Donatello's Annunciation

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  • Topic: Gabriel, Angel, Illuminated manuscript
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  • Published : December 6, 2012
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In your own words, explain how Donatello has told the story of The Annunciation in sculpture and why contemporaries were so impressed with his achievement.

Donatello is considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 15th century. A

member of the innovative group of painters, architects and sculptors that revolutionised art in

Florence at the beginning of the 15th century, he succeeded in becoming perhaps the most successful

in his field due to his understanding of the aspects of classical sculpture and the creative and

emotive way in which he adapted them to his own works. In particular, his reliefs surpassed all

others of the time in terms of their dramatic effect and complexity of character placement and

spatial awareness. I am going to describe how Donatello depicted the scene of the Annunciation in

sculpture through his combination of different classical motifs and methods and also in the

materials he used. I will discuss how he conveyed human emotions through his careful and modern

placement of the characters while also staying true to the traditional image of the Angel Gabriel

delivering the news to the Virgin. I will also talk about how Donatello's risks, skill and innovation

made him so admired by his contemporaries and how he influenced subsequent changes in

sculpture.

The Cavalcanti Annunciation in shiacciato relief was made out of local macigno sandstone instead of the

usual marble. It is quite easy to carve which made it possible for Donatello to create the richly decorated

tabernacle and flowing lines of the figures. It also made it easier for Donatello to have greater depth in the

scene, creating more contrast between light and dark and [1]“in order to create the effect of an interior setting

with intarsia panelling”.

The sillouhette of Donatello's tabernacle seems to be the end product of a whole line of

tabernacles designed to house grave offerings or effigys of the gods. Some of the earlier ones from

Lilybeum on the south coast of Sicily actually provide a covering or shelter for the objects within.

This idea is echoed in Donatello's Annunciation which shows a walled room with a definite ceiling

and floor. This technique creates a sense of a place and gives the viewer the impression of looking in on a private moment, of experiencing something very personal and confidential. There are other

possible ,but perhaps less likely, sources as to the origins of the tabernacle form, such as the higly

decorative Roman fountains that can be found in their best condition in Pompeii. Another

suggestion is medieval manuscript illumination, in particular canon tables.

For the architectural detail, Donatello possibly took inspiration from shingled pilasters such as the

ones in the urn of T.Claudius Victor. Again, he adapted this idea to create a more refined pliaster

that tapers gracefully to the top. Manuscript illumination also has examples of the Annunciation

scene set in decorative tabernacles with detailed columns and pilasters which may have served to

inspire Donatello's own Annunciation aedicule. A prime example is a panel by Jacopo di Ciono

which also places the Virgin and angel opposite each other, pressed against either wall. Donatello

does not replicate the work of others but it would be fair to conclude that [2]“ Donatello is adapting

medieval traditions for the design of his tabernacle, as well as adopting antique ideas”.

The small, mischevious terracotta putti on top of the tabernacle are a clever addition by Donatello to

balance out the composition and act as a counterbalance to the solemn scene playing out underneath. Though

some critics state that they were a later addition, it is more probable that they were part of the original

architectural detailing. There is even more decorative addition with the patterns on the throne and rear wall...
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