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.
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