Italy’s original Renaissance man Donatello’s masterpieces comes to London at the V&A
Italy’s original Renaissance man comes to London: ROBIN SIMON reviews Donatello’s masterpieces at the V&A
Donatello: Sculpting The Renaissance
(Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
Verdict: the Renaissance on our doorstep
Donatello bestrode the ages. He was both medieval and modern. He could do serene and classical, but also the raw emotion of Gothic at its most extreme.
He was born late in the 14th century and died in the second half of the 15th. By then, the world had changed. At his death in Florence in 1466, Leonardo was only a teenager, while Michelangelo and Raphael were not even born. Yet the Italian Renaissance was already an established fact — and Donatello had made it happen.
It is no wonder, though, that we don’t give him enough recognition. Only a handful of his sculptures are in this country and this is the first proper exhibition about him in the UK.
Donatello’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Donatello’s Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter
‘David’ by Donatello is displayed during the ‘Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance’ exhibition at the V&A Museum in London
Most of Donatello’s work is in Italy, which has lent an astonishing number of masterpieces to this once-in-a lifetime exhibition. Of some 130 works on show, more than 50 are being seen here for the first time.
I never imagined for one moment that the great marbles David and St John the Baptist from the Bargello Museum in Florence, or the huge bronze Crucifix together with low-relief panels from Saint Anthony’s Basilica in Padua, would be seen in London. But here they are.
And there is much more to Donatello’s art. A world away from the devotional intensity of the Paduan Crucifix is the naughty Attis-Amorino, a bronze-and-gilt cherub with his breeches gaping open and his plump bottom exposed.
Donatello’s sculpture ‘Crucifix’ in Sainsbury Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum
epa10454658 Donatello’s ‘Virgin & Child (Madonna and the Cherubs)’ is displayed during the ‘Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance’ exhibition at the V&A Museum
Then there are the infectiously joyous spiritelli made for a baptismal font: boyish sprites full of fun and invention, dancing upon scallop shells, that inspired the bronze figurines of the Renaissance.
In truth, I lost track of Donatello ‘firsts’. Here is a model of the head of Gattamelata for his larger-than-life-sized equestrian statue in Padua, which was the first such monument since antiquity.
And finer than almost anything is The Ascension, one of several truly exquisite ultra-low-relief marbles — another Donatello invention.
The exhibition runs at the V&A until June 11.