Lecture Series - Donatello, Inventor of the Renaissance

January 12, 2023

If you are unable to attend the live session, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lecture to view in your own time.



Writing in 1568 Giorgio Vasari described Donatello in the following terms: ‘he was not only a very rare sculptor and a marvellous statuary, but also a practised worker in stucco, an able master of perspective, and greatly esteemed as an architect…’ an assessment never since questioned. No other figure involved in the creation of what we now call ‘the renaissance’ was as influential, the catalyst for one of the great revolutions in the history of art. We are very lucky that the final iteration of an extraordinary exhibition on Donatello opens at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum from 11 Feb to 11 June. First seen in Florence, then in Berlin, the exhibitions are the result of unprecedented cooperation between museums and scholars not only in each of the three cities, but from the wider museum world in Europe and the United States. All the exhibitions share certain key works, but due to the scale and/or fragility of some pieces which prevents them being lent outside of Florence, each version of the exhibition is that little bit different. In Florence, the exhibition was divided between two centres and allowed visitors to see the works within the physical context for which many of them were specifically created. In Berlin, and now in London, a subtly different emphasis was and will be deployed, looking at not only the sculptor’s stylistic development, but with more emphasis on the equally fascinating relationship between Donatello and his contemporaries, with both themes supported by some spectacular loans. In celebration of this unique and unprecedented opportunity, I shall give two webinar lectures on Donatello, Inventor of the Renaissance, 8 & 9 March.

Lecture 1 – Florence and the Creation of the Renaissance, 8 March 11am

Even at this distance it seems remarkable that a single city, Florence, could in the space of a few decades change the course of Europe’s visual arts. A handful of individuals – Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, but above all, Donatello, precipitated this revolution. This first lecture will look at the circumstances surrounding the innovations which led away from medieval modes of expression to a new way of ‘seeing’, indeed presenting the known world via the development of single point vanishing perspective. Major projects such as the three famous sets of bronze doors commissioned for the city’s Baptistry, the unprecedented completion of the dome of the adjacent Duomo, and a completely new way of presenting sacred narrative developed by Donatello will be analysed against the economic and political life of this vibrant city. The system of patronage, divided between the commune which governed Florence, the church which looked after its spiritual welfare and the major families (such as the Medici) whose personal wealth was vital in providing the finance necessary, was the other agent of change without which none of this could have happened.

Lecture 2 – Donatello and his Influence, 9 March 11am

Memorably summarised in The Penguin Dictionary of Art & Artists, Donatello is announced as ‘not only the greatest Florentine sculptor before Michelangelo; he was the most individual artist of the 15th century’, and who are we to disagree? His early career is intimately bound up with the major sculptural projects which announce the renaissance, including the decoration of the Duomo and the external niches of one the city’s smaller churches, Orsanmichele, where his innovative treatment of St George and his legend was a revolutionary innovation taken up by painters such as Masaccio. With his reputation developing apace, he came within the orbit of one of the city’s great merchant dynasties, the Medici while his reputation spread beyond Tuscany. In middle age he spent several years based in Padua creating an inspired series of works for the Basilica of St Anthony, his style influencing a generation of north Italian artists including Mantegna and Bellini. Throughout his long life (c.1385/6 – 1466) he created a series of sculptures which in terms of their technical mastery, the variety of materials employed and the extraordinary range of emotions captured would only be equalled, but never surpassed, by Michelangelo and Bernini.

Format for Lecture

Tom gave two illustrated lectures for £25. 

You will not need to download any software and the lecture will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet. You will be also able to re-watch or watch a recording after the lecture.



Register for Lectures


Filed under:

View All
Tours & Study Days