipedia
Mary Magdalene  - example of Donatello portraying human emotion 

14 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:
    Your trip to Florence sounds to have been a most exhausting affair, but what riches to submerge yourself in. As you say, the beautifully sculpted roundels do show an amazing understanding of three dimensions, all the more incredible as the work was completed so many centuries ago.

    And, what , we wonder, has your son gone on to do?

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance - It was really interesting to learn new things from my son. He is now a Special Needs Teacher, and an Illustrator/Artist.

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  2. this reminded me of that wonderful scene on "English Patient" - a favorite film of mine... what an amazing experience!
    ( and unfortunatelly Italians are very much like the Greeks on that matter!)

    i am imprest with your son by the way

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    1. Demie - It was so exciting to share the discoveries of Florentine art with my son - a memory to cherish.
      I too liked the English Patient film.

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  3. We have been to the Uffizi once and would love to visit it and Florence again. You cannot properly take in that art in one day, perhaps not even in one month. I think you had a thrilling five days.

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    1. Dear Olive - you are so right, I think that the brain can only take in so much at a time before it begins to suffer from overload. When I visit an art gallery, I aim for a few pictures that I particularly want to see, try to absorb them, and the rest, unfortunately, get a fairly cursory glance.

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  4. Hello, Rosemary - My friend Sandy and I spent a week in Florence, deciding to concentrate on one great city rather than trying to cover a continent in the same time, as so many tourists do. We've never regretted the decision. I have great memories of the same streets at different times of day and with very different atmospheres. We would spend half the day in museums or other tourist attractions that required admission, then half the day exploring in all directions by foot. It's definitely the way to go.

    Your readers should know, as you doubtlessly do, that it saves much time to make reservations for the Uffizi in advance!

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    1. Wise words about the Uffizi Mark - long gone are the days when you could visit the great cities of Italy “out of season” to escape the visitors. Tourism is an all year round event now.

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    2. Hi Rosemary! What a lovely blog you have and how fantastic to see the art and culture of my country celebrated with so much enthusiasm! I love Florence, too. My cousin is an artist and has a workshop on Ponte Vecchio, in Florence. I enjoyed reading your post and looking at the lovely images.

      I am not sure how to post here, as the format isn't the usual one, so I'm posting as a "reply" to one of your replies to someone else, if you don't mind, as, every time I do something different like"Subscribe to posts", etc. I seem to lose a feauture! I hope you don't mind!

      CIAO

      ANNA

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    3. Dear Anna, as you can see your comment arrived safely. Thanks for coming and pleased that you enjoyed seeing your homeland on this particular post. I have done one or two posts about Italy.
      What a lovely spot for your artist cousin to have their workshop - the beautiful Ponte Vecchio.
      CIAO to you too Anna, and please come again.

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  5. Dear Rosemary, how wonderful to meet you and thank you for finding me on Foxglove Lane. (What an opportune place to discover another Rosemary!) I have read through some of your posts and this one in particular is very special to me. My family and I visited Italy two years ago and I fell deeply in love with the sculpture and artwork there. How interesting, seeing your trip through the eyes of an art student.

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    1. How lovely to hear from you, and I am pleased that you enjoyed reading the post on Donatello. Italy is one of our favourite destinations. So happy that we have made contact.

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