Undated Newspaper Cutting: The Founder of Modern Sculpture
Donatello died December 13, 1466
There was a boy born in Florence in 1386, the son of a poor wool-carder, who aspired to be a sculptor. He had several names, we know him now as Donatello.
Like many other artists in that country, Donatello began as a goldsmith and left that work presently for sculpture. He was very poor. One day, in great delight, he received a commission to make a wooden crucifix, life size, for the Santa Croce Church in Florence. When he had finished it he ran to his friend Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect, and asked him to come to his house to look at the work.
The Two Figures
Filippo seemed surprised at the work, and smiled and said: “It is not a Christ but a peasant that you have crucified there.”
“Do one yourself,” retorted Donatello. “You will see then that it is not easy to make a crucifix.”
Some time later Donatello was walking away from the early market with eggs, soft cheese, fruit, and salad bunched up in his apron when he met Brunelleschi, who said he had something to show him. The two went to Filippo's studio, and the architect, throwing open the door suddenly, revealed what appeared to Donatello ‘a magnificent crucifix.’
Donatello flung his arms wide, and down went the eggs and cheese. “Never mind! I don’t want any lunch,” he said sadly. “I have had my fill. You are right. I can-only sculpture peasants. You can carve the Christ.”
A Great Force in Italian Arts
This young man who could only carve peasants became one of the strongest, forces in Italian art in the early fifteenth century. He might even be said to be the founder of modern sculpture. He saw things naturally and carved them naturally.
Donatello presently trudged off to Rome with Brunelleschi, and these two went about digging among the ruins of the ancient city to find some examples of classic art. The citizens called them the Treasure Seekers. Their bit of money ran out, and they had to work hard and fare hard. After a time they were back in Florence, and Donatello was working with other sculptors and craftsmen on the almost finished cathedral that. Brunelleschi had helped to build. For fifteen or sixteen years Donatello was employed thus. He rose far above the level of any other sculptor.
The Famous David
Many of the lovely things he did for the cathedral are still left to us. Probably we love the marble reliefs of the singing children the best. Sometimes Donatello worked independently, sometimes in collaboration with Michelozzo and Brunelleschi. One of the most important things Donatello and Michelozzo made was the tomb of Pope John XXIII. Donatello, now famous, went here and there, to Siena, Prato, to Rome again.
Some years later he was back in Florence, working for Cosimo de Medici, entering on the ten best and happiest years of his life, helping to restore antique marbles, making statues that could not help seeming to be alive, like adorable children and cupids and the famous David. From 1446 to 1453 he was employed on one of the two greatest equestrian statues of the Italian Renaissance - the bronze Gattamelata monument in Padua.
For a few more years the great sculptor with the simple heart went on toiling.